Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Favorite Books and Reading Stats

I remember 2008 as being a year that I found myself putting more books aside than I've ever done in the past, to the point that I avoided starting a few works I expected to love just in case it was me, and not the books. Yet when I look back over my reading list, I can only spot one short spell where every book I read seemed "eh," and I really think it was the books, not me. All in all, there was a lot to love this year.

My top ten favorite reads of 2008:

The Birds Fall Down. Rebecca West
Brideshead Revisited. Evelyn Waugh
A High Wind in Jamaica. Richard Hughes
Oscar and Lucinda. Peter Carey
The Suicide Index. Joan Wickersham
Olive Kitteridge. Elizabeth Strout
Our Horses in Egypt. Rosalind Belben
The Northern Clemency. Phillip Hensher
Half of a Yellow Sun. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(not pictured)The Hour I First Believed. Wally Lamb

I also greatly enjoyed Tana French's In the Woods and The Likeness; Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father; Julie Hecht's Happy Trails to You; Roxana Robinson's Cost; Gerard Donovan's Julius Winsome; Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels and Lauren Liebenberg's The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam.

I completed 78 books this year. The stats break down thusly:

Nonfiction: 13

Novels: 62

Books of short stories: 3

Library books read: 27

Newly acquired books read: 32

Newly acquired books stockpiled for later reading: 88 (much better than last year's 141+, but still way too many)

Free e-texts read: 7

Books "just published" in the last year or so: 41

Works I consider classics: 8 (must do better in this category next year)

Works written prior to the 20th century: 4

Re-reads: 1 (Animal Farm)

Books written by women: 42

Authors I read multiple books by: Elizabeth Gaskell (3), Tana French (2), Beth Gutcheon (2).

Books still in progress: Ten? Twelve? Something like that.

We're traveling to my sister's tomorrow to replace a faucet and --with some luck-- unclog a drain, so I'll wish everyone a Happy New Year now in case I'm not online tomorrow.

First book I intend to read in 2009: Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, a library book with a fast-approaching due date.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fifty-three minutes

I found myself so fascinated by Elaine's posts on her reading speed--she can read Animal Farm in 30 minutes--that I had to put my own self to the test a couple weeks back. I finished the book in 53 minutes, which translates into less than 700 words a minute, shabby by Elaine standards, and totally irrelevant to my typical reading rate. Yesterday I decided to time myself on another short book, Adalbert Stifter's Rock Crystal. I finished it in (I know you're not going to believe me) 53 minutes. Unfortunately, the Stifter is much shorter than the Orwell, and I estimate my reading speed on this one at being less than 350 words a minute, which qualifies as an epic fail by Evelyn Wood's standards, because she doesn't care that during this time I was also eating breakfast or fighting off the cat that kept insisting she get to sit in front of the book on my lap instead of behind it. Evelyn Wood no doubt had distractions in her reading life as well; she just read even faster to compensate.

Clearly I'm never going to make it through 400 books a year like Jessica, or 200 classics like Mandi, but I would like reach 100 again--haven't done that since 2001--so I'm intending to make more time to read books in 2009. I waste an enormous amount of time on the internet; if I can curtail that habit I should be able to reach 100 whether or not a cat's obstructing my view a good deal of the time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Reason for the Season

Okay, so technically very few of the books pictured above are presents--Christmas or late birthday--but are instead the happy outcome of having a credit card company double points for educational expenses; otherwise making tuition payments are kind of a drag. And the season I'm talking about isn't the season that you're in the midst of celebrating or that you'll necessarily be entering into, but for me, I feel I have no choice: I'm a binge buyer and I need to go cold turkey. No more new books brought into the house (sans library books, downloads to the Kindle, and the four already ordered but not expected until January) until May.


I fully intend to buy the new A.S. Byatt as soon as it's published (in May), but I hope the moratorium will have made me more temperate and my purchases will proceed at a more leisurely pace for the rest of '09.

Call this the Winter of My Content to Read What I Already Own:

Poppy Adams. The Behavior of Moths

Margaret Atwood. Payback

Michel Faber. The Fire Gospel

J.G. Ballard. Miracles of Life

Jean Edward Smith. FDR

Jon Meacham. American Lion

Roberto Bolano. 2666

Adam Braver. November 22, 1963

Nick Hornby. Shakespeare Wrote For Money

Daphne Du Maurier. Don't Look Now

Julian Rubinstein. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

Adam Gopnik, ed. The Best American Essays 2008

Peter Matthiessen. Shadow Country

William Faulkner. Snopes: The Hamlet; The Town; The Mansion

William Gaddis. The Recognitions

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wintery Books

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No, no … this isn’t the question you’re probably expecting, that asks about your winter reading habits.

