Friday, November 14, 2014

My (Old, Old, Old, Old, Old) Year in Reading

by Elizabeth

Thanks to a dead car battery, my post for today got delayed. Half an hour after I promised my blog partners I'd have something written, I'm home and managed to comb through old posts for something to run again. I loved finding this one from early 2010, reviewing the one year I successfully tracked everything I read. Maybe I'll find inspiration for 2015! In the meantime, it's interesting to note that I am still thrusting copies of many of these books into strangers' hands at the bookstore.

Eighty four books. Mostly novels. That's my total for 2009, the first year I tracked my reading each month, though I'm pretty sure there are three or four books I read but failed to log and then promptly forgot about. Still, when I tallied them a few days ago I was astounded to see how many pages I'd turned in twelve months.

Then I started wondering: was that a lot? A little? As someone who claims to be a writer, should I have read more? (I certainly should have bought more; the bulk were from the library.) Should I have spent less time reading, more time writing? Maybe not; my writing is dependent first on my life as a reader. I'm cool with that.

It was kind of fun, tracking what I read. January was my most literate month, with 13 books gulped down. Not surprisingly, October and November were my lightest with four novels each. (November was my most prolific writing month, however, with NaNo and my just-over 50K words, so hardly surprising reading took the back seat.) Best of all is the list preserves both the titles and my impressions. For instance, here's what I wrote about a book from February:

A Gentleman’s Guide to Gracious Living by Michael Dahlie
Newly divorced socialite NY male makes mistake after mistake, with lots of whiskey and good manners. Good read, engaging, funny and sad. Did its job as a book.

Concise, sure, but looking at my notes, I remember the book, and it also tells me that Dahlie is an author I'd be happy to give another go.

A couple other books that month were less satisfying. I'll leave out the books' titles and authors, but here are some notes:

Overwritten, felt characters were dumb with unbelievable motivations. Florid. Zing! Next up: Okay, not wonderful. Unsatisfying and rushed ending. Much felt repetitive. Book suggested two story lines would converge, but they never did. Then in March, ouch: Almost no sympathetic characters, incredibly overwritten, too many details on insignificant characters, story got started really late in the game, and storylines that make no difference to the plot. Still, read the whole thing. Annoying book, but readable writing style. And in April! Lazy writing and editing, stupid MC (unbelievably dumb actions for a supposedly smart woman; taken advantage of in ways not believable). Readable, clipped along, but mostly continued reading to be done rather than for pleasure.

Still, maybe the most valuable information I took away from the logging of all these books is that every single one had some redeeming qualities (even that florid one). Several books were by extremely successful writers who wrote, in my opinion, fairly bad books with lousy stories--but in every instance, the books were, according to my notes, readable. The words flowed, and I stuck with them even as I groaned at the characters or plot holes or bad dialogue or whatever it was. True, I know not to pick up those authors again. Yet last month I read two books by another writer I'll seek out even though one was just okay. I guess discovering the better book first makes the difference, at least for me.

Last year proved I re-read less than I think, just six all year. Only one Anne Tyler--which I enjoyed more than the first time around. And no Maeve Binchy at all this year! (Dang that Pamela, hogging my copy of my annual Christmas read.) I'm pretty sure I failed to include my sixth or seventh lifetime reading of Sense and Sensibility, but since I'm not sure, I won't bump my total to 85. I also picked up a couple of children's books from the past: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer, a book I adored in third or fourth grade and adored again. And Doris Gates' Blue Willow, a story I read as a child and ached through this time as an adult.

On my list were five writers with two books each; another penned three. Half of those were new to me. Several others I'll seek out when their debut follow-ups hit the shelves, and I've already looked for more from my last writer of the year. There were a few writers whose earlier works I've enjoyed. About ten books were recommended by friends or pop culture, with results both wonderful and meh.

I noticed some trends as well. May was YA month, with six of nine reads in that category, two by the same writer, John Green, a new-to-me author now on my read-everything-he-writes list. Late July through August were my Islam months, starting with Andre Dubus III's very fine House of Sand and Fog followed by Geraldine Brooks' outstanding non-fiction Nine Parts of Desire, and then Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's Three Cups of Tea. All the October books were painful reads about women in impossible situations--perhaps the reason I managed only four, though all of them earned high marks in my notes.

So far this year I've read two books, one in a single day. (What can I say? My whole family was inflicted with a really bad cold, but I sent the rest of them to work and school). I don't know if I'll manage 13 books this month, nor how many I'll end the year with. But I do know that taking the time to keep track was worth it, both as a reader and as a writer. No matter what you call yourself, I recommend it.

What I realize I don't know, going over my notes, is what is the "best book" I read this year. I know that several have stuck with me, and I have two or three new favorites--but just one, the single best book of my reading year? I honestly don't know. What I do know is that I read, found satisfaction and entertainment and heartache and interest, and I'm hoping 2010 is just as good or better.

So how about everyone else? Did you read a lot, a little, anything spectacular, any trends? I believe I speak for all of us here at WWW when I say we'd love to hear from you.

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