Independent People is #625 on the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. See the whole list and my progress here. This summer, I’m reading from the list for my 20 Books of Summer challenge, and instead of straight reviews, I’m going to compare the 1,001 Books write-ups with my own impressions.
Independent People gets the half-page treatment in the 1,001 Books (as opposed to some of the other books I’ve covered this summer, e.g. Tristram got a two page spread with illustration from a c.1760 edition, The Fox a full page with author photo, and Wise Children a full page with original cover art), not giving me a lot to go on. Contributor Jonathan Morton gets a little dig in by calling the main character Bjartur “often idiotic”, but otherwise sums up the plot, touches on the historical backdrop of WWI and the rise of socialism, and describes the epic and mythical tone of the story. He also reminds us that Laxness wrote many other books and remains the “undisputed master of Icelandic fiction” more than twenty years after his death (only 8 years at the time of the write up, but still).
Not much to disagree with there! But I was interested by that “idiotic” description, and it reminded me that the introduction to my edition, by poet and novelist Brad Leithauser, goes a bit too easy on old Bjartur: “Occasionally it is borne in upon Bjartur that his women are tortuously unhappy” being one example of the passive voice, which to be fair, might be ironic or meant to show how oblivious he is, but made me laugh out loud, given that Bjartur leaves one wife to die alone in childbirth, despite her protests, and begrudges the other any comfort in a life marred by constant pregnancy, stillbirths, and illness. Leithauser does concede that Bjartur is at once “petty-minded and heroic; brutal and poetic; cynical and childlike” but seems just a bit too in awe of both the character and Laxness himself to write an introduction that can inspire or interest the new reader. At least he acknowledges it, calling Independent People the “book of [his] life”, a book so close to him that “evaluation becomes a niggling irrelevance”.Continue reading
Or, let’s be realistic, 10 books of summer if I’m lucky. Last year I made a stack of twenty books, read ten (eventually), and reviewed four (the last review appearing in December). Let’s see how my late pandemic brain does compared to my early pandemic brain, I guess?
If you’re not familiar with this event, Cathy of 746 Books is our host and it’s as simple as it sounds. You have from June 1 through September 1 to read and review your books, but there’s lots of flexibility in terms of quantity, substitutions, and the definition of “summer” (good thing, we have snow in the forecast!)
This year, I am doing a bit of a theme. I am just ten books away from reaching a milestone in my long-running 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die project. My pace has slowed considerably over the last couple of years, and I need a boost. So, my list of ten books is made up of the nine “list” books I happen to have in the house, plus an open space. Perhaps you have a recommendation? You can review the list, and see which ones I’ve already read, here.
Here’s what I have on deck:
- The Fox by D.H. Lawrence (included in “Four Short Novels”)
- Quartet by Jean Rhys
- Wise Children by Angela Carter
- Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
- The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
- The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
- Independent People by Halldór Laxness
- Hard Times by Charles Dickens
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
- I’ve got a blank space, baby (TBA, recs welcome!)
With expectations duly lowered, let’s go!
This month marks ten years since I started Reading in Bed, with the less-than-SMART goal of reading the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Assigning no numerical goal or timeline, it was neither Specific nor Timely, but the blog was conceived as a way to Measure my progress. How Achievable or Realistic it was I will leave for you to judge.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what a “book blog” was. I didn’t know what an ARC was. I didn’t know about tags, or Top Ten Tuesday, or what “YA” meant. I was a reader without a community or a culture.
Forays into Bookstagram, Booktube, podcasting, and formal book reviewing were fun, but not my thing. I kept coming back to the blog. And so did some of you. Thank you so much. I’m not a stats person, but it’s nice to know someone’s reading.
If you’re new here, or just want to accompany me down memory lane, here’s a Reading in Bed starter pack, with your favs and mine.
Reading in Bed’s greatest hits
- Stoner by John Williams (review): Probably students looking to plagarize their essays
- Booktube: I have seen the future, and it has great hair: I wasn’t the only one curious about Booktube in 2014
- The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice (review): Probably people looking to illegally download this erotic classic
- The Fault in Our Stars: Use Your (Literary) Allusion (review): Definitely students looking to plagarize their essays
- What’s the Deal with Infinite Jest?: the eternal question
My favourite posts
- On Manifestos: I was angry in this one!
- Franzen Blaming: If you’re coming for JFranz, you better have receipts
- Michael Ondaatje Wins Macewan Book of the Year, Remains Sexy While Doing So: self-explanatory?
- Jonathan Frazen and Jennifer Weiner: The Shocking Truth Behind Their Bitter Feud: the closest I’ve come to a conspiracy theory
- Book-loving hedonists and alienated intellectuals: why readers need to settle down about reading: This still pretty much describes my perspective on literary and “bookish” culture
- Good Morning, Shopaholic: or, in defence of Sophie Kinsella
- War and Peace: Did you Get the Memo? or, Office Space as modern W&P adaptation
- Reading Dostoyevsky to own the libs: thought I better include something recent, and this was… something
No life lessons on this anniversary, but my thoughts from five years ago still stand.
