Normally, I do a catch-all “year in review” post, and I will still do one, but, there’s been some anti-worst-books-lists discourse lately and we must push back. I haven’t even listed my worst books since 2018, so it’s high time.
Obscure for a reason
Obscure books that no one talks about and no one should read.
- The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamad. I was excited to read this near-future apocolytic novel set right here in Edmonton, and I did indeed recognize many locations, even in their dyspotian form, but the story was so thin, and the main character so wannabe edgy, and the premise was just stealing bits from every popular YA novel in the past twenty years. Having a character walk down Whyte Ave. was not nearly enough to make up for it.
- Bitcoin Widow by Jennifer Robertson. Such an obvious cash grab, and yet I didn’t hear anyone talking about it, so was it worth it? Jennifer Robertson tells her side of the Quadriga crypto mystery, and asks the reader to believe that she is either incredibly naive or incredibly stupid when it comes to how her (late?) husband was financing their lavish lifestyle.
At least I go to cross off two entries in the 1,001 Books list!
- Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais. Well I’m not going to tell you that a novel written in a time when “novels” weren’t really a thing is “bad,” exactly, but I was not enjoying myself. After a certain number of piss and shit jokes it all kind of blurred together.
- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. I’m pretty sure this book invented the “autofiction” genre. Ms. Stein has a lot to answer for. There are a few good one-liners in here but you have to wade through interminable pages of “this artist visited us, we visited this artist, this person was boring, this person was a genius” and it’s SO BORING.
Mainstream, Midlist, and Meh
Some recent-ish books that honestly weren’t terrible but did not live up to the hype.
- Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au. Probably suffered from comparison to My Phantoms, which had similar themes but is just better in every way. This was totally forgettable for me.
- Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum. I’m just really tired of horror books that use pregnancy and childbirth (or clear analogs) as their big, scary thing. Especially from male writers.
- Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagen. This one actually had some great moments, and is great when depicting 1980s England and the burgeoning punk scene, BUT the writing was so overwrought. And the sudden pivot to the current day halfway through was… unwelcome. I can handle overwrought when it’s teenagers we’re talking about, but when it’s guys in their 50s…
- Mouth of Mouth by Antoine Wilson. A Giller nominee, but I’ve also seen this in American best-of lists so it’s making waves… too bad I was so let down by the twist ending.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is #963 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.
Tristram Shandy is a tough book to summarize, let alone in the couple of paragraphs granted each 1,001 Books entry. Contributor Drew Milne makes a good attempt, touching on the absurdities of a book about “the life and opinions” of a man who isn’t even born until several volumes in, and the experimental nature of Sterne’s writing, which acknowledges the futility of trying to capture life on the page.Continue reading
Wise Children is #173 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.
In a nice contrast with the first of these comparisons, I completely agree with 1,001 Books contributor Anna Foca that Wise Children is a “joyously exuberant unraveling of purity, legitimacy, and other cultural fantasies” and that it “gleefully documents the comic hybridizing forces of worlds colliding”. I honestly don’t know that I can put it better than that.Continue reading
The Fox is #724 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.
The Fox is a borderline novella, 86 pages in my wide-margined and illustrated edition. The 1,001 Books write-up begins by contrasting the length of this book with Lawrence’s major works, calling it “too brief and too self-contained” to include much more than plot. I can’t argue that it’s brief, though I would argue that there’s plenty of the “symbolism and mysticism” the reviewer found lacking, right where you’d expect it – the titular fox, who poaches chickens from two women running a small farm, is transposed onto the returning WWI solider who disrupts their solitary life:
“But to March he was the fox. Whether is was the thrusting forward of his head, or the glisten of the fine whitish hairs on the ruddy cheek-bones, or the bright, keen eyes, that can never be said: but the boy was to her the fox, and she could not see him otherwise.”The Fox by D.H. Lawrence
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!
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….
Are we sick of year in review posts yet? No? I really enjoyed doing multiple, detailed posts last year, but Bookstravaganza took up most of my December so I’m gonna keep things simple this time round. Stats today, best and worst books tomorrow. And maybe top literary crushes (okay, definitely top literary crushes!)
- Books read in 2014: 64 (up from 52 last year)
About the Author
- 58% female (down from 67% last year)
- 19% person of colour (up from 12% last year)
- 55% Canadian (up from 42% last year) 22% American 16% British and 1 each: Argentinian, French, Irish, Russian, Guadeloupean.
- Only two Edmonton-area authors this year.
I put a bit of effort into reading more authors of colour this year, and I guess nearly 20% is alright – it’s tough to know, honestly. With gender I’m going for parity, but what’s parity with race? 20% is pretty representative of our population here in Edmonton, but if you expand to Canada, or North America, or world wide, your target would be very different. So my goal with regards to authors of colour next year is to review more of them. That’s where my power as a blogger lies. Some of the best books I read this year were by authors of colour, and I didn’t review them. More on THAT tomorrow.
Genres and Lists
- 19% classics (down from 35%), 53% contemporary lit fic (up from 48%), 9% non fiction (up from 6%), and a handful of YA, poetry, erotica, romance, and historical fiction.
