2009 Reading Wrap-Up
That beautiful notecard is from one of my favourite Etsy stores: pinwheeldesigns. You can buy it for a mere $5, and I’m planning to do a mix-and-match notecard set very soon, since every card is whimsical and adorable and inspiring.
I had intended to simply skip the reading wrap-up this year; I feel overwhelmed trying to analyse the numbers when I’ve read so many books, and frankly I’d rather spend the time reading books or blogs! But Simon is one of my new favourite bloggers (I’m not sure why it took me SO long to discover his blog, but on the plus side that gives me more archives), and so when he posted an end of the year meme that he borrowed last year from another Simon (whose blog is also marvelous, if you’ve never visited) and then added to, I decided to just go with that. (I’m also going to do a special geography-themed wrap-up of the year’s reading, so stay tuned if you’re a map nerd like me!)
How many books read in 2009?
Um, I find this rather embarrassing to admit. But that would be 405. Please don’t judge me!
How many fiction and non fiction?
165 nonfiction, which means 241 fiction. That’s a 3:2 ratio, which I quite like. It’s a good balance for me.
Male/Female author ratio? I’m counting this as ‘books written by male/female,’ so if I read more than one book by the same author, I’m counting him/her more than once. Otherwise, it’d be an odd ratio, right? (But I’m not including anthologies-fic or nonfic-unless they were all by one gender!) Well, it’s 214 books written by women. I’m too lazy to go count up the male books too (since I can’t simply subtract this time), but it looks like women have an edge! Woo-hoo! A few years ago, I read mainly male authors, and after working at the ratio for some time, this year I didn’t pay any attention and still gave the girls the love they need. ;)
Favourite book of 2009?
One book?! Seriously?! I was going to say ‘Not Fair, Not Fair, Not Fair,’ lol. And I still rather feel that way. But the one book that I wished I could crawl into and live in, the book that I loved from the very first page to the very last, which left me completely satisified and desiring a reread as soon as I finished it, was The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. I didn’t end up writing a review of it, because how does one discuss perfection? All of that being said, I don’t think that this is a book for everyone. But it was the *perfect* book for me. I also seriously adored Someone Knows My Name (aka The Book of Negroes) and would happily recommend that to everyone I know. Oh, and on the nonfiction front, while Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande can do no wrong, I must say that Natalie Angier’s Woman: an Intimate Geography is my new answer to the ‘If you could make everyone read one book, which one would it be?’ question. Oh dear; if I let myself continue, I’m going to end up with the ‘top fifty’ list I promised I wouldn’t do.
I’ll simply list the one-star reads of the year, since there aren’t many of them: Goodbye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Saudi Arabia Exposed by John Bradley, The Lady, the Chef, and the Courtesan by Marisol, The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland, Night of Many Dreams by Gail Tsukiyama, Spoken Here by Mark Abley, and The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier. Out of 400 books read, only 7 awful ones isn’t so bad. ;)
Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?
Ohhh-I’m bad at keeping track of this one. I know I abandoned Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch because it was so misogynistic (speaking of which, this is the year I finally learned how to spell that word w/o resorting to the dictionary!), because I posted about it. And a few days ago, I gave myself permission to abandon Watership Down around page 250, because the idea of another 200 pages of only male rabbits who were whiny and self-centered mixed with broadly painted political metaphors made me want to give up reading forever. Oh, and I remember abandoning The Story of the Cannibal Woman halfway through, because the bad writing overpowered my desire to read a book by an author from Guadeloupe. I feel bad about being this negative, but it takes *a lot* for me to abandon a book.
Oldest book read?
I’m guessing Gilgamesh, which I loved! The only other contender would be Arabian Nights…so let’s pop off to wikipedia and see…the ‘standard’ text of Gilgamesh dates to 1300-1000 BCE while Arabian Nights is much later (10th-15th centuries CE), so yeah, now I’m blushing at thinking it would even be a contest.
I *think* Changing My Mind, Zadie Smith’s new essay collection, which was released on November 12th here in the States. But I’m too lazy to compare the actual publication dates of the 2009 books I read! ;)
Longest and shortest book titles?
I didn’t include the subtitles that a lot of nonfiction books have, since that felt like cheating! So for the longest, I ended up counting the letters in Here At the End of the World We Learn to Dance and Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch. And Miss Finch wins by three letters, using 39 of them. I had a tie for the shortest title: “Wit” and Aya both displayed admirable brevity.
Longest and shortest books?
I KNOW A Suitable Boy was the longest, because reading a 1,474 page book in one week is the kind of thing that sticks with you! As far as the shortest one goes…I read quite a few novellas this year, but most were part of a larger actual *book*, so I’m going to guess The Turn of the Screw at 96 pages. But while Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is 150 pages long, half of those are the original and half are the translation. So actual reading pages=75.