After reading my seventh Dostoyevsky novel, I realized I still don’t really understand his writing. Not at first, and not on my own, anyway. Luckily, classic novels usually come with an introduction. I ended up perusing three introductions to Demons (I like to check out different translations, and later decided to borrow an edition to read on my phone). Here’s a quick guide, to help you choose an edition that works for you.
Just don’t ask me to recommend the best translation. I read about 80% of Demons in the Maguire translation, which was great until I came across a typo, and about 20% in the Pevear and Volokhonsky. I don’t get the P&V hate, though they are awfully fond of using formal and old-fashioned language (in the very first sentence, they use “hitherato” where Maguire used “until then”.)Continue reading
I’m a delinquent Classics Club member at best, preferring to stick to my trusty 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list than put the effort in to curate and maintain a custom list and track it over five years, as per the rules. This spin is calling to me, though.
To participate in a spin, you’re supposed to make a list of twenty books, and read the one corresponding to a randomly selected number. Simple enough, but the theme of this 19th spin is “chunksters,” and the theme of my own reading year is “no white people writing in English,” and December is traditionally my month of rereading, so I’m pretty darn limited in what books I can include.
I can only think of five books that: are on the 1,001 Books list, are over five hundred pages long, I’ve already read, and are written by a person or colour and/or translated:
- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (536 pages)
- The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (706 pages)
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (838 pages)
- The Idiot by Fydor Dostoyevsky (667 pages)
- Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1480 pages)
Et bien, mes readers-along, si vous n’avez rien de mieux à faire, go to the master post for the read-along schedule and more.
Today’s the day: start reading! I tried to break you in gently by starting my first post off in French… hopefully you all remember your French as a Second Language classes, or got a translation where the French is, you know, translated!
But before we get to the bored socialites, glittering ballrooms, and affected French accents, not to mention the gifs, let’s get serious for un moment.
Those of you new to Reading in Bed might not know that I did a whole year of reading women authors in 2016. And my 2016 summer read-along was forgotten but foundational 18th century novel Cecilia, by Frances Burney. I must admit, it feels almost like a betrayal to go back to a dead white dude this year.
In doing my research (Googling “Was Tolstoy a dick?”) (he was), I found out that War and Peace wouldn’t have made it to our e-readers in 2017 without the help of a few lovely ladies. Let’s give them a shout out as we get ready to dive in. Continue reading
Despite restricting myself to only 35 new-to-me books in 2016, I had trouble narrowing down a top and bottom five. I also set out to document my 35 books on Instagram but kind of failed… I managed to get a few decent pictures though!
Best books of 2016, in order of when they were read:
- Birdie by Tracey Lindberg: Like nothing I’ve read before. A travesty that it didn’t win Canada Reads, Alberta Reader’s Choice Awards, and wasn’t nominated for many others. If there ever was a book that Canadians need now, and that has literary merit and does something new with the novel. this is it!
- Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood: Yes, we’re all mad at her right now. And this book, about how horrible women and girls are to each other, is perhaps fitting. I went through the strangest emotions while reading this: a mixture of sadness and relief that I’ll never have a daughter.
- After Claude by Iris Owens: So good I read it twice this year. So funny for the first two thirds that I forgot how devastating the last third is.
- The Diviners by Margaret Laurence: There are a lot of reasons to love this book. I’ll choose the fact that we witness the heroine lose her virginity in a scene where she is in total control, and she doesn’t 1) instantly orgasm 2) marry the guy 3) pay for it for the rest of the book. Sex positive CanLit circa 1973.
- Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys: Speaking of books that are ahead of their time! All these books are about strong women (but not “strong women”) and Sasha is the strongest and brittlest of them all.
Disappointing books of 2016, in order of when they were read. I don’t have pictures of all these, because, ugh.
- The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson: Read more like an educational pamphlet than a graphic novel.
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: I love an unreliable narrator. In fiction. In memoir, not so much…
- Bluets by Maggie Nelson: I just didn’t get it. Nelson is a writer I think I *should* like but just… don’t. And the fawning over her is just too much. I listened to her on a few podcasts this year and the hosts just grovel, Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy” style.
- In-Between Days by Teva Harrison: I didn’t connect with the drawing style. When you look forward to the text-only pages in a graphic novel, that’s not good.
