Category: Reading Roundups

2016 Year in Review #2: Best books, worst books, and my book of the year

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.

Book #7 and future winner of Canada Reads. This book blew me away. #bookstagram #canadareads2016 #CanLit

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Spring. Also book 11 of 2016, THE DIVINERS by Margaret Laurence. #bookstagram #amreading #readingoutside

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#FridayReads and #FridayWaits to get my dang phone fixed (they're on 39, time for a few pages)

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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:

Continue reading

2016 Year in Review #1: The Stats

You may notice something different about this year’s stats, compared to other years. Let’s see how long it takes to spot it…

smell

I smelled 0% of the paper books because that’s weird.

Books Read

  • 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.

The book that started it all.

The book that started it all.

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.
  • 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?

Ratings

  • 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.
Lemme in, Something Awful! I won't stay long, I promise!

Lemme in, Something Awful! I won’t stay long, I promise!

Blog Stats

  • 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!

35 Books update: Books 1-6

I’m reading 35 books this year, as you may recall. I made a video about the first six.

Books mentioned:

  1. Asking For It by Lilah Pace, as recommended on Book Riot
  2. The Hunter and the Wild Girl by Pauline Holdstock, with thanks to Goose Lane Editions
  3. The Outside Circle by Patti Laboucane-Benson
  4. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  5. Mislaid by Nell Zink
  6. In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner

The first six of the year were a bit of a bust. The Vegetarian blew me away at first, but hasn’t stuck with me. Since then, I’ve read two phenomenal books, which you will hear more about soon: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg and Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood.

2015 Year in Review #2: Best Books

Top five books of 2015

the bearthewakeoutlineafterbirththedaysofabandon

Have I mentioned I’m in a bit of a slump this year? I read more than ever, and came home from Book Expo America with a bunch of hot new books, but only five books were good enough to get that elusive five-star rating. For fun, I’ve included the most ridiculous thing I did while reading each.

  • The Bear by Claire Cameron (tried to describe it to my husband while out for our sixth anniversary dinner, ended up crying)
  • The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (read the first forty or so pages aloud)
  • After Birth by Elisa Albert (… nothing much, but here’s a fun fact: Albert used to write the captions for A Baby Story, that ubiquitous 2000s-era Canadian reality show about birth. I hated that show because I had pretty traumatic deliveries, just like the main character in this book, and felt like it sugar-coated the truth. I guess Albert felt that way too?)
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk (spent a Saturday night reading it with a mug of mint tea and whisky. Not that crazy, except I never drink whisky and I never drink alone.)
  • The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (Told my family I was going to the grocery store, and read in the parking lot for an hour)

Yeah, but did I review them? Last year I was ashamed of the fact that I only reviewed one of my top ten books. I was also ashamed of the reason – I was afraid to write about race. I ended up reviewing The Bridge of Beyond in January and it is one of my favourite reviews. This year, I gave my all to The Bear – I didn’t do a traditional review, but I wrote about it here on the blog, and on 49th Shelf. I wrote a quick blurb on The Wake (but please note there is a 2,000+ word draft review in the works,) and nothing on the other three.

There isn’t anything in particular about After Birth, Outline, or The Days of Abandonment that made me skip the review. I’m not intimidated by the subject matter. I still think about them. I suppose that, compared to The Bear and The Wake, they are very specifically women’s stories (not for women… I mean about women, centred on women’s experiences, etc.) But I’m usually cool with that too.

Here’s my hypothesis: I read too damn much this year. I powered through all three of these books, because I had holds coming in at the library, and Book Expo books to get to before publication date (fail,) and a Forsyte Saga to get through before the end of the year (epic fail,) and an ever-growing pile of library sale books, and book swap books, and contest win books, and Canada Reads and Alberta Reader’s Choice and Giller Prize books. I had just enough time to register that hey, this book is amazing, before barreling on to the next.

Can you guess what’s coming next? Stay tuned for my 2016 plans post. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna KonMari my bookshelf or anything. KonMari is so 2015.

Honourable mentions where four stars on Goodreads means 4.5 or 4.9: Martin John by Anakana Schofield, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.

Overrated Books

Undermajordomowheredyougocrazyrichcityonfire

Not “bad” books, so put your pitchforks away. These books did not live up to the hype.

  • Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (my review) I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. I didn’t get it.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: The Franzen blurb got my hopes up, but by the end, I was so exasperated with everyone and everything. Great audio book narrator, though.
  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: This book is a total Monet: great fun while reading, but a big mess if you stop and think about it for too long. Not to mention the most boring protagonists ever.
  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallsberg: I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but when I wasn’t, I didn’t think of it for a moment. Hence I almost gave up twice. Sweet trailer, though.

And, finally, the 2015 Reading in Bed Book of the Year:

Continue reading

2015 Year in Review #1: The Stats

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.

69dudesBooks Read

  • 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.

The book that started it all.

The book that started it all.

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.
  • 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!

Ratings

  • 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.

