In 2015, according to my mostly-accurate records, I read 107 books. Or “read,” since 41 of those were audiobooks. About 20% of my reading was by people of color, which was what I was aiming for.
I’d hoped to finish a few more books by the end of the year, but that’s not going to happen. What I’m reading right now: Longing by Mary Balogh (historical romance set in a Welsh industrial town and dealing with Chartism!); One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway, by Åsne Seierstad (halfway in, I’d say Ian Buruma’s review and the questions he raises are spot on); and, on audio, the last of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, The Duke’s Children (they are giving him a hard time).
Here are some highlights of my reading year:
Favorites/Most Memorable (Read, not Published, in 2015)
Probably my favorite books this year were Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time series, especially the books dealing with World War II and its aftermath: The Valley of Bones, The Soldier’s Art, The Military Philosophers, and Books Do Furnish a Room. But the effect of the series is definitely cumulative: no one of the novels on its own is as great as the whole. (See my Year in Listening post for more).
Aside from Powell, probably the most memorable literary/general fiction I read this year was Natasha Solomons’ Gallery of Vanished Husbands and Nell Zink’s Mislaid. But I didn’t read anything else I got lost in the way I did Powell’s series. I think that may be me and my attention span rather than books, though. It was true of genre fiction as well–except when I was on vacation. Hmm.
I read some really good mysteries this year–this was the genre I read the most of. My favorite discovery was Naomi Hirahara’s Ellie Rush series (two so far), with its young, diverse cast of characters and well-drawn LA setting. I wouldn’t say they’re the deepest or best-written mysteries I read this year, but they felt freshest and I really want to know what happens to Ellie and her friends.
My favorite romances were Jeannie Lin’s The Lotus Palace and Sarah Morgan’s Doukakis’s Apprentice, both TBR Challenge reads. I think the only 2015 romance I read was Laura K. Curtis’ romantic suspense Echoes, which I also really liked.
In non-fiction (close to 20% of my reading), I read and listened to several memoirs, an unusual choice for me, and the stand-out there was definitely Margo Jefferson’s Negroland, which I finished a few days ago. The Seierstad book I’m reading now made some major Best Of 2015 lists, and I can see why. My other stand-out non-fiction read was Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told, which argues that slavery was central to the development of American capitalism, not a footnote. (I have Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton, which also made some Best of 2015 lists, on request at the library as a follow-up).
Fun With Challenges
I reflected on my goal of reading at least two books by people of color every month here.
This year for the first time I tried a couple of “public” reading challenges, rather than just setting personal goals.
You can see my spreadsheet for the Pop Sugar reading challenge here. I didn’t plan my reading for this out in advance, but it did sometimes guide my choices. When I wasn’t sure what to read next, I looked at the categories and considered what I had that might fit. I got 38 out of the 51 categories, which isn’t bad. I don’t think I’ll try this again, because the categories aren’t really things I want to drive my reading, but if you like the idea, you can find their 2016 challenge here. Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge is similar. But I hate the name.
I also did the Romance-focused TBR Challenge hosted by SuperWendy, at least through October, after which I couldn’t keep up. I loved the community aspect of this one and it got me enjoying romance again, so I’ve signed up for next year, when I hope to make every month.
I started and ended 2015 reading a book with Twitter friends, and I loved these experiences, especially the discussion of Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross. I enjoy the shared reading experience–it reminds me of the best parts of my job–and the way it makes me think more about what I’m reading. I hope to do this more in 2016.
Goals for 2016 Reading
- Continue reading at least two books by authors of color each month (which should mean between 20 and 25% of my reading). I aim to make more of these books that challenge or stretch me–whatever, exactly, that means.
- Read more poetry. This goal was spurred by a) my dad telling me how important reading poetry is to him, and b) a friend wondering why reading challenges list a play but not poetry. One of my regrets about my student years is that I never had a really great teacher of poetry, particularly of its formal qualities. I don’t feel I “get” poetry–but reading more of it can only help. This year, I’ve enjoyed a couple of the New Yorker‘s poetry podcasts and have read some of the weekly poems in the New York Times Magazine. I plan to keep doing that, and to read at least one other poem a week, especially beyond the much-anthologized poets I have on my shelves–though they’re anthologized for a reason!
- Keep working on less distracted reading. I find it so hard, these days, to become really immersed in a book. (I think it’s easier for me with print, which is one reason I’ve been reading more library books). I miss looking up from the page wondering, for a moment, where I am. I think this will require making wireless-free time most days, and maybe even setting a timer to help me focus. Sad but true.
Happy New Year, everyone! May we all have great reading in 2016.