2019 Book Summary

A la Jessamyn

2019 stats

Total number of books read: 67

average read per month: 5.6 books
average read per week: 1.3 books
number read in worst month: 1 (February)
number read in best month: 11 (June)

percentage by male authors: 37% (25 books)
percentage by female authors: 63% (42 books)

fiction as percentage of total: 91% (61 books)
crime fiction as percentage of fiction total: 79% (48 of 61 books)
non-fiction as percentage of total: 9% (6 books)

percentage of total liked: 70% (47 books)
percentage of total so-so: 27% (18 books)
percentage of total disliked: 3% (2 books)

Notes:

This year I read the books in Peter Lovesey’s Inspector Diamond series (set mainly in and around Bath, England), most of which I enjoyed, some of which were just OK; reading his series raised my “percentage of books by male authors” quite a bit. I continued reading the Thea Kozak series by Maine writer Kate Flora, after a break of several years. And I started reading both Christi Daugherty’s new Harper McClain series set in Savannah, GA, and Cara Hunter’s new DI Adam Fawley series, both of which I really liked.

My favourite books of the year were The Summer Book (1972) by Tove Jansson, stories about a grandmother’s summer with her 6-year-old granddaughter on an isolated Finnish island; Fifty Days of Solitude (1994) by Doris Grumbach, a lovely meditation on spending a couple winter months alone in Sargentville, Maine; Alice’s Island (2019) by Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, a novel about loss, betrayal, redemption, hope, and community set on a fictitious island off Cape Cod; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (2013) about novel about race, gender, class, and identity in America and, to a lesser extent, in Nigeria; and The Scholar (2019) by Dervla McTiernan, an Irish police procedural with a dash of suspense. Milkman: A Novel (2018) by Anna Burns, set in Ireland during the Troubles, was hard to get into but I ended up loving it, particularly for the diction and feel of the language.

Biggest disappointments: Nothing hugely disappointing this year but the non-fiction Three Women (2019) by Lisa Taddeo, about the sexual desires, disappointments, traumas, risks, sacrifices, etc. of three American women was not nearly as good as it could have been; Magpie Murders (2017) by Anthony Horowitz was a bit of a let down in the second half of the book (I was looking for a lavishly cozy crime story but got a cozy that morphed into a slightly postmodern novel); and both the short story collection Mouthful of Birds (2019) by Samantha Schweblin and the debut psychological novel Looker (2019) by Laura Sims were not nearly as satisfying as the hype. Monday Night (1938), the gritty novel by Kay Boyle recommended by Doris Grumbach, was no fun at all.

Full book list.

number of books read in 2019: 67
number of books read in 2018: 63
number of books read in 2017: 52
number of books read in 2016: 71
number of books read in 2015: 54
number of books read in 2014: 52
number of books read in 2013: 47
number of books read in 2012: 50
number of books read in 2011: 55
number of books read in 2010: 34
number of books read in 2009: 74
number of books read in 2008:
number of books read in 2007:
number of books read in 2006:
number of books read in 2005: 37
number of books read in 2004: 46
number of books read in 2003: 40
number of books read in 2002: 30+ (3 months forgot to count)

2018 Book Summary

A la Jessamyn

number of books read in 2018: 63
number of books read in 2017: 52
number of books read in 2016: 71
number of books read in 2015: 54
number of books read in 2014: 52
number of books read in 2013: 47
number of books read in 2012: 50
number of books read in 2011: 55
number of books read in 2010: 34
number of books read in 2009: 74
number of books read in 2008:
number of books read in 2007:
number of books read in 2006:
number of books read in 2005: 37
number of books read in 2004: 46
number of books read in 2003: 40
number of books read in 2002: 30+ (3 months forgot to count)

2018 stats

average read per month: 5.25 books
average read per week: 1.2 books
number read in worst month: 1 (February)
number read in best month: 8 (June, August)

percentage by male authors: 14% (9 books)
percentage by female authors: 86% (54 books)

fiction as percentage of total: 92% (58 books)
crime fiction as percentage of fiction total: 85% (49 of 58 books)
non-fiction as percentage of total: 8% ( books)

percentage of total liked: 57% (36 books)
percentage of total so-so: 37% (23 books)
percentage of total disliked: 6% (4 books)

Notes:

Many more “so-so” books this year than usual, and ten or so were Ngaio Marsh books; I read 31 of her 32 Inspector Alleyn series this year — one book left for 2019! I like her writing, characters, many of her plots, but the books set in the theatre for the most part didn’t appeal to me as much as the others. I particularly liked Death in a White Tie (1938, 7th), Death of a Peer (1940, 10th), Scales of Justice (1955, 18th) and Clutch of Constables (1969, 25th).

