Forgive me bloggers, it’s been four years since my last Classics Club spin. This is the season though, I like to read a classic at the end of the year. There’s no theme for Spin #32, but the rules remain the same: pick twenty books from your Classics Club list (which of course I no longer maintain) wait till the random number is pulled (tomorrow) and read that book over the next month. Simple. You can use a theme, or do a classic “five books I’m dreading, five books I’m looking forward to” etc. but I’m short on time so how about a random number generator and the 1,001 Books list? Here we go:
- Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
- The Information by Martin Amis
- A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
- The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
- American Pastoral by Phillip Roth
- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
- A Question of Power by Bessie Head
- The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargos Llosa
- Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster
- Evelina by Frances Burney
- No Laughing Matter by Angus Wilson
- The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
- The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
- Arcanum 17 by André Breton
- To The North by Elizabeth Bowen
- Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo
- Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
- The Talk of the Town by Ardal O’Hanlon
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
So I’ve not even heard of twelve of these! And I may reserve the right to substitute another Frances Burney novel if I land on Evelina, just because I’ve read it somewhat recently. Though it was awfully fun. Check in tomorrow to learn my fate…
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!
Is there a statute of limitations on monthly roundups? Let’s hope not! Already 20% into December (and #Middlemarch13,) so let’s do this.
40 Below Official Launch #1: I’m really impressed by the continued buzz around this local, indie book. I only attended one of the two official launches, but it seems everywhere I turn I’m hearing about a TV appearance, or seeing the book on the bestseller list – really well done, 40 Below crew!
I got my book signed straightaway by mastermind Jason Lee Norman and contributors Michael Hingston and Dani Paradis. Dani read her poem about her hippy parents, which may or may not be based on a true story. There were a few awkward moments when people asked me to sign their books because they thought I was her – I guess I can see how brown hair + glasses + purple sweater + sitting as same table was confusing. I’ll take it as a compliment as Dani is much younger and more fashionable than I!
Vernon R. Wishart was my favourite reader. His story about his wife’s speedy Christmas Day labour and delivery was even funnier read aloud. I learned that it was a true story, as that Christmas baby, now in her 50s, was in the audience.
Don Perkins didn’t read, but he did write my favourite sentence in the whole book, and signed right next to it with a real fountain pen! Check out his take on the event here.
Before heading home, I bonded with fellow 40 Below reject Matthew Stepaniac and had a good chat about book blogging. Watch for a post very soon about his Bookstravaganza project.
(I also attended a little event with Margaret Atwood this month, which you can read about here.)
For once I actually posted about most of the books I read this month, thanks to Novellas in November and #ReadWilkie. Here are the two exceptions:
- Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann: I was let down by this book, which was billed as The Great Gatsby meets The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s a character study that moves through five people’s perspectives, and unfortunately, each narrator is weaker than the last.
- Why Here? by Michelle Ferguson: Similar thematically to her debut From Away, Why Here? is a better written sophomore novel but has a terrible title. Full review to come.
Books I Want to Read:
I suddenly have a slew of non-fiction books to read. I’ll probably wait till January to get to them, given my Middlemarch ambitions. Non-Fiction New Year? More about those later, but let’s give a quick shout-out to Eat It, a collection of women’s writing on sex and food, for having a great title. I also added On Beauty by Zadie Smith, my Classic Club Spin pick (was to lazy to do a post) and discovered it’s the only Smith book that doesn’t appear to even exist at the library.
Coming up on the blog:
- Middlemarch Read-Along hosted by Too Fond: Intro post coming soon (hopefully no statute of limitations on those, either) but so far, so good. I feel like I’m learning a life lesson on every page.
- Storytellers Book Club: Finally getting into this! I’m reading Alice Munro’s The Progress of Love. I’m five stories in and each one is better than the last.
- 2013 Wrap Up: Might do another vlog. Hope I can do it in fewer than five takes, unlike last time.
In the interests of time, I’m skipping the list of blog posts that usually appears here. Tell me all of your December reading plans! Are they ambitious like mine, or are you taking it easy for the holidays?
