Year in Reading: Annus Not-So Horribilus

Someone tweeted that the problem with year-in-review posts is that you have to look back on 2016. Yeah. This was a hard year for me personally, and a hard and scary one in the world generally–which is usually true, of course, but closer to home now. It felt like a bad year for my reading, too, but when I looked back I was surprised by both how much I read, and how good it was. Sure, there were months where my listening time was all politics podcasts (how I wish I could get that time back), and months where I was too down to focus on a book, but bursts of reading and listening in other parts of the year made up for that. In the end, according to my rather sloppy records, I read 67 books and listened to 52.

For the first part of the year, I did well on my goal of reading diversely, but that fell apart in the last quarter, in part because my comfort reading tends to be white and British.

Here are the highlights, and some thoughts about 2017 goals:

Author of My Year: Agatha Christie, by sheer volume. I listened to two dozen Christie books in 2016. And I may have forgotten to write a couple down. This should tell you something about what kind of year I had.

Enough plot to keep my attention but not harrowing to the emotions, these were the perfect comfort reading when my usual choices (romance and childhood favorites) stopped working.

In general, I liked Miss Marple best. What really struck me reading so many is the variety of points of view Christie employs in both that series and Hercule Poirot. Different narrators–both first person and third–and points of view (sometimes the detective’s, sometimes another character, and not always the Watson-like Hastings). In some novels, the detective makes only a minor, if significant, appearance.

Runner Up: Maggie Nelson, a new discovery. Both The Argonauts and The Red Parts were thought-provoking reading, and I’ll seek out her other work.

Genre of the Year: Mystery, obvs. No one book stood out to me, but I enjoyed discovering Robert B. Parker and read several of Peter Lovesey’s Diamond books.

Favorite Romances: I’m reading less romance, but a lot of my choices this year were very good. The top two? Sonya Clark’s Good Time Bad Boy and Lucy Parker’s Act Like It.

Stand-Out Fiction (Non-Genre):

The Sellout by Paul Beatty, Oreo by Fran Ross, and, in a very different vein, Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. The one I loved most, or the most “me” book, was the Haruf, but all three were memorable. Except . . . I forgot I read them this year until I looked over my notebook. My attention has been elsewhere.

Also rans: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison, and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. See, a much better reading year than I thought. It’s been ages since I read so much literary fiction for pleasure, and found such varied pleasures in it, as I did this year.

Probably My Favorite Book This Year:

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. I never did a proper post on this but it’s so good on nature and science and vocation and friendship and living with mental illness, and so beautifully written. I listened to the audiobook read by the author. A wonderful experience. I should listen again soon.

In general, it was a great year for non-fiction reading. I think that trend will continue. In several recent years my top pick has been non-fiction. I guess this should stop surprising me.

Biggest Reading Accomplishments of 2016:

  1. I finished Dorothy Dunnett’s A Game of Kings! I liked it too, but not in a “best of” way. Maybe because it seemed more like a monument than a book? I notice my favorites this year were contemporary fiction, too. Historical fiction, long a favorite, has appealed less to me of late. I will keep going with Lymond though, I think.
  2. I fulfilled my resolution to read more poetry. Mostly by adding the Poetry Foundation’s poem of the day to my feed reader, but also through the New Yorker‘s poetry podcast and a couple of collections from the library. Next year I’m going to try reading more books of poetry, so I can experience some poets in more depth. The public library isn’t great for this. I should scope out my college’s collection.
  3. I read a good chunk of the Man Booker long list. Even though I didn’t love most of these books, I enjoyed the experience and following the conversations of the Shadow (Wo)Man Booker gang. I think I’ll pick a list to read along with next year, too. Maybe the Baileys prize, maybe the Booker again.

What About Next Year?

I was going to say I wanted to read more, until I found my totals weren’t as shabby as I thought. Why did the amount and quality of my 2016 reading take me by surprise? Perhaps it was just that my own troubles, and the world’s, distracted me. For next year, then, my only reading resolution is to try to pay more attention. Which should mean blogging more, since writing about what I read is a good way to engage with it more deeply.

I wish us all hope, courage, and good reading in 2017. We’ll need it.


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13 Responses to Year in Reading: Annus Not-So Horribilus

  1. merriank says:

    I’ve heard that Dunnett’s Lymond books have been optioned for TV by the Poldark producers. Also read somewhere that Christies’ Miss Marple was a conscious rebuttal to being told she couldn’t have an older woman central/lead (?) In a stage play. A woman hear me roar moment

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I have really enjoyed mysteries where aging/elderly spinsters are smarter than everyone else. I’ve been with my husband since I was 21 but somehow spiritually I identify with spinsters!

  2. I did a ton of rereading this year. I barely topped 250 in total, and MAYBE 150 were new to me.

  3. Sunita says:

    You read and listened to way more than I did! I had a pretty good reading year too, despite a few stretches where I didn’t or couldn’t read anything outside work stuff. Thinking of highlights, I’d say The Sellout was way up there, and I discovered Spanish-language authors (they’d been on my TBR but I finally got around to reading them), in particular Alejandro Zambra and Antonio Munoz Molina.

    I finished the PopSugar Challenge, which I didn’t expect to AT ALL, with not too much stretching of the categories, and I easily surpassed my Mt. TBR goal of 24 books. I read a lot of library and TBR books this year and not many 2016 books. And at the end of the year I rediscovered Harlequin Comic Books, finding some pretty good ones. Those may turn into my new comfort reads.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I don’t know how it added up so high! (Though several were on the short side, including all that Christie). A couple of summer months really made the difference.

      I have enjoyed my ventures into new things even when I didn’t love the books themselves. There was a lot more library reading in 2016, and I’ll keep that up but I’m going to try to read more from my poor neglected TBR pile too. So many good books hiding in there!

  4. Jorrie Spencer says:

    I did more reading than I realized (80 books, which is fairly high for me), but then, a number of those were rereads (including Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series). My go-to genre seemed to be science fiction and fantasy, with romance coming up a strong second. Mystery was far behind, but the mystery I did read, I liked, including Galbraith, Peter May’s The Blackhouse (more for the setting than the mystery), and Sherry Thomas’s.

    I intended to read poetry, and got as far as one book (which I enjoyed). Try again, I suppose.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      The poem a day feed is great. I didn’t always read them, certainly, but I read a lot of them. They’re mostly contemporary poets, so lots of new discoveries for me.

      I’ve tried a couple of Peter Mays but for some reason they haven’t worked for me.

  5. priscilla says:

    Reading saved me more than I realized this year, and it was a pretty fantastic year with no slumps and very few duds (unlike my “real” world). I loved Commonwealth, too; it as my favorite book of the year. I started 2017 with Lab Girl. I’m only a third of the way through and I already know it’s going to be on my favorites list for 2017…so good!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      There were times when reading/listening really saved me, too. And my response to political turmoil is usually in part to read/try to understand better, so I expect more non-fiction in 2017, along with comfort reading.

  6. Rohan says:

    It definitely doesn’t look that that bad a year! I liked ‘Our Souls At Night’ a lot too. It was just so quiet, but in a tender way. I’m glad to see so many good reports on ‘Commonwealth,’ which as you know was in my Christmas book haul.

    Best wishes, and not just for reading, for 2017! I hope your snow and ice clears away soon.

  7. Janine Ballard says:

    I’m glad your year in reading was a good one. 2016 was so rough in other ways that it’s more important than ever to have good books to turn to. I bought the audiobook for Lab Girl and I’m looking forward to listening to it.

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