Infinite Jest 20th Anniversary editionBlog Stats

Novellas in November 2015: Wrap up

I’ve been posting daily videos for The Short Story Advent Calendar, and enjoying it so much that I made a video for Novellas in November. Check it out:

I read five novellas during the month. Here they are, in very particular order:

  1. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrente
  2. Grandma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki
  3. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  4. Blue Skies by Evelyn Lau
  5. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Check out some other bloggers doing Novellas in November, some of whom even posted updates during the month!
The Book a Week Project
Ebookclassics
746 Books
Poppy Peacocks

And please do subscribe and like and all that on YouTube, so my children stop making fun of my stats.

Truth, Reconciliation, and Reading: How to read the TRC and what to read next

For my international readers, and Canadians who’ve been under a rock for the past couple of years:

The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience. – Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Before I read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report (the 350ish pages of its executive summary, anyway,) I bounced back and forth between believing that:

  1. That this document wasn’t for me, because I wasn’t one of those racist people who needed to be convinced that Indian Residential Schools were horrific or that they have a lasting legacy.
  2. That the above belief is extremely naive and I would likely have to challenge some beliefs and/or confront some ugly truths, and maybe I’m not ready.

As usual, reality was somewhere in between. The TRC is for me, as much as it is for you (Canadian readers, or really, anyone who lives in a country that’s ever  been colonized.) There were plenty of things I already knew, but many I didn’t. Even if you’re familiar with the history, the first-hand stories are important to read, as are the calls to action, all 94 of them.

It helped that I found a reading group, which included an inter-generational survivor who was familiar with the report and its history. Most of you won’t have that much support, and this is a long, dense document, so here are some resources, tips, and recommendations for further reading.

How to read the TRC Report

  • If you’re not Indigenous, and think this isn’t for you, read this essay at 49th Shelf.
  • Choose your format:
  • Read it in chunks. Our reading group took months to read, just a section or two per week. The sections range from pretty dry descriptions of legal proceedings to heartbreaking first-hand accounts of abuse. Take a break when you need to.
  • Read it to the end. The calls to action are at the end, or you can read them separately here. You may feel hopeless that there’s so much to do, or inspired that there are so many places to begin, but this part is really important.
  • Talk to people. A buddy read, a reading group, an online chat… lots of possibilities. I was lucky to have a ready-made discussion group. If you can’t find someone to talk to in real life, try #TRC on twitter.

What to read next: non-fiction

theeducationofaugie threasonyouwalk upghostriver

What to read next: fiction

  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. I read this with a library book club where most of the participants are in their 60s or older. Many of them remembered residential schools as something that was known, but not known. They knew the schools existed, but not why, and certainly not what went on inside. An intense discussion ensued.
  • Rupert’s Land by Meredith Quartermain (my review) about a residential school runaway and his unlikely friend.
  • Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway, which I haven’t read, but has been recommended to me more than once.
  • King Leary by Paul Quarrington. This one’s more hockey than residential schools, but there is a compelling minor plot about a survivor.
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden and Black Robe by Brian Moore. These books are about first contact, but that history is important, too.  Many of us read Black Robe in school, and I hope The Orenda will replace it in the curriculum one day. Black Robe really emphasizes the colonial perspective and frames Aboriginal people as “other” while The Orenda is a more balanced  perspective.

Rupert's Land front coverindian horseorenda

Many thanks to tireless TRC reading group organizer Jane, and to advocate, TRC expert, book nerd, and all-around super star Miranda, for help with and inspiring this post.

TBR Book Tag

wpid-20151025_104417.jpg

We are apparently calling things “tags” now? I thought that was a Booktube thing. Alrighty then!

I was *not* tagged by the lovely Elle Thinks, but she swears it was just an oversight…

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
Just recently, I moved my physical TBR to prime, eye-level shelves in my room (see above.) Before, they were mixed in with everything else. My Goodreads “To Read” shelf is more of a “to maybe think about reading” shelf. I keep track of review books in a Google spreadsheet. And, I randomly save links about books I’m interested in to Pocket.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?
It’s mostly not in the physical realm, i.e. my Goodreads “think about reading” list is much longer than my pile of print books or my queue of ebooks.

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?
Library due dates, review commitments, recommendations, readalongs and blog events, movie adaptations, award long lists, award short lists, award winners, blogs, Booktube, and social media. Not necessarily in that order. But pretty much in that order.

A book that has been on my TBR the longest?
Physical: I recently unearthed some books that I’ve carried with me from my condo to my first house to my current house. Among them are Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson and Vancouver by  Alison Griffiths and David Cruise.
Goodreads: When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (since 2012) and I actually own a physical copy now.

quicksilver

A book you recently added to your TBR?
Physical: Ann Walmsely’s The Prison Book Club, which I had no intention of buying when I went to see her speak, but she’s just that good.
Goodreads: It’s November, so I’m adding to my Novellas in November bookshelf. The Trumpets of Jericho sounds completely bananas.

prison

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?
No.

I do really like The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go, though.

steady

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
Wouldn’t that be a TNR, to not read?