How many books from the library?
LOL I literally started cracking up at this one. I considered not bothering trying to count them all! But I decided to simply count the books I read this year that I owned, and came to the conclusion (much more quickly) that I read 369 books from my library this year.
Any translated books?
Yep! By my count 46, although there might be a few I overlooked. Obviously, I’m not going to list them all! This was one of my goals for the year, to read more translated books, and I totally exceeded my expectations. Of course, that’s still only 11% of my total reading for the year, so I’m not going to pat myself on the back too much.
Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?
At 6 titles, Neil Gaiman heads the list, but most of them were graphic novels. Bill Willingham, with his graphic series Fables ties with Laurie King and her mystery series featuring Mary Russell at five a piece. And then I read three each of Alain de Botton, David Eddings, Elizabeth Gaskell, Jacqueline Woodson, LM Boston, Wilkie Collins, A.S. Byatt, Nick Hornby, and Georgette Heyer. Reading more in depth of authors I already know and love is one of my primary reading goals next year!
Yep: 20 of them. This actually falls short of my goal at the beginning of the year (which was to reread 25 books), but oh well!
Favourite character of the year?
I feel like cheating to say Mary Russell, since I was rereading books featuring her throughout the year (the first one is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King). But oh well: it’s true! :)
Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?
This shall be addressed in its own post! But this was my main goal of 2009, and I’ll give you a hint: I visited almost 100 countries this year. If only real travelling could be found for free in the library! ;)
Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
The first one that popped into my head was Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. Ana recommended that I read it, and it was SO amazing. The kind of book that could be reread a ton and yield fresh surprises every time.
Which author was new to you in 2009 that you now want to read the entire works of?
So many! I did just that with Atul Gawande (and I really hope he has a third essay collection in the works). And I just mentioned Margo Lanagan. And Bill Willingham. And Chris Abani, Bernice McFadden, Lawrence Hill, Edwidge Danticat, Zadie Smith, Thomas King, Karen Armstrong, Julia Alvarez, Carlos Fuentes, Jamaica Kincaid, Shan Sa, Jacqueline Woodson, Banana Yoshimoto, Sarah Rayne..and that’s just looking at my reads from December and November! Oh-how could I forget Sarah Waters?! But seriously, I’m going to stop now; let’s just say, I’ve found lots of incredible authors who I intend to explore more in 2010.
Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read?
Erm, I’m annoyed I didn’t quite finish the books I have going-Moby Dick (I’ve got 60 pages left!), The Girl in the Picture and two audiobooks: The Good House and Phantom of the Opera. But I guess they’ll be my first reads of the new year!
Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?
I wasn’t sure how to interpret ‘always.’ But books I’ve wanted to read since before blogging that I got to this year include: Portrait of a Lady, The Arabian Nights, Alias Grace, The Count of Monte Cristo, Howard’s End, and The Virgin Blue.
Ok, so now I’m in more of a wrap-up mood. So here’s my completely arbitrary list of favourite reads from each month of the year, complete with collages of the covers. Because the next best thing to scissors and a gluestick is Picasa’s collage function!
Last year got off to a wonderful start, as January opened with Howards End by E.M. Forster and Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto both taking me by surprise with how much I adored them. Later that month, I rekindled my childhood desire to be a Jesuit thanks to the memoir My Life with the Saints by James Martin. “Silk” by Alessandro Baricco turned out to be the perfect bath companion: its slim size let me finish it before the water went cold, and its luminous prose kept me delighted. Later, revisiting The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King turned out to be just as fun as my first meeting with Mary Russell…I find that mystery novels that stand up to rereading are particularly impressive. I can’t believe I waited so long to read The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough! It was pure melodramatic soap opera at its most delicious, and those Australian landscapes are as seered into my memory as Father Ralph’s flashing blue eyes. The month ended on another high note, with a wonderful melding of science and the humanities: Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer.
In February I returned to the high seas with the fourth (in publication-order) Horatio Hornblower installment: Commodore Hornblower by C.S. Forester, and I found my love for Horatio and Forester’s writing completely confirmed. The time spent with the tsar was just the cherry on top! I also fell madly in love with Sarah Waters thanks to her debut Tipping the Velvet, which I lived and breathed until the final page. My nerdy philosophy-loving high school kid was satiated with The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton, another author who I now find a favourite. Then I went on another Victorian adventure with No Name by Wilkie Collins, my favourite Collins of the year, and the book that made me decide I want to read all of his oeuvre! I was incredibly hesitant to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, but my lovely commentators chose it for me, and I ended up relishing every page. The characters haunted my dreams. Speaking of haunting, the memoir From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe brought me directly to Burma, and I was sad to reach the final page…literary, evocative, dramatic…this made me begin to rethink my stance on memoirs. I was nervous to read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, since I tend to struggle with books written in dialect. However, the only struggle I found was trying to convey my love for it to all of my blog readers! This book shook me to my core, gave me renewed faith in life, and brought me to a lot of laughter and tears along the way. Finally, I was beside myself with excitement to read an ARC of the latest Mary Russell book, The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King, and it exceeded all of my (absurdly high) expectations.