My favourite books of the year were Fair and Tender Ladies (1988) by Lee Smith, which I didn’t expect to really enjoy but it’s written so well; A Thousand Acres (1992) by Jane Smiley; and Peculiar Ground (2018) by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, a sumptuous, ‘densely patterned’ historical saga that’s not my usual type at all. I’ve also really enjoyed reading almost all of Marsh’s series this year, even the ones I didn’t like as much.

Biggest disappointments: Two of the five non-fiction titles, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016) by J.D. Vance, quite a let-down after Fair & Tender Ladies, which was so much better about a similar topic, and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2013) by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which everyone else in my bookgroup loved (her writing felt forced to me). And also the novel Tangerine (2018) by Christine Mangan, which was media hyped, seemed interesting in summary, and started off well but then became both predictable in plot and unfathomable in character (Donna Tartt’s The Secret History was so much better).

Full book list.

2011 Book Summary

A la Jessamyn

number of books read in 2011: 55
number of books read in 2010: 34
number of books read in 2009: 74

(still have to compile 2006-2008)

number of books read in 2005:  37
number of books read in 2004: 46

average read per month: 4.6 books

average read per week: slightly more than 1 book
number read in worst month: 1 (May)
number read in best month: 12 (August)
percentage by male authors: 53% (29)
percentage by female authors: 47% (26)
fiction as percentage of total: >96% (53)
crime fiction as percentage of fiction total: 83% (44 of 53 books)
non-fiction as percentage of total: <4% (2)
percentage of total liked: 51% (28)
percentage of total ambivalent: 46% (25)
percentage of total disliked:  < 4% (2)

Notes:

The limiting factor in my reading this year was availability of books I wanted to read. I spent a lot of time waiting for books to be published, to be processed at the library, and to arrive from inter-library loan. I read a lot more in the summer than during the rest of the year.

I found some new crime series this year ( Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, which I love; Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Icelandic series, Asa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson series, Giles Blunt’s John Cardinal series, and M.R. Hall’s Jenny Cooper series, all of which I like; and Alex Kava’s Maggie O’Dell series and Johan Theorin’s series set in Sweden, which are OK) . The most surprising read for me was a bookgroup title, Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants, an historical epic set around WWI – I thought it would be tedious but it was interesting.

As usual,  I have been reading several non-fiction books in small doses all year but I didn’t finish them (I never seem to finish them!) so didn’t count them. I also read a lot of non-fiction (essays and articles) online.

2010 Book Summary

(A la Jessamyn)

number of books read in 2010: 34
number of books read in 2009: 74
< didn’t keep track 2006, 2007, 2008 >
number of books read in 2005:  37
number of books read in 2004: 46

average read per month: 2.83

average read per week:  .65
number read in worst month: 1 (Jan, Dec)
number read in best month: 4 (Feb, Mar, June, Nov)
percentage by male authors: 26% (9)
percentage by female authors: 74% (25)
fiction as percentage of total: 97%
     crime fiction as percentage of fiction total: 71%
non-fiction as percentage of total: 3% (1 book)
percentage of total liked: 56% (19)
percentage of total ambivalent: 32% (11)
percentage of total disliked: 12% (4)

Notes:

Obviously, I read fewer books in 2010 than usual, though 2009 was an aberration (spouse was away for most of 6 months). And it felt like it. Often I just didn’t feel like reading, or when I did read, it was more likely to be blog entries or non-fiction of all lengths online, or non-fiction articles in a few print sources (The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The Oldie, Horticulture).

We were just away on vacation for 2 weeks, including two 24-hour periods on the train, and I read nothing but a very long article in an old New Yorker about John Lurie, and a shorter one in the same issue about Agatha Christie. I also read quite a bit online while on the train, via my smartphone.

I have been reading several non-fiction books in small doses all year (all Girardian in topic) but I didn’t finish them so didn’t count them.

Still have no interest in any ebook. Between the smartphone for current non-fiction articles, and actual books and magazines for longer and shorter fiction and non- pieces, I feel I have more than enough reading material.

Books Read 2009 – Summary

Shamelessly copying Jessamyn, I’ve compiled stats for my 2009 reading:

number of books read 2009: 74
average read per month:  6
average read per week:  1.4
number read in worst month: 2 (January)
number read in best month:  11 (May)
percentage by male authors:  41%
percentage by female authors: 58%
(one was a compilation written by men and women)
fiction as percentage of total: 96%
crime fiction as percentage of fiction: 83%
non-fiction as percentage of total:  4%
percentage of total liked:  70%
percentage of total ambivalent:  20%
percentage of total disliked:  10%

Notes:

Non-fiction: I read more non-fiction than is reflected here:

(1) Instead of finishing most of the non-fiction titles, I read several chapters from each and will eventually return to finish some of the books. The months with low reading totals are probably months when I was selectively reading non-fiction titles.

(2) I read most of my non-fiction online, as essays and articles.

Crime Fiction: Most of my fiction reading this year has been crime fiction and the fiction that  wasn’t crime fiction was generally bookgroup reading.