What I want to know today is … what are the most “wintery” books you can think of? The ones that almost embody Winter?

Laura Ingall Wilder's The Long Winter is the first one that comes to mind.


James Meek's The People's Act of Love

Dan Simmons' The Terror

Orhan Pamuk's Snow

and lots of Russian short stories. And Joyce's "The Dead."

And the one I'm reading next, Adalbert Stifter's Rock Crystal, should prove to be awfully wintery.

Booking Through Thursday

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Books as presents

Jeanne asked the other day about the books I was buying to give as gifts and as I've now completed my Christmas shopping, I can finally answer.

I'm fairly wary about buying books for others. My tastes don't usually synch well with those in the extended family and I'm more apt to recommend books to friends or to loan out my own copy than to purchase another one for them to have. My friend W. and I buy books for one another, but we give them as birthday presents and we often run suggestions by one another before we make the final selection.

I've always found it easy to select books for my kids, but now that they're grown, it makes more financial sense to let them make their reading selections from the books already in the house. I'm giving two novels to my daughter this Christmas--I chose one because the library copy I'd read perfectly represents a narrative voice R's expressed interest in studying and the other's sort of a wild card--based on what I read on one blog, it sounds like something someone with her major would enjoy. (I can't give the names of these books at the moment because she reads the blog.) My son's getting two works of nonfiction--this year's tome on behavioral economics (he's quite fond of behavioral economics) and his wild card selection, a book of survival skills.

My mother-in-law's favorite book this year--and definitely her favorite book to give as a gift--is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book I've yet to read despite the fact that I recommended it to W. just yesterday. Based on her affection for this book, I felt safe selecting
G.B. Edwards' The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, the only book about Guernsey Island that I've read (and totally enjoyed), and Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road, which she's managed to never encounter and has the same epistolary style, for her.

And Jeanne should be happy to learn that I'm giving Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy to my niece, who's just the age for a spy notebook.

I'm also giving four gift cards to book stores, but who knows if the recipients will decide to use the credit on music or movies instead of books.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Just added to my wish list

Fred Kaplan's Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer:

"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ' all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except Negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equals, except Negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Remember the ground control!

I'm going to tell a funny on my son.

A couple weeks back he had to watch a movie based on an historical event for a class and then write a paper about it. He watched The Alamo, John Wayne version.

The instructor hasn't given the papers back yet, but someone asked about them this morning in class and he said although he hadn't finished grading them all (it's the last week of class), so far they were pretty good.

But there was one paper, he said, that he wasn't sure whether he should give an F to or an A-plus.

Seems the Bowie the writer of this paper had placed at the Alamo was David, not Jim.

I've been recasting the movie in my mind all afternoon. The stars look very different.

You can never get the job done

The annoying thing about reading is that you can never get the job done. The other day I was in a bookstore flicking through a book called something like 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (and, without naming names, you should be aware that the task set by the title is by definition impossible, because at least four hundred of the books suggested would kill you anyway), but reading begets reading--that's sort of the point of it, surely?--and anybody who never deviates from a set list of books is intellectually dead anyway.

--Nick Hornby, Shakespeare Wrote For Money

Now seems as good a time as any to confess that I decided during the waning days of October to bow out of all current reading challenges and to resist future entanglement with any of these enticing efforts to direct my reading. Even though I put only books I want to read on a challenge list, the fact that they're on a list at all sets up all sorts of mental boundaries--I avoided the downloaded George Gissings on my Kindle for the past nine months because I needed to concentrate on 19th century women, for example--that contributed to my eschewing books almost completely for a few weeks while I obsessively checked the interconnected internet tubes once again for any other ridiculous misinterpretations of the First Amendment that may have come tumbling out of Sarah Palin's mouth.

So. I'm back to reading at whim and allowing my reading to beget reading and trying to keep reading-by- library-due-dates under control. That's enough of a traveler's lantern for me right now.

I will be participating in the occasional group read; I have a first edition of William Gaddis' The Recognitions on my desk at work so that I can read along with LitLove's Reading Gaddis group, and I will of course continue reading with the Slaves of Golconda and perhaps even posting my thoughts on these books--next up, Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry with discussion at the end of January-- instead of moving right along to the next book on a list that needs to be checked off.

Monday, December 01, 2008


The fiction that best captured the emotional pitch of living in 2008.

I've read none of these so far, although I've gone as far as to check the Oates out from the library.

(And then returned it, untouched).

A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...