February 6, 2015

My Year of Reading

Most of the 2014 book lists and reading retrospectives appeared in December, or at the beginning of January. I certainly intended to take my own look back closer to New Year's, but let's just say I wanted to be sure I'd spent ample time on reflection, okay?

I often link to The Millions, a great source for essays and intelligence about books and authors. Every December, the site runs a series called A Year in Reading and invites writers to share reading experiences from the past year. There's no specific format required, so some participants post a roundup of the best books they read, whether old or new, some highlight a single book, and others divide their reading into categories or consider themes.

2014 was my year of reading, for sure, so I thought I'd borrow the concept from The Millions and record some freeform musings.

In 2014, I read 66 books, almost twice as many as the year before. I know this number is still low by the standards of many readers and writers, but for me, it was a mind-blowing increase. I haven't read so voraciously since childhood. The big reason I had time to read so many books is that I did far less writing than I would have liked, so I have mixed feelings about the situation. I'm back into serious writing and revising mode this year, and while I'm also setting aside reading time, I likely won't match my 2014 book count, and that's fine with me.

I've long been frustrated by finding that my reading speed is slower than most word-focused people. I may have grown a bit faster during my mega-reading year, which would be a great development. Of course, reading isn't all about quantity and speed, but there are so many books each year that I want to read, and it would be wonderful to have the ability to pack in a few more of them.

I read 20 books that were released in 2014 and another 17 published in 2013 and 2012. That ratio is probably typical for me, as I'm often catching up on books I meant to read the year before. The vast majority of what I read is fairly recent: I only read 11 books published before 2000, and just one from before 1900.

My 66 books represent only 52 authors. Reading multiple books by an author within a short span feels like a departure for me, except that it also happened in 2013 due to my Start Here project, so maybe I should call it a recent development. Reading so many books in series is definitely a change for me. I read all the Hunger Games trilogy in three weeks and the whole Giver quartet over the course of a few months.

I wholeheartedly supported the year of Roxane Gay, who published both a debut novel and an essay collection in 2014. In addition to reading both of these powerful books, during the year I devoured a great many more of Gay's essays, reviews, and short stories that appeared online. She is astoundingly prolific, and I'll continue reading whatever she publishes.

This was also the year I checked out Rainbow Rowell, who everyone talked about so much the year before, and I gobbled up all of her books.

At the beginning of the year, I wasn't planning to embark on any reading projects, but I was so charmed by the Books on the Nightstand summer reading bingo cards that I organized my summer reading around picking books that matched certain categories or characteristics. It was fun, but this year I probably won't undertake any reading challenges. Probably.

As always, I read an eclectic mix of books, and I think I covered a wider range of genres than usual. The major theme that emerged, especially toward the end of the year, was the apocalypse. I've always been drawn to this genre, but the crop of apocalyptic new releases was especially strong in 2014.

The best of the apocalyptic books was the ambitious and thoughtful STATION ELEVEN, which was also my favorite book of the year. Other top recommendations:

AN UNTAMED STATE by Roxane Gay, a harrowing but beautiful story of trauma and survival.

ANCILLARY JUSTICE and ANCILLARY SWORD by Ann Leckie, the first two books of an inventive science fiction epic. (The final book of the trilogy comes out this fall.)

FANGIRL and LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell, two emotional, funny stories of family, love, and creativity.

THE LAST POLICEMAN (and the rest of the trilogy) by Ben H. Winters, a gripping pre-apocalyptic mystery.

INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri, the strongest short story collection I've ever read.

Okay, I think that's enough reflection. I've already read some great books in 2015, and I'm looking forward to many more!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ I'm appreciating the insightful Book Riot series on Reading Diversely: "If more people are buying/checking out books by diverse authors, then publishers will put out more. It's a pretty simple equation. And it starts with deliberately seeking out authors of color, by specifically paying attention to race instead of ignoring it like you've been taught your whole life. If you haven't been consciously seeking out diverse authors, then take a second to look at your bookshelves." Don't miss Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

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