Reading by the numbers

Before January escapes me completely, I thought I’d have a look at last year’s reading list.

I read 87 books in 2014, including 36 novels, 40 young adult or middle-grade books, and three short story collections.

There were only eight non-fiction titles on my list, which I think is an inaccurate reflection of the amount of non-fiction that I actually read. The problem: I often don’t finish non-fiction books. I read a few chapters for research. Or I get distracted in the middle of them and never go back. Both Cooked and Consumed, for example, have been languishing half-read in my bedside table drawer for months now. Which is embarrassing. I am a disgrace to the non-fiction world.

But, onwards…

I read seven books by people I know — a number I think I should improve upon, as a supportive fellow writer!

And, as always, some of my favourite reads were recommended by friends, either real-life friends or virtual. Here are my three top picks (books, not friends), in case you’re looking for something to read this January:

Ellen in Pieces, by Caroline Adderson, was raunchy, heartbreaking, and hilarious. Usually all in one page. Plus, it has the most gorgeous cover of the year.

elleninpieces

Annabel is the story of an intersex baby born in rural Labrador. The journey the father goes through, from denial to acceptance to unconditional love, was wonderfully done, and I found myself thinking about it long after I’d closed the book.

annabel

Derry Collier’s Open Secret is a crime novel that goes beyond clever to be warmly, insightfully smart. Plus, it’s set in my (fictionalized) hometown.

Open-Secret-web

That’s it for 2014! A big thank you to Denise Jaden, who included Anywhere But Here on her list of favourites for the year. I already have my copy of Denise’s Foreign Exchange, waiting to be read!

The reading check-in

I hit 50 titles over at The 50 Book Pledge, just in time for my mid-year check in. So far, the stats are looking thus:

Middle Grade
Good Night, Maman, by Norma Fox Mazer
Love that Dog, By Sharon Creech
Hate That Cat, by Sharon Creech
End of the Line, by Sharon E. McKay
Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
Count Me In, by Sara Leach
Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
Better Nate than Ever, by Tim Federle
I’ll Be Home Soon, by Luanne Armstrong
Tinfoil Sky, by Cyndi Sand-Eveland
One Year in Coal Harbor, by Polly Horvath
Mimi Powers and the I-Don’t-Know-What, by Victoria Miles
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein
Son, by Lois Lowry
Violet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery, by Anna Brandord

Young Adult
Boy 21, by Matthew Quick
Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
Year of Mistaken Discoveries, by Eileen Cook
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos
The Diviners, by Libba Bray
Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow
Homeland, by Cory Doctorow
Take Me There, by Carolee Dean

Classics
An Old-Fashioned Girl, by Louisa May Alcott
Gritli’s Children, by Johanna Spyri

Fiction
The Woefield Poultry Collective, by Susan Juby
Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan
The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
The Disappeared, by Kim Echlin
Irma Both, by Miriam Toews
All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
The Shadow Queen, by Sandra Gulland
Blindness, by José Saramago
When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Open Secret, by Deryn Collier
And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
Story House, by Timothy Taylor
Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Good Luck of Right Now, by Matthew Quick
The Wind is Not a River, by Brian Payton
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

Non-Fiction
War, by Sebastian Junger
What Now?, by Ann Patchett
Manage Your Day-to-Day, ed. by Jocelyn K. Glei
Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
The Sports Gene, by David Epstein
Why We Write, ed. by Meredith Maran

I’ve always loved the essay called “A Rake at Reading” in The Merry Heart, by Robertson Davies. He says:

So — I confess I have been a rake at reading. I have read those things which I ought not to have read, and I have not read those things which I ought to have read, and there is no health in me — if by health you mean an inclusive and coherent knowledge of any body of great literature. I can only protest, like all rakes in their shameful senescence, that I have had a good time.

Exactly.

Of the books on this list, 12 were passed along to me (with insistence) by my daughter and two by my son. Six were given by friends, two were written by friends, and another two were recommended by friends, including my fiction pick of the year thus far: The Goldfinch. (Thank you, Rachel, for that suggestion.)

