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!
DNF: abbreviation 1. Did Not Finish 2. The book blogger kiss of death
In Back from the DNF, I give previously DNF’d books a second chance, because sometimes, it’s not the book, it’s me. Maybe I read it too young. Maybe I read it while pregnant or postpartum (baby brain is real!) Maybe it just wasn’t the right time.
I made a list of books that didn’t get a fair shake, and will reread and review to see if anything’s changed. If you want to join me, feel free to steal the concept, title, and sweet banner.
My DNF List:
- Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne: Pregnancy brain
- Tinker Tailor Solider Spy by John LeCarre: Baby brain
- The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje: Too young (22)
- The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubuois III: Too young (20)
- Fifth Business by Robertson Davies: Too young (17)
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: Too young (10)
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
My official reason for DNFing The English Patient is “too young,” but at 22, that’s a bit of a stretch. I was an adult. I was living on my own and working at a real job. I was also single after five years of serial monogamy, and in my newfound freedom my maturity level plummeted. I was consumed by shopping, clubbing, and boys for a couple years. Thankfully this was before the advent of social media. I shudder to think of the bar-bathroom selfies that never were.
I tried to keep up appearances in my reading, though. I read a lot of DH Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, and Jane Austen around this time. I picked up The English Patient thinking it was a “serious” book in this vein, and it is serious, but it’s very different from those old-school classics. You can’t just plow through it and you can’t rely on your memory of other similar books because there aren’t any. I don’t know how to classify The English Patient – adventure, romance, a little magical realism, post-colonial literature, war literature, English, Canadian, Indian… I don’t know. On first read, I was overwhelmed and couldn’t follow the threads. I gave up a few chapters in and hurled it into my closet. This time, I was overwhelmed in a good way, and again hurled the book with some violence on the bathroom counter (don’t judge, it was my kids’ bathtime) because the ending hurt my heart so much.
At 22 I couldn’t process this story. I thought I knew lots about love and tragedy and thought of myself as very jaded, but of course I didn’t and I wasn’t. Thankfully I grew up enough in eleven years to appreciate this book.
Verdict: It was me.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I read this children’s classic as a child, so I can’t just say I was “too young.” At ten, I was starting to read adults books (there was no such thing as YA (thank god)) and I remember picking up A Wrinkle in Time and thinking, well, it’s a kid’s book but it’s for smart kids. I was very invested in my identify as a smart kid, so when I couldn’t wrap my brain around what was happening in this book, it was embarrassing. Shameful. I was also disappointed that I’d never get to read A Swiftly Tilting Planet because it’s a great title.
What I didn’t get as a kid is that Wrinkle is a Christian allegory (I didn’t get that about Chronicles of Narnia either. Wasn’t as smart as I thought.) But I got it this time. Oh lord did I get it. And okay, I’m not religious, but I’m okay with religious themes in fiction (see?) if it’s well written.This just isn’t. A very thin story, stilted dialog that contributes little to the plot, and an author banging us over the head with her philosophy: it’s Atlas Shrugged for kids. And don’t get me started on the ending. All I can do is quote Professor Frink: “The secret ingredient is… love?! Who’s been screwing with this thing?”
I will give L’Engle props for the creepy kids who bounce balls and jump rope in sync. That shit creeped me out today as much as it did 24 years ago.
The verdict: it’s the book.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Alright, I’m cheating a bit. When I tossed The Sisters Brothers aside, I knew I would pick it up a few weeks later for book club. But I did toss it aside. I got about 20 pages in and couldn’t see what the fuss was about. I’m currently 200 and some pages in on round two and loving it. I can’t account for the change of heart. There`s one particular line that made me roll my eyes so hard the first time I read it, and now stands as my favourite in the whole book so far: the main character imagines his poor, sick horses’s thoughts, as he’s whipping him, to be, “sad life, sad life.”
I don’t know if it was a full moon or I was suffering from a case of the Mondays or what, the first time round. Now all I can do is join the chorus: read this book. Immediately. If you don’t like it, take a break for a few weeks and try, try again.
The verdict: it was me.
Alright, you know the drill: tell me about your second chance books, or tell me which books you’re thinking of trying again.
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!
The year in review continues! See my first post about literary crushes here.
I read (or am reading) a few longer books this year, notably Moby-Dick and Middlemarch, but today I’m celebrating my favourite short reads: sentences and short stories.
Favourite Sentence (Tie)
1. “Her head was back, looking up at the stars, if there were stars.”
–Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, which I already gushed about here. “…if there were stars” gets me every time.
2. “Ladies can eat me and call it a juice cleanse.”
–Sarah Nicole Prickett railing against “ladies” in “Where Are All the Women.” This was my first encounter with @snpsnpsnp and I’ve faithfully read her articles and essays since. Sometimes her writing fuels my “don’t call me a Millennial” angst and sometimes I don’t get what she’s saying at all. Often, though, she nails it. This line made me do a reading double-take – did I really just read that? Yes, I did.
Favourite Short Story
This should have been a tough call, seeing as I read several wonderful short story collections this year, including Hellgoing, The Progress of Love, and 40 Below. It wasn’t tough at all, though. Incarnations of Burned Children by David Foster Wallace from the collection Oblivion wins by a mile.