2009 was a tough year — crime fiction is comfort reading for me, for a number of reasons:

(1) I read almost all series titles, so the main characters become familiar and sometimes beloved. Often they are depicted as having less-than-perfect lives and relationships, a healthy (or sometimes unhealthy) degree of self-doubt, and complex motivations. I like these people.

(2) There is an element of order and puzzle-solving in crime fiction that appeals to my desire to understand the workings of the human mind. Many of the novels I read this year include the killer’s pov, and from the killer’s pov, the murder is always rational and done for a reason. That awareness — that even seemingly irrational and insupportable actions stem from someone’s meaning-making apparatus and appear logical to that person — gives me insight, I think, into real people.

(3) Crime fiction is generally — though not always — predictable in its progression (build-up to murder, body found, investigation begun, witnesses interviewed, body #2 found, etc.), particularly in the series I like, which are police procedurals and forensic novels. Within that predictable formula, though, anything can happen, and I like both the predictability of the format and the unpredictability of the story.

(4) The dead in crime novels (those I tend to read, anyway) are often accorded high status and dignity and are given almost loving attention. That comforts me and reflects my own sensibility.

(5) Crime novels reflect the violence that lives in each of us, and that usually lies just under the surface of most communities. They feel real to me and bring me solace in a world that often seems fraudulently focused on the positive and in denial of what’s not.

Book Year 2005

If my reading log is right — and surely it is not, as I forget about it from month to month — I read 37 books in 2005, compared with 46 in 2004.

That 37 includes 10 books read for a bookgroup (listed with U.S. publication dates):

  • Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life (2004) by Charles Calhoun, biography

  • The Kite Runner (2003) by Khaled Hosseini, fiction set in Afghanistan

  • Downhill Chance (2003) by Donna Morrissey, historical fiction set in WWII Newfoundland, Canada and after

  • The Assault (1985) by Harry Mulisch, historical fiction set in WWII Holland and afterwards

  • The Elegant Gathering of White Snows (2002) by Kris Radish, contemporary chick fiction

  • Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table (1998 ) by Ruth Reichl, food memoir

  • Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) by Thomas Hardy, literary classic

  • The Red Tent (1997) by Anita Diamant, historical-ish Biblical fiction

  • Atonement (2002) by Ian McEwan, literary and semi-historical fiction, WWII, England

  • Isaac’s Storm (1999) by Erik Larson, non-fiction about the 1900 Galveston hurricane

I think my relatively low reading totals this year result mostly from reading one or two books over the course of several months, namely James Allison’s The Joy of Being Wrong (which I’m still reading) and Rene Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (also still reading).

improbablecoverI notice that I didn’t much like a lot of what I read this year. I gave high marks to few books (in chronological order) of reading:

  • I See Satan Fall Like Lightening (2001), Rene Girard — a life-changing book for me. Reviewed in the Anglican Theological Review.

  • Improbable (2004), Adam Fawer — a debut novel, an action-packed suspense novel about probability theory. I wrote a review in Feb. 2005.

  • Downhill Chance (2003), Donna Morrissey — an evocative novel with a rural, cold, often stark Newfoundland setting and a small cast of characters the reader gets to know in 450+/- pages. Reviewed in The Antigonish Review.

  • The Assault (1985) by Harry Mulisch — a fairly short but compelling historical novel about guilt, innocence, the perspective of time, redemption, choices and their consequences. Good review at The Complete Review.

  • The Man with a Load of Mischief (1981), Martha Grimes — British crime novel, introducing Richard Jury and Melrose Plant. Reviewed at Amazon. Also: The Anodyne Necklace (1983), Martha Grimes — British crime novel, third in series. Amazon reviews.

  • The Verge Practice (2004), Barry Maitland — the theme this time is architecture, with a motif of gender reversals and confusion. Interesting. Scottish/Australian Maitland is always good for a crime novel with a nonfiction feel. 7th title in the Kolla and Brock series. Review at reviewingtheevidence. (I also read Babel this year; didn’t think it was as good as most of his others.)

  • Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (1952) aka Blood Will Tell, Agatha Christie — featuring Hercule Poirot suffering through a drafty house and bad cooking as he attempts to exonerate an innocent man and in doing so unearths secrets others wish to keep hidden.

  • One Grave Too Many (2003), Beverly Connor — the first in the Diane Fallon (forensic anthropologist) series, set partly in a Georgia museum of natural history. One of her best. A couple of good reviews. I also liked the follow-up, Dead Guilty (2004), reviewed here.

  • Atonement (2002), Ian McEwan — literary fiction set in England during one day before WWII, then during WWII in the French battlefield, then in the weeks, months, and years following. Most of the book, and the part I liked best, is the one-day at home in England part. I wrote some thoughts on this book, and The Complete Review has a good review (scroll way, way down)