Saturday, December 31, 2005

50 Book Challenge: This is the last one, I promise!

Now that I'm done reading for the year, I get to do something I've been looking forward to for a while now: summing up a year's worth of reading.

First, some general stats:
49 books read
7 books read for the second (or more) time
Literary Fiction: 15
True Crime: 8
Beatles: 2
Other Non-fiction: 4
Science Fiction/Fantasy: 5
Young Adult: 6
Humor: 2
Mystery: 3
Parenting: 2
Classics: 1
Children's Classics: 1
31 Fiction, 18 Non Fiction
Books I'd recommend: 28 out of 49

Most enjoyable reads of the year: The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men, The Ladies of Missalonghi, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, We Thought You Would Be Prettier, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time

Least enjoyable read of the year: Atonement

Books I gave the thumbs-up even though I had mixed feelings about them because I kept thinking and thinking about them once I finished reading them: The Time Traveller's Wife, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Books I'm proud to have made it all the way through: The Sparrow, Children of God, Atonement

Authors I definitely want to read more of in the future: Laurie Notaro, Stephen Goodwin, T.C. Boyle, Stephen Chbosky, Alexander McCall Smith

Authors to avoid under any circumstances: Aphrodite Jones, Ian McEwan (no doubt this is the only time those two will ever be mentioned at the same time)

Really good authors who kind of disappointed me this year: Anne Tyler, Jon Krakauer, Maeve Binchy

Just plain good reads: Breaking Her Fall, Drop City, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Wonder When You'll Miss Me, Sleep Into Heaven, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time

General thoughts:
I'm reconsidering the idea of myself as a book snob. I mean, I consider myself a book snob the same way I consider myself a movie snob, but my favorite movie of the year was "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," so there you go. When I say I'm a book snob, what that really means is I don't read romance or mystery novels, I think John Grisham is a hack, and no, I've never read The Bridges of Madison County or Tuesdays With Morrie. Also, I hate the whole concept of ChickLit and most of it makes me want to barf. But I've also never read Dostoyevsky, Proust, Gide or Tolstoy. I have a degree in English and I've read the complete works of Jane Austen, but that's my biggest boast with regard to how much classic literature I've read. This year's lone Classics entry, East of Eden, marks only the second book by John Steinbeck I've ever read.

So those are my parameters. Basically, no, I don't read anything very deep. I dislike philosophy, and I found the much lauded writing of Ian McEwan so sluggishly ponderous (a whole page of a 13-year-old girl considering her own hand? No thanks) it was like hiking through Jell-o. Uphill.

As a reader of fiction, what I ask for is something real. I need a story that has heart, but it has to have a brain too. I want characters who seem like real people, and stories that resolve in an authentic and satisfying way. That's what I strive for in my writing as well.

This year was hit or miss for me in the area of non-fiction. After 20 years of considering myself a Beatles fan, this year I became what I like to think of as a Beatles scholar, so I read a couple of books about them, and that was fun. In trying to work on some of Enthusio's issues, I read a couple of parenting books, neither of which quite hit the mark. The best non-fiction book I read this year was The Mommy Myth -- that one left me thinking for weeks. But my main source of non-fiction, true crime, was kind of a bust this year. Of the 8 true crime titles I read this year, I would only recommend one of them, House of Lies -- two others, All She Wanted (the true story of Teena Brandon, on whom the movie "Boys Don't Cry" was based) and Unholy Sacrifice, told interesting cases but were written so badly that I would never recommend them to anyone else. I'm afraid this is the direction the genre going -- there are more true crime books to choose from than ever, but the market is becoming saturated with quickly and poorly written books that don't do the stories justice. It's a sad thing. This year I plan to choose more carefully, and possibly reread some of the classics of the genre.

So that's that -- my year in reading. I've already started my first selection of 2006, and my theme for coming year is "Quality, Not Quantity." I'll define "quality" for myself, of course -- I wouldn't expect to see any Doestoyevsky listed if I were you :-)

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