Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - The Year in Reading

This will be a long post, sorry!

When I started this blog in January 2011, I never imagined that I'd be able to keep doing it for a full year - I often lose interest in things. I had no specific goals beyond using the blog as a place to keep track of the books I had read. Then I discovered reading challenges, and other book blogs/book bloggers, and somehow this blog became very important to me. I really enjoy tracking the books I read, and exploring new and different books because they are for reading challenges. It really became fun to find a book specifically for a challenge, or to try to fit a book into a challenge. The blog also made me conscious of how much I was reading, which was a good thing.

Speaking of which, here are some year-end statistics and random thoughts on my 2011 reading:

  • I read a whopping 166 books this year
  • The books I read ranged from classic literature (Sense and Sensibility, The Woman in White, The Power and The Glory, My Antonia) to mass-market "best sellers" (The Nanny Diaries, Confessions of a Shopaholic, The Notebook) - and I found I enjoyed the classics much, much more
  • I read War and Peace! War and Peace!! It has 365 chapters for Pete's sake!!!
  • I read books by some of my favorite writers (Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami, Bill Bryson, J.K. Rowling, Jasper Fforde, Banana Yoshimoto) and discovered some great new (or new to me, anyway) favorites (Christopher Buehlman, M.T. Anderson, Graham Greene, Alison Weir, Frederick Ramsay, Marc Acito)
  • I found some authors who wrote books I really enjoyed, from whom I look forward to reading more of in 2012 (Nicola Griffith, David Ebershoff, Jane Austen, Kurt Vonnegut, Eva Ibbotson, Wilkie Collins, Willa Cather, Edward Rutherfurd, Naguib Mahfouz)
  • I had 3 significant geek-out-over-an-author moments: I emailed Christopher Buehlman and got an email back (ZOMG!!!!), I got a comment from Nicola Griffith on my review of her book Stay (ZOMG!!!!), and I got my first request for a review, from John Michael Cummings (ZOMG!!!!) (look for that review in early 2012)

Here are my reading challenge wrapups, in the order in which I joined the challenge:

The TBR Pile Challenge. I loved this challenge, it made me commit to reading 12 specific books from the ever-growing TBR Pile, and I did it! It also helped me stay conscious of the books that have been sitting around for years, and I read some of those even though they weren't on the official list. I'm really looking forward to doing this one again in 2012.
The 100+ Book Challenge. This was a great challenge too. I made the goal of 100 in July, at which point I was hoping to hit 200, but 166 is still good. I do hope to outdo myself next year though!
The Forgotten Treasures Challenge. I think some of the books on my list for this challenge aren't exactly forgotten, but some of them definitely are and I enjoyed reading them and making sure they are not entirely forgotten.
The Buck Stops Here Challenge. Another great challenge, even if it did give me a license to keep buying books from the Library Sale shelves, ha ha. I think I will track my books this year as if I were doing this challenge again, as I enjoyed keeping my spending on books as low as possible.
War and Peace: 1 Chapter a Day. It worked! I read this book at long last. This was a great way to break an intimidating book into manageable portions. I might do something similar with other intimidating classic books.
The Hogwarts Reading Challenge. As I reported back in July, I won this challenge (more ZOMG!), even though my house, Hufflepuff, didn't take the overall prize. This one was a lot of fun, and after participating for 6 months it was hard not to want to put every subsequent book I read into one of the challenge categories. I believe Bunnita is doing this challenge again, but with some changes, which should be fun.
The Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge. I didn't do as well with this challenge as I did with all the others, which is too bad - I thought this would be a lot easier! I still read 11 books and I feel like I have become more willing to read books I otherwise would shy away from, so overall this was a success, even if I fell short of my reading goal.
The Color-Coded Reading Challenge. It was more challenging than I would have thought to find books for all the colors listed, while some colors (blue, for one) seem to be well represented in book titles. I hope to do this one again, I liked it.
GLBT Reading Challenge. I tried to make sure I had a reasonably diverse set of books and authors for this one, and it seemed to have worked. I would definitely do this challenge again, I found some great books for this, and stumbled on some that fit the challenge just by chance.
Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge. Found this challenge rather late in the game, but made my modest 3 book goal, which included 2 books that were new to me. I will definitely be reading at least 1 Murakami book in 2012, and preferably more, although at this point I have read most of them (I think!).

