So, last year I made some bookish resolutions. And, as with most New Year’s Resolutions, I failed. I was going to read more, read more classics from the Well-Educated Mind list, read off my shelves/TBR list and blog more about what I read. As far as numbers I read about the same number of books (71). I forgot the classics resolution somewhere around Jan 7th and I still have shelves piled high with “someday” books and a TBR list that just keeps getting longer. And I blogged way less than I had in past years. So in some concrete ways, it was year of failure.
Ah well, it was fun trying. A year of reading is never really a failure, which is maybe why it’s my favorite pursuit. I always find it near impossible to name my favorite book of the year or the best book I read. Instead here are a few reflections on my year in books. If you’re interested the full list is here.
The Year of the Short Story
I have frequently stated that I’m not a fan of short stories. I appreciate the skill and craft, but I just like longer format fiction. This apparently was the year I decided to challenge that self-stated belief.
In all I read five collections of short stories this year:
I still think I prefer the longer form of a novel but I did learn to enjoy the short story more. I have several collections on my shelf or TBR list to read in the coming year: Lovely, Dark, Deep by Joyce Carol Oates, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel and The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol.
The Best 34 hours I Spent
Alternate title: That’s one way to get to the classics.
Other Alternate title: Best serendipity reading
Early in the year I read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Somewhere in reading about it, I saw several references to David Copperfield. I love Dickens but had never read David Copperfield. I thought about reading it but it was the summer and I had a stack of books I needed to read in preparation for John’s 6th grade year. So I decided to listen to the audiobook. Twenty-seven CD’s and 34-some hours later and I was still loving Dicken’s creation.
I also read (and enjoyed) three other classics for the first time: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.
Truth is Better than Fiction (This Year, at least)
This year, the books that stood out for me the most were both non-fiction books. First, Lawrence Wright’s mind-blowing Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. If you were around me when I was reading this book, I apologize. I probably bored you with long experts or stories. It was that good. Crazy and spooky. But really, really good.
I also probably bored a lot of people with spy stories from my other great non-fiction read of the year: Ben MacIntyre’s A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. Spies and Scientologists both make for fascinating reading.
You Can Never Go Wrong Writing about Books
Nick Hornby’s Ten years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books is a collection of columns he wrote for The Believer magazine. The columns are a celebration of reading and books and especially of a particular kind of reading: reading for whimsy, reading for joy, reading what you want because you want it and because you like it. It would made a wonderful gift for anyone who loves books and reading.
And the one that negates that whole “no best book of the year thing”:
Ok, I know I said I have a hard time picking my favorite book or best book of the year. But Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son was just so good that I’d have to say it would win. If there was a winner. I said it all in my earlier review so I’ll just point you back there. And say that at the end of the year it still stands out as the top of the top for this year.