- 8 1001 Books for a total of 123 read
- I’m kind of defunct on The Classics Club. I erased my list because it wasn’t speaking to me anymore. The idea, though, was to read 50 classics in five years, and I read 12 classics this year, so I’m on track.
- 13% were rated five stars (down from 19%), 45% were four stars, 30% were three stars, 13% were two stars, and thankfully, I did not read a single one-star book this year because I decided not to continue with the Fifty Shades trilogy. I will totally see the movie though. For research! And stuff.
Compared to the average Goodreads rating…
- I rated 27 books higher. The most underrated book was Villette, which I rated a 5, compared to average 3.72 rating. How dare you, people who rated this book less than a 5! It’s perfection!
- I rated 37 books lower. The most overrated book was Me Before You, which I rated a 2, compared to average 4.31 rating. Apologies to Kristilyn and Brie, who are probably not my friends anymore.
- 23,000 page views in 2014, up from 17,000 in 2013 and next to nothing in 2011 and 2012. Thank you 🙂
- Most viewed post of 2014: The Fault in Our Stars: Use Your (Literary) Allusion. Man, you people love John Green!
- Most viewed post that was actually written this year: The Top 5 Alternatives to Traditional Book Clubs. Hope you all found something that works for you!
- Least successful posts in 2014: My reading soundtrack posts. Well, too bad, they are my favourite to write so I’m gonna keep doing them.
Stay tuned for more 2014 year in review, hopefully before it becomes ridiculously late in the current year!
I love statistics. You’re probably sick of them by now, what with the many end-of-year blog posts, but I love how they’re both meaningless and mean everything; how “numbers don’t lie” but they can tell whatever story we want them to tell. Here are the numbers that made up my year of reading.
…but first, a public service announcement: Goodreads has a sweet stats thiny that shows you how many books you’ve read, how many pages you’ve read, how you rated your books, and more! Go to “My Books,” then “stats” which is on the left side in tiny font, then click “details.” It’s magic! Here’s mine. You can also export your books to Excel to do EVEN MORE analysis – click “import/export” in that same tiny, left hand menu.
- Books read in 2013: 52 (Book a week!!)
- Books read in first six months: 12
- Books read in last six months: 40
I knew my reading picked up after I finished Moby-Dick this summer but I didn’t realize the extent till now. I never thought I’d read 50 books in a year, but it looks like I could reasonably go for 75 next year!
About the Author
- 35 Female (67%) 16 male (31%) 1 various (2%)
- 22 Canadian (42%) 16 American (31%) 9 British (17%) 2 French (4%) and 1 each: Columbian, Russian, Irish.
- 48 white (88%) 6 visible minority (12%)
I didn’t restrict myself to female authors this year, but I did stack the deck a bit by choosing female authors on the Classics Club list, and, by accepting review copies from independent presses – I have a feeling that female authors are over represented in smaller publishers. I won’t set any specific goals for next year, but I’d love to read more books by minorities. I’m sure I’ll still read lots of CanLit, butI gotta read some more World Lit too, beyond the States and the UK. Anyone got any good world lit reading challenges happening? I’ll probably do the Russian Lit one but would love to broaden my horizons even further…
Genres and Lists
- 18 classics (35%), 25 contemporary lit fic (48%), 3 non fiction (6%), 3 YA (6%), 2 romance (4%), 1 anthology (2%)
- 11 1001 Books for a total of 115 read
- 11 Classics Club picks for a total of 11
- 10 five star reviews (19%), 19 four star reviews (37%), 14 three stars (27%), 3 two stars (6%), and 2 one star reviews (4%).
Compared to the average Goodreads rating…
- I rated 22 books higher. The most underrated book was The Testament of Mary, which I rated a 5, compared to average 3.56 rating.
- I rated 28 books lower. The most overrated book was Dragon Bound, which I rated a 1, compared to average 4.19 rating.
- 17,000 page views in 2013. Compare that to 900 in 2011 and 3,500 in 2012. As Disco Stu would say, “if this trend continues, HEY!”
- Most viewed post of 2013: What’s The Deal With Infinite Jest? It’s a year later and I still don’t know what the deal is! It’s funny because I wrote it in a very unplanned, stream of consciousness style, which I don’t often do. I’m just happy to share the WTFness and the DFW love.
- Most viewed post that was actually written in 2013: The Fault in Our Stars: Use Your (Literary) Allusion. I get searches for “Fault in our stars allusions” on a daily basis, particularly in the summer, which tells me that a lot of students write papers on TFioS, and makes me realize how different writing papers must be these days.
And now, on to the good stuff: my best and worst reads of the year!
After finishing Infinite Jest and realizing I had no idea what just happened, I found a few reviews on blogs I already follow. I was heartened to find that I was not the only one who finished the book and was completely and utterly confused.
I also noticed that all the Infinite Jest posts were written by males. This might not seem like a big deal, but, the vast majority of book bloggers I follow are female. Indeed, the vast majority of all book bloggers are female. Searching past my own blogosphere, I found numerous articles, reading groups, Twitter accounts, and wikis devoted to DFW and his work, and they were nearly all written by men. What gives? Why are all of DFW’s super fans male? Continue reading