I have some overall goals for 2012 too:

Read more in general. I did well making time to read this year, and I'd like to keep doing that. I can't predict when work will get busy, but when it's not exceeding the normal level of busy-ness I need to create more reading time and not fall prey to the lure of the TV. 
Read more classic books. I really do like all kinds of books, and sometimes a person does want to read a quick, simple book that will entertain (and there's nothing wrong with that at all), but I need to round out my reading and fill some gaps in my reading of the classics that simply should not be there. I find it embarrassing that I have not read as many classic books as I should have read, and there's no reason I can't do so in 2012. I even have a reasonable amount of classic books on hand, so there's no excuse.
Clear the TBR pile once and for all. On top of the preexisting TBR books I have had for who-knows-how-long, my little escapade at Borders when I could not resist the temptation of $1 books created a mountain of books that need to be read. This is ridiculous and all of these TBR books need to be read and moved out of the house.
Read 2 books in foreign languages. I am always moaning about how I have no chance to practice my foreign languages (and I don't) but one way to get around that would be to read books in these languages. I have 2 books on hand, one in French and one in Russian, and I will read them both this year with the aid of a dictionary.
Explore some new series. I have some in mind but will not commit to them just yet, as they mainly involve trips to the library that I won't be taking until I do some TBR pile clearing, but this is a goal for me.
Read at least one book by each of the new authors I discovered and loved this year. I have a feeling I will be reading more than one book by most of these authors, but I want to do at least one each as a goal. Which goes along with my next goal....
Read more quality overall. I don't think I read too much junk at all this year, but I want to concentrate on good authors and quality writing as much as possible in 2012.
Complete all my reading challenges. This post is so ridiculously long already that I will create a separate challenge post tomorrow, but this includes my personal challenge: The Around the World Challenge, so please join me!

I want to wish all of my blog readers and visitors a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2012. I hope the year is filled with lots of good things, particularly books. See you in 2012!

December - This Month in Reading

Thanks to a couple of busy work weeks and holiday activities, December turned out to be a slow month for my reading, and I didn't get as much done as I would have liked. I did still manage to read a decent 11 books, which is better than 0 books, so I'll accept that. I also finished up the last of my outstanding challenges, with the exception of the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge (ROYCZC) - apparently that is easier said than done!

I'll write a separate year-end wrapup/goals post, but for January 2012, I would like to do the following:
  • Read at least 10 books, and preferably more like 15 - 20
  • Read at least one book for each 2012 challenge I have entered, which I will list below to help me keep track
  • Read at least one book that I might not otherwise read, in the spirit of the ROYCZC
  • Stay away from the library, so as to read the books that are already on hand
Happy New Year everyone, and I wish you all the best for 2012, and for your 2012 reading!

January Challenge Tracking (1 book for each):

Ash - Malinda Lo

An imaginative retelling of Cinderella. The ending almost seemed too easy for me, so I am wondering if there will be a furthering of the story in the author's next book, which I assume is a sequel, although I don't know that for sure. I would definitely read it though, I'd like to read more about the main character, whom I liked a lot.

Friday, December 30, 2011

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

As a participant in the "War and Peace One Chapter a Day" Challenge, I "cheated" and finished the book today, as tomorrow is going to be full of errands and evening celebration plans. I can't believe I finally read this book! Reading one chapter a day was a good way to make the book manageable and not seem overwhelming, even if I did sometimes fall behind and then have to catch up with a few (*ahem*) chapters in a day. I  would have liked to have read this book in a college-level class, with discussion, commentary, context, background, etc., but I'm still glad I read it. I have to say, however, that I am not a fan of Tolstoy; he has what I used to call "Charles Dickens Syndrome" and have now renamed "Dickens/Tolstoy Syndrome:" a tendency to ramble and either bury the point entirely or bang the reader over the head with it. And as with Anna Karenina, I was struck at times at how romance novel-like this book was. Frankly, I preferred the "war" part of this book in general, although there were some really compelling "peace" parts as well. I think I have given Tolstoy a fair try, and in 2012 will move on to other Russian novelists just to compare and contrast.

Annie on My Mind - Nancy Garden

This book was originally published in 1982, and it very much reminded me of the YA books I grew up reading. It was a wonderful story well told, even if it was frustrating because of the ridiculous way people thought about homosexuality at the time of this book's publication (and of course some people are still ridiculously thinking about it today, 30 years later, but fewer, I believe/hope!). Highly recommended.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gormenghast - Mervyn Peake

I enjoyed this volume of the Gormenghast books more than the first book, I have to admit. Seeing how the events from the first book played out in this book was fascinating. There are some plot lines that are puzzling and I feel like I'm not sure what the point was, but at the same time I enjoyed reading them.