- The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin: If Eat Pray Love was re-imagined as Eat Read Fuck. Which is funny since Crispin wrote a takedown of EPL (and even stranger, a defense of it six years ago.) This was my biggest disappointment. Crispin is an OG book blogger who’s gone on to be a respected literary critic. She is contrarian and sarcastic and smart. But this book swung between too show-offy and obscure and too juvenile (pretending not to know what the solution is to an affair with a married man that won’t leave his wife…) Won’t stop me from pre-ordering Why I Am Not A Feminist, though!
And now, the 2016 Reading in Bed Book of the Year:
You may notice something different about this year’s stats, compared to other years. Let’s see how long it takes to spot it…
- Books read in 2016: 35, down from 69 in 2015. That was on purpose, though. And I’m not counting rereads, kids books, or books I read for work.
- Shortest book: Bluets by Maggie Nelson (112 pages)
- Longest book: Cecilia by Frances Burney (1,056 pages)
- Format: 97% paper, 3% ebook, 0% audio (compared to a third of my reading on ebook and audio last year)
About the Author
- 100% female (58% in 2015)
- 34% person of colour (up from 20% 2015)
- 37% Canadian (same as 2015) 38% American, 11% British, and 1 each: Korean, Japanese, French, Filipino.
- Three Edmonton-area authors this year, being generous with one who moved recently!
… did you catch it? Yes, I did the #readwomen thing this year, and my experience will be covered in a separate blog post. Brace yourselves: unlike many who do this sort of thing, I did not come to any shattering realizations, and I *cannot wait* to read some dudes in 2017.
Genres and Lists
- 11% classics (same as 2015), 63% contemporary lit fic (about the same as previous years), 11% nonfiction (all memoirs), and a handful of erotica, poetry, and graphic novels.
- 2 1001 Books for a total of 127 read.
Probably gonna mix it up a bit next year, say, read some nonfiction that isn’t memoir?
- 17% were rated five stars (up from 11% last year), 49% were four stars, 23% were three stars, 14% were two stars and poor Nora Roberts gets just one.
- The most underrated book was After Claude, which I rated a 5, compared to average 3.55 rating on Goodreads. Which I assume is due to people getting offended, which is the whole point.
- The most overrated book was The Liar, which I rated a 1, compared to average 3.94 rating. It was just bad.
- Headed for about 17,000 page views in 2015, down from 23,000 in 2015. And 11,000 visitors, down from 15,000.
- I’m not panicking, because my review of The Fault in Our Stars, which amassed 7,000 views in 2013-2015, was viewed just 400 times this year. Looks like kids writing papers have moved on to another book. Similarly, my review of Sleeping Beauty is not pulling the numbers it used to (nor am I seeing as much filth in my search terms). I think a lot of my traffic in 2014/2015 was artificial due to people landing on those posts – and quickly clicking away. They were never my readers anyway. The moral is: never review YA or erotica.
- An Oryx and Crake readalong recap from 2013 continues to perform, due to a post on a Something Awful forum which I’m sorely tempted to pay for so I can see what it is… anyone a member? Hit me up!
- On course for 45 posts this year, up from 39 posts in 2015.
- Most viewed post of 2016 is that mysterious Oryx and Crake one.
- Most viewed post that was actually written in 2016: Intro post of the Cecilia readalong, likely due to a little help from CBC.
- Least successful post in 2016: Short Story Advent Calendar Video Reviews. Same as in 2015, it’s a Booktube post. Okay, I get it, you guys don’t like the Booktube…
Stay tuned for best books, disappointing books, and 2017 plans, of which I have several!
While my family enjoys the traditional new year’s eve feast of microwave popcorn and mini-watermelon slices (it was in our produce box this week!) I shall avail you of my blog stats. Stay tuned for my favourite books of 2015 and 2016 plans.
- Books read in 2015: 69, up from 64 in 2014 and 52 in 2013.
- Shortest book: We Should All Be Feminists (49 pages)
- Longest book: City on Fire (944 pages)
- Format: 64% paper, 20% ebook, 16% audio (which would be up from 0% audio in any previous year, and represents the biggest change in the way I read.)
About the Author
- 58% female (Same as 2014)
- 20% person of colour (same as 2014)
- 38% Canadian (down from 55% in 2014) 35% American 16% British and 1 each: Argentinian, Nigerian, New Zealand, Malaysian, Italian, Brazilian, Angolan, German.
- Six Edmonton-area authors this year, up from two last year.
I didn’t pay much attention to gender and race this year, but ended up with the same “diversity” stats as last year. I put “diversity” in quotes because these stats and challenges generally leave a bad taste in my mouth. (That’s a whole other post, but this or this can give you an idea why.) I was curious about how my reading fell out, though, so I did the calculation. I notice that I expanded the number of author nationalities (at the expense of #CanLit, oops) while still reading a large majority of Canadian, American, and UK authors.
Genres and Lists
- 10% classics (down from 19% in 2014), 51% contemporary lit fic (about the same as previous years), 14% non fiction (up a bit from last year), and a handful of YA, erotica, romance, memoir, graphic novels, and a thriller.