My rating: 5/5 stars
William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known.
And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.
John Williams’s luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.
Stoner must be the most famous “under appreciated” book around. It seems that everywhere I look, a blogger or a literary critic is entreating us to give this forgotten classic a chance. It was reprinted by the highly regarded NYRB Classics in 2006, and just a few months ago was endorsed by Ian MacEwan. But, it’s not on any of those top 100 or 1001 lists, and its Wikipedia page is just a tragedy. And it did, predictably, make an appearance on BookRiot’s Most Underrated Books list.
Stoner was my Classics Club Spin pick, and it was from my “dreading it” list. I was intimidated, as the bloggers talking it up were all really smart and I was afraid I would be in over my head; and I was managing expectations, because the last time I got all excited because of a bookish-internet frenzy I was let down.
Oh, and I could tell from the blurb that this was going to be one of those “poor little privileged white dude is bored, cheats on his wife but feels really bad and conflicted about it, wah wah, epiphany of some sort, the end” stories. So there was that. And it absolutely is one of those stories. But, once I got over myself and started reading, I quickly realized that, like most people’s real lives, you can present William Stoner’s life as a happy story or a sad story, depending how you look at it:
- The “Quit Whining, Privileged White Dude” version: Stoner doesn’t have to fight in either world war. He loves literature, and is able to study it then teach it. He attains tenure, and so isn’t really at risk of losing his livelihood during the depression. He marries the first girl he ever asks out. They have a daughter without having to try too hard (more on THAT later.) He has a torrid mid-life love affair, but his marriage survives. He lives a quiet life and dies surrounded by his family.
- The “I Feel Really Bad Now” version: Stoner grows up in abject poverty. He alienates his parents when he goes to University, and alienates his friends when he chooses not to enlist in WWI. He discovers a love of literature but his career is mired in petty politics and he never achieves any real recognition. He marries a deeply damaged woman who seems wholly incapable of love. He enjoys a close relationship with his daughter until his wife cruelly turns her against him. He finally finds a woman he can love and is forced to give her up. His never reconciles with his wife, and his daughter descends into alcoholism. He dies a protracted, painful death, having never resolved any of these issues. Continue reading
It’s Classics Club Spin time again! The timing is impeccable, as I’m suffering a severe reading hangover after cruising through two thirds of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Maddaddam series, and feel like I need a real classic to cleanse the palate. Plus, I’ve only read five Classics Club books so far, and I need to read ten per year to stay on track.
What the heck is the Classics Club, you ask? Check out my list and the general idea here.
Want to join me? Here’s the deal:
- Pick twenty books that you have left to read from your Classics Club List (or, you know, your TBR list, if you’re not a Classics Clubber.) Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)
- Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday (Agust 19).
- Monday morning, The Classics Club will announce a number from 1-20. The challenge is to read the corresponding book by October 1, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading!
Here we go! Crossing my fingers that I don’t get Tristram. I’m not ready yet! In the immortal words of Jessie Spano, I’m so excited… I’m so… scared.
- American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I didn’t know that much about Roth when I added this to my list. Now I hear he’s kind of a gross old man who talks about his penis a lot. SOUNDS FASCINATING.
- Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne – Long. Abandoned years ago. Too dense. Scary. But also awesome.
- Clarissa by Samuel Richardson – Long. Sounds dense. But one of those “have to read it” books.
- Stoner by John Williams – Not my sort of book at all, but added based on a rave review.
- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – I’ve been poisoned against Mrs. D by 101 Books! Continue reading
I love this month’s question: What is your favourite opening sentence from a classic novel (and why)?
I could have looked through all my books, but I’m going with my gut:
It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
That’s the book in one line. Love, bitterness, regret, memory, fate; it’s all there. *swoon*
For even more first line fun, try this first lines quiz over at CBC Books. I only got one right, so you can probably do better than me… IF you know your CanLit.
What’s your favourite first line?