And I must say that after a couple of busy weeks at work, and some holiday plans, it feels good to get back to reading and this blog! Now I need to finalize my 2012 TBR Pile Challenge list - should be great!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

After Dark - Haruki Murakami

Every time I think I have read all Murakami books that are available to me, I discover another one that I missed. Somehow this book was one of those that had gotten away from me, and I hadn't previously read it, so finishing up the Haruki Murakami Challenge by reading it was perfect. I was able to read this book quite a bit faster than any of his others - I'm not sure if it was the length in general (just under 200 pages), or the specific writing style/language choices (and I realize these are both heavily influenced by the translator), or if the writing was more compact and less dense than in one of his longer books. I am a "night person," I feel alive at night and I prefer to be out and about in cities when it's dark outside, because I like the energy caused by the electric lights that keep the dark at bay - if that makes any sense - so it was easy for me to imagine the events in this book as they took place, and made the characters stand out against the setting in my mind. I very much enjoyed this book, I think it will live in my head for a long time. Highly recommended.

In other Murakami-related news, I believe I will be receiving a copy of 1Q84 from Santa Claus/St. Nicholas/Pere Noel/Ded Moroz/Sinterklaas etc. this year, and I really looking forward to that!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stay - Nicola Griffith

This book came out of nowhere and captivated me - I loved it. The main character is someone I want to read more about and the book kept me guessing. I went into this book knowing nothing about it (my favorite way to experience a book) and I was unable to put it down. And it was only after I had finished that I did some quick research and realized that the sneaking suspicion I was beginning to have was correct - this was the second book in something of a series - D'oh!!! As I have complained about before, I hate reading books in a series out of order, but in this case the book was so well done it felt like a standalone novel. I will most definitely be reading the other books, though, and I may have to sidestep my existing TBR pile to do so in early 2012 as I don't want to wait a long time to read them. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Palace Walk - Naguib Mahfouz

Another book I can't believe I waited so long to read. The story was completely absorbing and the characters were fascinating, even the less sympathetic ones. In particular, there was a very accurate description of a narcissist's inner life and how that influences their behavior. I also enjoyed reading about early-20th-century Cairo and what daily life was like there. I'm glad this book is part of a trilogy because I want to read more about these characters and what happens to them; I'll definitely be reading both books in 2012 when I have cleared by TBR pile somewhat. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is a short book - more like a long short story, I guess - that packs a wallop! I really enjoyed it. Originally published in 1892, it's available in book form, although I read it through Project Gutenberg. I'd actually like to see a version that has commentary and historical info, and info about the author, etc. after having read this - more inspiration for research! I can't say much about it without running into a spoiler, so I'll just say this is highly recommended.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Three Cups of Deceit - Jon Krakauer

Stumbled on this book just now and felt compelled to read it, as I have read and enjoyed other books by Jon Krakauer. This book is an exposé of Three Cups of Tea, which is apparently a purportedly true story that is really more fiction than fact, ala A Million Little Pieces. How disgusting that yet another greedy jerk has created a multimillion dollar business that masquerades as a charity. It's also disgusting because it makes me question anyone who appears to advocate for the poor of this planet - maybe they're greedy liars too. What a shame. I haven't read Three Cups of Tea, thank goodness, as apparently I'd do better sticking with fiction. On the plus side, this book reminded me that I need to read Where Men Win Glory, Krakauer's biography of Pat Tillman.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Alexander the Great - John Gunther

I found this book at the ongoing library sale at "the other library" I go to, but it was $1 and I talked myself out of buying it, even though 1) it was a vintage children's book; 2) it had really cool color illustrations on the inside front and back covers; 3) it had cool 2-color illustrations on the inside too; 4) it was in great shape and almost seemed new; and 5) I have a serious weakness for vintage children's books. Of course, the joke was on me, as I couldn't stop thinking about the book. I had to return to this library to return books a week later, and I told myself if the book was still there I'd take it home guilt-free. I had to search for it, and in fact I thought it was gone at first, but then I found it and snatched it up. Hooray!

I read this book as it was a perfect fit for the Forgotten Treasures Challenge. It was an interesting, well written read, and because it was originally published in 1953, it made me want to read modern accounts for more updated information about Alexander the Great.

The Red Tree - Caitlín R. Kiernan

Not sure what to make of this book. It was a thriller in the "Blair Witch Project" vein (the movie is even referenced in the book). I liked the narrator, even though there was some occasional choppiness of the writing that snagged my eye/brain connection - not having read any other books by the author this might have been a deliberate choice. Also, part of the story uses a Courier-type font, which looked authentic and added realism, but was physically difficult for me to read for some reason. I enjoyed the spooky overall atmosphere, and there was some really disturbing imagery that added to the story; and I was definitely tense almost the entire time I was reading. But as with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, part of me wondered where it was all leading. I'd definitely try another book by this author.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Literary Blog Hop/TGIF/Feature and Follow

Hi everyone, and Happy Friday! Welcome to my blog.