- 3 1001 Books for a total of 126 read – and reread two more.
I’m further and further away from the reason I started this blog. Not saying that’s good or bad… stay tuned for 2016 plans!
- 7% were rated five stars (down 13% in 2014), 41% were four stars, 36% were three stars, 16% were two stars. I DNF’d one book that was headed for a one-star rating.
This year is a bit of a slump. Only a few books blew me away. As usual, I tend to rate books lower than the masses on Goodreads:
- I rated 26 books higher. The most underrated book was The Bear, which I rated a 5, compared to average 3.31 rating. Yeah, I have a lot of feelings about this book.
- I rated 40 books lower. The most overrated book was We Should All Be Feminists, which I rated a 2, compared to average 4.44 rating. Not because I don’t agree, but because there was nothing new or challenging.
- 23,000 page views in 2015. About 50 fewer than last year, and about a thousand fewer visitors. So… things are a little stagnant around here.
- 39 posts in 2015, down from 52 in 2014 and 96 in 2013. Which might explain the stagnation.
- If I was an optimist, I’d calculate views per post, or views per visitor, but I’m not.
- Most viewed post of 2015: What’s the Deal With Infinite Jest? And I expect that to continue, as the 20th anniversary edition will be out soon.
- Most viewed post that was actually written in 2015: Book-loving hedonists and alienated intellectuals: why readers need to settle down about reading. This was my favourite post to write as well.
- Least successful post in 2015: Novellas in November 2015 wrap-up (video.) Seriously? I thought I was so hip and with it, what with the Book-tubing….
Insert “excuses for not writing wrap-up posts, that no one noticed I didn’t write, and the excuses are also humblebrags, and/or pleas for pity and/or compliments” here.
Let’s just call this 2015 so far.
4 and 5 star reads that’d I’d recommend to almost anybody:
- The Bear by Clare Cameron (review, sort of)
- The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
- NW by Zadie Smith (audio)
- When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid
- Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (audio)
- Ablutions by Patrick deWitt
Some notable acquisitions. Follow me on Instagram if you care to see my book mail and also my children.
- The Secret Library by Haruki Murakami courtesy of Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf
- Mrs. Dalloway courtesy of Robert at 101 Books. I won a contest and could pick any of the 101 books, so of course I picked his most hated book.
- Humans 3.0, Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, and Where the Nights are Twice as Long courtesy of Goose Lane Editions: My mom saw these books at my house and told me several times how attractive they were. She was petting them. She likes shiny things.
- Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz courtesy of Hello Hemlock. Read along in May and get ready to discuss in June.
- Things You’ve Inherited From Your Mother by Hollie Adams courtesy of NeWest Press
Up to the Challenge
I am doing some reading challenges this year:
- The Forsyte Saga Chronicles with Ali of HeavenAli and others, because why challenge yourself to read just one Victorian novel when you can read nine that total like 2700 pages? I’m on book two and loving it.
- Book Riot Read Harder Challenge or at least one aspect of it. I find reading bingo challenges to be a bit… much. I will never keep track or remember to check things off. So I zero’d in on one square in Book Riot’s bingo card: read a book someone recommends to you. I’m taking that to mean someone in real life. So far, I’ve read The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka (recommended by my mom,) Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer (my husband,) and next up, Let the Elephants Run by David Usher (my brother.) I wouldn’t have picked any of these books on my own.
- Back from the DNF is my own little challenge and I hope to knock off another book or two.
A little local non-fiction:
- Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything by Timothy Caufield which I wrote about here.
- How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting: Stores of Pregnancy, Parenthood and Loss edited by Jessica Hiemstra and Lisa Martin-Demoor. I’ve already passed this on to a friend. I didn’t notice the dedication till I was about to mail it. A really beautiful book.
Where I’ll be
You might find me at these places IRL and on the internet over the next few months:
- The 2015 Kreisel Lecture with Lynn Coady. Actually happened a few nights ago. Serious literature + Grover = awesome. More to come.
- WriteReads talking about Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. Yes, the other book won the vote. I changed my mind.
- Book Bloggers International talking about book blogging in Canada. I am really feeling Reading in Winter’s absence right now, as she has written about this topic so eloquently in the past!
- The Yeggies winning the Best in Arts and Culture Award (hopefully)
- Book Expo America in NYC with ebooksclassics and JFranz.
- The Group-Along: Yes, I’ve decided on my annual read-along and it shall by The Group by Mary McCarthy, inspired by this post on Uncovered Classics, by the fact that McCarthy is from Minnesota and now so is my sister, who always gamely joins my read-alongs, and by my years of devotion to Sex and the City (pre-movies,) which took inspiration from this book. Watch for a sign up post later in the summer.