March saw me going back to Burma with Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin, basically my ideal travelogue with its combination of literary, political, and personal analysis. Meanwhile, Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham, the first volume of the Fables series, convinced me that I could love comic-book-style graphic novels. This was a month for graphic books, with Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan making me want to move to Australia and become Tan’s full-time worshiper. I didn’t think I could love anything more than The Arrival, but this one was so magical and amazing as to be unquantifiable. Finally, I got completely lost in historical Mexico with The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, a tale of love and saints and war and just life told with some of the most beautiful prose I’ve experienced all year.
My birth month April saw some marvelous reading as well. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James was epic, and women-centered, and Caribbean-flavoured, and the kind of book that everyone should read. I’ll always remember Lilith. Shooting the Boh by Tracy Johnston became one of my favourite travelogues from its first few chapters, and every chapter after that in this adventure-gone-wrong story simply became better. Another marvelous bath read! As delightful as Shakespeare Wrote For Money by Nick Hornby proved to be, I couldn’t help being a bit sad that I had know read all of Hornby’s books-about-books. That is, until I remembered that I could simply begin rereading them! Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger knocked my socks off and was just as wonderful as Nine Stories. Why can’t I be part of the Glass family?! Finally, I literally finished off the month with a whirlwind reading of Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende, which I read in a little over two hours on the night of April 30th. I don’t think I even stopped to breathe, I was so involved in the story!
May turned out to be a month of marvelous nonfiction! Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman, a travelogue that managed to exceed all of the expectations I brought into it, and just thinking about it makes me want to reread it! The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow was at once erudite and down-to-earth, not to mention simply fascinating. Months later, I still find myself sharing some of the statistics-related stories from the book with friends. Dreams and Shadows by Robin Wright proved to be everything I was looking for as a contemporary political look at the Middle East. And Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson became one of my very favourite science books, with its hilarious look at evolution and biology. My favourite novel of the month turned out to be This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, which took me aback with its easy style and page-turning story line. I’m so happy it’s the first in a quartet of books.
In June Barchester Towers swept me away to a kinder, gentler Victorian countryside, and made me wonder why Anthony Trollope isn’t better known. Meanwhile, Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace left me speechless when it came to time to review it; I had to descend into squeals and excessive exclamation points to try to convey how much I loved it. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan snuck up me; but after I was around one hundred pages into it, I began to resent anything that tore me away from it. I think this is a wonderful, important book, one that has the potential to heal. Finally, Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks, with its adorable mix of fern nerdiness and travel impressions, made me long for a May-December romance with Mr. Sacks. May I just call you Ollie? ;)
July was an incredible reading month for me, not quantity-wise, but quality-speaking. I had five and four star books all over each other! It began with a perfect rereading of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee that left me contemplating the feasibility of simply memorising the entire novel. In Ghost Hunters by Deborah Blum, the mix of history and mini-biographies and balanced look at ghosts left me with a wonderful reading afterglow. I read “Wit” by Margaret Edson in a single night, and it was so powerful I felt like all of the wind had been knocked out of me…I want to see the Emma Thompson film version now. Cranford was my introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell, and it was delightful as well as possessing one of the best opening lines I’ve ever come across. I then read two more absolutely marvelous science books: Tree: a Life Story by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady and Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks. Both were just so full of wonder and intelligence, and Tree made me want to go explore the forests, while Uncle Tungsten managed to make the periodic table sound fascinating!
In August I read my favourite audiobook of the year, The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, which reminded me of how much I adore James in his longer work! I found myself yelling at Isabel, desperately hoping she would somehow hear me and make a better marriage. But then, this is James. ;) My rereading of Beloved by Toni Morrison simply left me breathless. It’s such a perfect piece of fiction, that even while I’m completely caught up in the story, worrying about all of the characters, part of me is admiring the craftsmanship. I can’t wait to reread this one again. Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot delighted my inner po-mo and became my favourite graphic book! It’s full of so many twists and turns, and it’s so huge and fascinating and demanding and fun…it’s the first graphic book I really want to own. Meanwhile, The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson found its way into my heart by not only featuring a sexy menopausal woman as the main character, but also having mermaids! And making it all literary and thought-provoking and marvelous. It still makes me start grinning with I think back on it.