My non-fiction pick so far is Still Writing, a lovely collection of meditations. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend it.

Onwards to the second half of the reading year!

Guilt-free reading

When I was profiled on BC BookLook a couple weeks ago, they mentioned that I’d read 65 books in 2013, and was gunning for 75 in 2014. My first thought when I saw this was:

I put way too much random information on-line.

My second thought was:

Is that a lot? Or a little?

Hang out with a few librarians, and you end up feeling like 65 books is nothing. On the other hand, I received some e-mails like this one:

And I was feeling a little guilty that I’d read 30 books last year. Good luck making it to 75. I’d like to compete with you, but I’m afraid that’s even out of my league.

What it boils down to, of course, is that reading is not a competitive sport. It’s ridiculous to feel guilty about reading too much (is there such a thing?) or too little. We read to explore and to see the world through other people’s eyes. Some books are long and some are short. Some are hard and some are breezy. Some leave us craving more and others leave us needing to rest our hearts and our brains and soak in what we’ve discovered.

I track my books on the 50 Book Pledge because it’s fun, because it keeps me motivated to finish some of those non-fiction tomes that threaten to linger on my end table forever, and because it reminds me to turn off the computer and open my book. Whether or not I make it to 75, I have pages and pages of pleasure ahead of me.

The 50 Book Pledge

I signed up to read 50 books in 2013.

By signed up, I mean I logged into a website. It wasn’t exactly a pledge in blood. But, being an incurably reliable person, I’ve faithfully tracked my reading since January. Books read strictly for research purposes didn’t count, I decided. And neither did re-reads. These had to be new discoveries.

The site tells you how many books you’ve read thus far, and how many you’re on track to read. I have to confess, during the busy days of summer with kids trailing me everywhere, I had my doubts.

But I’ve done it.

I hit 50 books earlier this month and I’ve since exceeded my quota. Which means, of course, I can finally bend the rules! Wouldn’t you know, I just happened to be rearranging my bookshelf, and my often-read copy of Sandra Gulland’s The Many Lives and Sorrows of Josephine B. fell into my hands and so…

I’m immersed in the French Revolution.

The halfway mark

Halfway through the year already? How did that happen?

I signed the 50 Book Pledge earlier this year, so for the first time ever, I actually have a record of what the heck I’ve been reading. I’m afraid I’m not a very consistent or predictable reader. I pick books the way a crow picks trinkets. But let’s see if there are any patterns to be found in six months’ worth of lit…

Middle Grade
The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy
Summer Days, Starry Nights, by Vikki VanSickle
The Fourth Stall, by Chris Rylander
Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George
Nothing but the Truth, by Kit Pearson
Days that End in Y, by Vikki VanSickle
Flutter, by Erin Moulton
Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry
Alvin Ho, by Lenore Look
Every Soul a Star, by Wendy Mass

Young Adult
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth E. Wein
Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Brief History of Montmaray, by Michelle Cooper
The FitzOsbornes in Exile, by Michelle Cooper
The FitzOsbornes at War, by Michelle Cooper
Friday Society, by Adrienne Kress
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Classics
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Contemporary
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver
Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan
The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson
419, by Will Ferguson

Fantasy
River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Mystery
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Non-Fiction
Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales
Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin

Whew. That’s 28 books so far — a lot less than I’d like to read, but as many as I can fit between work and play.

Back to my crow-ish habits: four of these books I read because they were lying around the house, courtesy of my kids; three were gifts; three were by people I know; one was recommended by a bookstore employee; two were by previously-loved writers (both of which disappointed); eight I read because of on-line reviews or recommendations.

Two of my very favourite reads of the year so far were the Montmaray series and Where’d You Go, Bernadette, both recommended by friends. (Thank you, Kallie and Rachelle!)

Which makes me think… why aren’t you people telling me what to read more often? I am open to suggestions!