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?
Physical: Nope. I’ve stopped accepting review books, and all the publication dates for my BEA books have passed.
Goodreads: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, the third (and final?) book in the Thomas Cromwell series. It doesn’t have a cover or a publication date yet. I do not expect to receive an ARC, but I do expect to buy it as soon as it comes out. I read somewhere that she’s still working on it. Sigh.

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?
The Glass Castle and The Round House come to mind.

The-Round-House-by-Louise-Erdrich

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?
Also The Glass Castle, hence people recommend it. Also, The Road.

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?
Icefields by Thomas Wharton, even though Naomi wasn’t taken by it.
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce, because I’m liking the angry ladies lately. #FerranteFever

love

How many books are on your TBR shelf?

  • 74 physical
  • 10 ebook
  • 177 Goodreads

This is *not* a normal state of affairs for me and I’m a little dismayed. Many of those 74 books are either library book sale purchases, book swap finds, unsolicited ARCs, or contest wins. Do you sense a TBR challenge coming in 2016? I do…

Tag, you’re it, even if you’re not listed below:

CJ at ebookclassics
Rick at The Book a Week Project
Naomi at Consumed by Ink
Carolyn and Rosemary and Reading Glasses
Rory at Fourth Street Review

Fall 2015 Preview Part III: BEA Books

I’m about halfway through my BEA stack. Many of these books will be in the spotlight this Fall. Let’s see what lives up to the hype, shall we? Full reviews to come on some of these.

The Good

thewakeeileenpurity

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth: Don’t let the whole “Anglo-Saxon shadow tongue” thing scare you. I had to read aloud for the first quarter or so to get the language, but after that it was a snap. You should let Buccmaster scare you though. I was shaking by the end.

When you think of colonizers, you think of the British, right? It was weird and jarring to watch them get colonized a thousand years ago. I blame the Canadian education system for the fact that I didn’t know one thing about the Norman invasion except the year 1066 (and I’m pretty sure I learned that in Billy Madison.) Now I know better. By the end of this book, you’ll question what you know about everything.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh: I almost didn’t grab this. I was almost an idiot. This story was totally unexpected and everything I love – weird, dark, seedy, with a main character I want to know and save and shake violently. Reviews are starting to trickle in around the blogosphere; check out blogger Ryan Reads for excellent GIFs and Booktuber Just a Dust Jacket for the short and sweet of it.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen: Reviewed here and here and here.

The Bad

inadarkdarkhomeisburningwelcometonightvale

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware: This could be a genre thing; my mother in law is a voracious reader of mysteries and she liked it. I didn’t care enough about the outcome, which I saw coming a mile away. I did love the settings; the woods were creepy and the glass house was probably symbolic of many things but still felt real.

Home is Burning by Dan Marshall: Why people in their twenties shouldn’t write memoirs exhibit #172. Yes, Marshall is in his thirties now, but this memoir only goes up till his mid-twenties. It’s supposed to be funny but I found it to be trying way too hard. I should have known when I saw the Jenny Lawson blurb on the cover; I also found Let’s Pretend This Never Happened deeply unfunny.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor: There were some good one-liners, making fun of literary conventions, but it didn’t add up to much for me.

The TBR

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg: I’m gonna read this 900 pager before the end of the year. Promise.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks: Almost picked this up several times. I’m resisting because it feels so serious. But, um, so was her novel Year of Wonders (about the black plague) and I love that, so, I need to get over myself!

Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey: I could pair this with a Peter Pan movie night with the kids.

The Scamp by Jennifer Pashley: Started, didn’t grab me, will try again.

Pillow by Andrew Battershill as seen in my CanLit preview.

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford: I read Crazy Rich Asians recently and have had my fill of social climbers. Will revisit later.

 

Fall 2015 Preview Part II: Local Reads and CanLit

Last year, I didn’t do so well with my Fall Preview. The post was fine, but I didn’t end up reading a lot of the books. I aimed a little too high, I think, trying to compete with the 49th Shelves and Quill and Quires of the world. Rather than trying harder to stick to a TBR, I’m going to aim low and round up the books I have already started or will almost certainly read. You know, as Homer J says, if something is hard to do, don’t try.

Local Reads: Edmonton and Alberta

sisteringmeadowlark40Below

Honourable mentions: Rumi and the Red Handbag by Shawna Lemay (October) for the title, and Act Normal by Greg Hollingshead (August) for sounding very un-normal.

CanLit

Undermajordomomartinjohnpillow

  • Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (September): Already read and reviewed! *sigh of relief*
  • Martin John by Anakana Schofield (September): I was fifth in line at the library when I got my birthday book money, so now I’m waiting on a preorder. Malarky was one of my favourite reads of 2014, so expectations are sky-high.
  • Pillow by Andrew Battershill (October): A BEA score that came with a chocolate coin which apparently ties into the story somehow, but who cares, it’s chocolate! I’m getting a Spat the Dummy vibe from this one.

Honourable mentions: These Good Hands by Carol Bruneau and  The Hunter and the Wild Girl by Pauline Holdstock – I will look into these if the mood for historical fiction strikes.