September opened with a book I can’t rave enough about: Complications by Atul Gawande…these are some of the best essays I’ve ever read, sincere, judicious, fascinating…just perfect. And Notes From the Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia edges out strong competition to become my favourite memoir of the year: it was all literary and political and personal and immediate, I felt like I was in Ethiopia alongside Mezlekia. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin took me by surprise; I was expecting a convoluted, somewhat stodgy classic, but I read this in one sitting. The prose just grabbed me and kept barrelling along, and I can’t wait to read more of Baldwin in the future. I also read Fledgling by Octavia Butler in one sitting, and I defy anybody to put down the book. It has all of the page-turning power of a bestselling thriller, along with wonderful prose, fascinating multilayered characters, and a ton of thought-provoking stuff. I loved it so much, I want to read Butler’s other sci-fi books, and I am not a sci-fi person. On the other end, A Time of Angels by Patricia Schonstein was a dreamy, fable-like story with food and magic and stories-within-stories that was perfect to curl up with. And yes, there is an angel.
October also saw a surfeit of superlatives, and it took me forever to decide which five books to feature here! The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection was pure delight, from the stories to Gaiman’s voice to the adorable interview at the end. We’ve already established how I feel about The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt…it’s a desert island book for me. And Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood might have been the only possible novel that could stand up to being read directly after it. I think this is Atwood at her very best! Never have I been more delighted to discover how large an author’s backlist is than after finishing Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. It’s not an understatement to say that Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud revolutionised how I look at graphic books, and I think everyone who’s intellectual and curious about the style will love it too.
November was another month dominated by nonfiction! I think Woman: an Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier should be translated into every language and made on audio in every language so that every single woman on our planet can read it. Seriously. The only flaw with Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent was that it ended. Seriously, I couldn’t get enough of this one, and when I handed it to my mom so she could read a particularly funny paragraph, she wouldn’t give it back until she’d read a couple of chapters. Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf was a fascinating look at the science of reading. I couldn’t stop turning the pages! On the fiction side, Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King was a delicious novel: intelligent, witty, hilarious, and very, very human.
Despite having a bit of a reading slump towards the end, I read way too many marvelous books in December. Too many, only in the sense that I had to try to choose only some of them to list here, and it was agony. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight trans. by Simon Armitage was a wonderful story presented in an even more wonderful translation; a book that could be read in an afternoon, but that will stay with you forever! Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill is one of my best of the year. Enough said! I wasn’t even sure I cared that much about the Incas until I picked up The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie. My heart sank at the library when I saw how huge this was (over 500 pages), but once I began reading it, the pages just flew by! I hope MacQuarrie writes more books soon. Sugar by Bernice McFadden could have veered into stereotypical territory, but it never does thanks to McFadden’s genius ability to create and sympathise with her characters. This would be a perfect Women Unbound choice. Song for Night by Chris Abani was another book that took me breath away. The prose, the subtlety, the storytelling, the characters….Abani is a master, and I will happily sit at his feet for days. Finally, Soldier’s Heart by Elizabeth Samet is a perfect choice for any book lover, but also a book I’ll be recommending to all of my friends who know nothing about the military. I savoured every page of this book, and didn’t want it to end.
So, there’s my top…errr…64! But really, that’s the top 15% of books I read…if I had to narrow it to the top ten, that’d be a disturbing 2.5% of my year’s reading.
And briefly, here’s a look at how I lived up to my resolutions made one year ago today:
- Maintain a 2:1 fiction:nonfiction ratio: that’s what it was for 2008, and I really like the balance. Check: I increased it to 3:2, actually!
- Make sure that my international reading is well-balanced geographically. Check: I’ll explore this more in maps next week.
- Read more works in translation. (I only read 13 in 2008, so that shouldn’t be a huge problem.) Check: over 40 translated books this year!
- Read at least 25 classics: I read 23 last year, so this isn’t too much of a stretch. A lot of them were rereads, though, so hopefully this year I’ll read some new ones! Check: I read 28!
- Read some poetry. Fail…I read some books about how to appreciate poetry. Next year, I think I’m going to memorise a poem a week.
- Read more short story anthologies, vs. single-author short story collections. I still have plenty of the latter on my TBR shelf, and I like them, but I think anthologies would be neat to start getting into! I also want to do more short story reviews vs. book reviews. Check to the more anthologies; unfortunately, that led me to me reading fewer books of short stories. I did do better about short story reviews, though, with John Mutford’s Short Story Monday a semi-regular feature here.
- Reread at least 25 books. Fail…I reread 20. But I’ve incorporated rereading more into my read-a-longs/challenges for next year!
How do you do your best-of list? Or do you skip it all together?