Calling it my “favourite” doesn’t feel quite right – should your “favourite” cause so much trauma? I read this story near the end of the day at work. I had an inkling it might be a harrowing read, but it was only nine sentences long – perfect for a little mental break. How bad could it be? Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions I experienced. It wasn’t just that it deals with a young child’s severe injury, it deals with parenting, love, life, death, and most traumatizing of all, how each of us is utterly alone and can never really know another person. Reminder: Nine sentences. After attempting to calm myself down for ten minutes, I left work early and picked up my kids because I just couldn’t deal.
It wasn’t Infinite Jest, or any of his essays, or his famous Keynon College commencement speech that convinced me of DFW’s genius. It was this completely devastating story, that left me reeling for weeks. Part of me wants to buy Oblivion, but part of me can’t allow these words to physically exist in my house. Hence the trouble with “favourite.” Here’s the story, but please, please, do not read this at work or if you have to function anytime in the near future.
I’ve been working away at a Year in Review mega-post for a while now, but realized if I wait to finish the whole thing, it’ll probably never get posted. So I’m posting it in pieces. Here’s a fun one to start with. Literary crushes: Not just for Twilight Moms.
This is also probably a good place to announce that I won a Bare it For Books calendar. So this list might grow after I receive it!
2. Anton Chekhov. I was looking at some Wikipedia page about Russian authors, probably trying to determine if there were any women writing in the 1800s (seems not) when something caught my eye. It was Anton with his excellent hair and bone structure, and let’s just ignore the beard. If Bangable Dudes in History was still updating, I would submit this in a second.
3. Joseph Boyden. The lovely folks at Penguin Canada are sending me a copy of The Orenda so I can finally join in the award-snub outrage! In the meantime, check out Joseph’s holiday message for the Penguin Delights campaign – great smile, no pants, yes please:
1. David Slaney from Lisa Moore’s Caught. David is one of those people who can seduce you by walking into a room. There’s a memorable scene where he is hiding from the police in a bride’s hotel room. She’s minutes away from walking down the aisle, and while they don’t, they come so close… dang. In my head, David looks like James McAvoy circa The Last King of Scotland:
2. Jimmy from Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. The secret’s out: Part of the reason I love O&C so much, and wasn’t as into the other Maddaddam books, is that I have a massive crush on Jimmy. Unlike David, who could have anyone, Jimmy only preys on vulnerable women. He’s got a massive inferiority complex. Mommy issues abound. He’s awful, actually. I’m not sure what this says about me. If I were casting Jimmy, I’d go with 12 Monkeys era Brad Pitt. You know, a little dirty, a little crazy.
So, fess up: Who were your literary crushes this year?
My rating: 5/5 stars
Release date: August 30, 2011
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly “Cat’s Table” with an eccentric and unforgettable group of grownups and two other boys. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys find themselves immersed in the worlds and stories of the adults around them. At night they spy on a shackled prisoner — his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.
With the ocean liner a brilliant microcosm for the floating dream of childhood, The Cat’s Table is a vivid, poignant and thrilling book, full of Ondaatje’s trademark set-pieces and breathtaking images: a story told with a child’s sense of wonder by a novelist at the very height of his powers.
Is there such thing as an earworm, for text instead of music? A wordworm? If so, I have had a wordworm, off and on, since finishing The Cat’s Table. I find myself mentally rereading the end this passage compulsively:
We stepped back, further into the darkness, and waited. I saw the man move the strap of her dress and bring his face down to her shoulder. Her head was back, looking up at the stars, if there were stars. Continue reading
Four words I never thought I’d Google, at least not together: “Michael Ondaatje Sexy Pics.” Book blogging makes you do strange things. Allow me to explain. Continue reading
Tomorrow night I’m going to the MacEwan Book of the Year event featuring Michael Ondaatje. Not only will I be at an event with grown ups and out of the house after 7:00pm, I will also get to hear the iconic Canadian author read from his book The Cat’s Table and take home a signed copy. I hope it fares better than my last signed book (see the footprint incident.)
I have to tell you something, though. I’ve never read any of Ondaatje’s books. It gets worse: I started The English Patient but didn’t finish it. I am a book-finisher, so when I DNF, that’s pretty bad. I read the synopsis for The Cat’s Table and it sounds pretty far removed from The English Patient, so I want to give it a try. I’m still going to feel like a straight up poser at this event, though.
Here are a few more shameful CanLit Confessions. Please share yours!
1. I’ve only read two of Margaret Atwood’s books, and I only liked one of them (The Handmaid’s Tale, duh.) Surfacing was a little too out there for me, and her books are just not high on my list of priorities right now.
2. I hated Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. Yeah, I was forced to read it in high school, but I was also forced to read books that became favourites (CanLit classic The Stone Angel was one,) so I can’t use that excuse. I just read the plot summary over on Wikipedia and I think a reread is in order. I forgot about the “he wanted it so badly” part. That’s a killer line.
3. I hated The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordechai Richler. I was forced to read this in high school too. In fact, I often get Fifth Business and Duddy mixed up, which is pretty silly, now that I’ve read the plot summaries of each. No desire to reread this one though.
4. Until recently, I’d never heard of M.G. Vassanji. I just finished his latest novel The Magic of Saida. It was difficult to get into, and challenging to read, and brilliant, just brilliant. The guy has won two Giller Prizes. Where the heck have I been?
5. I’ve only read one of Alice Munro’s books. Too Much Happiness was so utterly devastating that I’m kind of scared to read more, though I know that I must.
6. I don’t understand all the fuss about Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. I should have loved it. I wish I had loved it. I did not.
7. I have no clue how to pronounce Ondaatje. I guess I’ll just call him Mike.