Literary Blog Hop

This week's Literary Blog Hop question is a good one: 

What work of literature would you recommend to someone who doesn't like literature?

My response: What a difficult but great question! I guess it depends on the person, and what they actually like to read (assuming they read, just not literature). I think I would try to figure out which genre they do like, and then try to tailor my recommendation to fit what they already like. For example, if they like Steven King, I might recommend Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman as a beautifully written book that falls into this genre, or maybe some Edgar Allan Poe, as many of his stories are somewhat short and might whet the appetite for more. If they like romances or Nicholas Sparks type books, I might recommend Memoirs of a Geisha, The Great Gatsby, or On Green Dolphin Street, as they might be able to appreciate these stories. If they like sci-fi/fantasy, I might recommend The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami, as it's short stories that often have a fantastical twist that might appeal. A fan of mysteries and thrillers might appreciate Raymond Chandler. So for me it would depend on what I know about the person before I make the recommendation. 

Over at the GReads TGIF Hop, the question this week is:

Writing Reviews 101: What's your process for writing book reviews? Any tips or suggestions you would recommend to other bloggers?

My response: When I started this blog last January I was really only doing it as a place for me to keep track of my reading, but the blog post format necessitated a review of some kind, so I kept it short and sweet and limited to deliberately non-spoilerish commentary. As time wore on I have not really changed this format, for many reasons. I don't add book summaries as I find they can be spoilerish for me, plus I am too lazy to copy them from Amazon or Goodreads or wherever. I try to limit my reaction to high-level comments about the content of the book, and/or the writing and my reaction to it, so as not to create spoilers. I do try to write the review as soon as possible after I finish a book so as to capture my thoughts while they are still fresh, and because I have a tendency to procrastinate and if I put the reviews off they may never happen!

As I consider myself still fairly new to this, and not someone who does in-depth reviews, I am not sure I have any tips or suggestions. I would say, however, to do your reviews in the way you feel most comfortable. If you like to summarize and review at length, go for it! If not, keep it brief. I would say to be honest at all times though; if you don't like a book feel free to explain why. I'd always rather read an honest review, even if I don't agree with it, than a halfhearted review that doesn't display your true thoughts. 

If anyone reading this has any suggestions for me, I'd love to hear them too! 

Parajunkee's Feature and Follow has a good question this week too:

What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to books? Maybe you don’t like love triangles or thin plots? Tell us about it!

My response: I know I have said this before, but I cannot stand clunky, poor writing. I can put up with a lot of issues if a book is at least well written. An interesting story that is hampered by poor writing becomes unreadable to me. So that's number one. 

I have to say another pet peeve (because as usual I have multiple answers to every question) is when writers have characters do things that are not at all realistic, just to create drama or a "funny" situation. Or just because they are not thinking about continuity. In my opinion it's lazy writing and indicative of a writer who is not fully thinking out his/her ideas, or someone who is just writing to try to make money, not because they have a story to tell. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

TBR Pile Challenge 2012

Roof Beam Reader is reprising the TBR Pile Challenge in 2012 - Hooray!! This challenge went well for me this year, I have currently read all 12 books I chose for this challenge, and being mindful of the TBR pile books led me to read more books that had otherwise been languishing on the shelves that weren't part of the official challenge. It was a great way to clear off the shelf and read some books that had been patiently waiting their turn to be read!

Here's my official list for 2012 (in no particular order).

1. Snow - Orhan Pamuk - read Dec. 2012
2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson  - read Feb. 2012
3. The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton - Faith Brodie - read Sep. 2012
4. Othello - William Shakespeare  - read Jan. 2012
5. A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson - read Oct. 2012
6. Tales of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. - read Jun. 2012
7. The Autobiography of Henry VIII - Margaret George - read Oct. 2012
8. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival - Joe Simpson - read Apr. 2012
9. Moby-Dick - Herman Melville - read Dec. 2012
10. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath - read Apr. 2012
11. Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier - read Nov. 2012
12. The Ice Queen - Alice Hoffman - read Mar. 2012

1. Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson
2. A Crack in the Edge of the World - Simon Winchester

NOTE, Dec. 31, 2012 - I completed the challenge for the second year in a row! Thanks to Roof Beam Reader for hosting this great challenge. I so look forward to doing this again in 2013, it really helps to spur me on to read books that have been hanging around for way too long.