Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Reading Stats and 2016 Reading Plans

The other day I created a spreadsheet of what I think I read in 2015. For several years now I've been rather lazy about keeping track of my reading, relying on my not always consistent use of Goodreads and my memory (insert eye roll here). I plan on being more organized in 2016.

Reading 52 books a year is my long-standing annual goal and I haven't hit it the last two years. In 2014 I read 42 books and in 2015 it looks like I read only 41. It's been a busy, adventurous, and also emotionally turbulent two years. Here's hoping for continued adventures in 2016 but much less emotional upheaval.

Some Reading Stats from 2015:
  • 41 books read
  • 22 by women, 19 by men
  • 8 published in the 19th century
  • 12 published in the 20th century
  • 21 published in the 21st century
  • 11 published in 2015 (rather shocking to me--I had no idea I read that much new stuff!)
  • 10 review copies (explains the surprising number above, but one review copy was originally published in 1862)
  • 4 ebooks
  • 3 audiobooks
  • 3 in translation (lower than I would like)

Reading Plans for 2016:

I'll stay on the path of aiming to read one book a week. To help keep me on my toes I'll have three go-to challenges or focus areas:
  1. Read books I already own will be my primary focus for the year. I'm joining Andi in her quest to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.
  2. Continue to read from my Classics Club List.
  3. Participate in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. I've participated in this challenge before and look forward to jumping in again, but will take it easy on myself and aim for the Stella level (read four book and review at least three of them). Plus, I know I own at least four books by Australian Women Writers that I haven't yet read which will merge nicely with my first focus.

What kind of reading plans do you have for 2016?

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday Gift Recommendations

Looking for some off the beaten track gift ideas for the voracious reader in your life? Here are some recommendations that might do the trick.

Also LGBT/Womens Studies/Religion/Nigeria/International Fiction
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta 
A beautifully written novel in the bildungsroman tradition about a girl who is abandoned by her parents due to war and who almost abandons herself due to social norms. Weaves in both Nigerian folktales and biblical themes. 

From the publisher: "Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly. Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie."

Source: I read this one courtesy of NetGalley and highly recommend it. Okparanta is a writer to watch.

Also Writers/Philosophers/Class & Gender Issues
Martin Eden by Jack London
Bibliophiles and writers will probably find this lesser known London novel unputdownable. It takes readers through the wringer, but Martin Eden's love affair with books, ideas, writing, and a girl is definitely unforgettable.
From the publisher: "The semiautobiographical Martin Eden is the most vital and original character Jack London ever created. Set in San Francisco, this is the story of Martin Eden, an impoverished seaman who pursues, obsessively and aggressively, dreams of education and literary fame. London, dissatisfied with the rewards of his own success, intended Martin Eden as an attack on individualism and a criticism of ambition; however, much of its status as a classic has been conferred by admirers of its ambitious protagonist."
Source: I bought a copy after fellow blogger Thomas Otto (Hogglestock) recommended it to me this summer. Just finished it last night and my mind is swirling from the fallout.

Also Writers/Memoir
Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin
It's like a ride-along in a police cruiser, except you're with a best-selling thriller writer. 

From the publisher: "On September 1, 1994, Lee Child went out to buy the paper to start writing his first novel, in pencil. The result was Killing Floor, which introduced his hero Jack Reacher. Twenty years later, on September 1, 2014, he began writing Make Me, the twentieth novel in his number-one- bestselling Reacher series. Same day, same writer, same hero.
     The difference, this time, was that he had someone looking over his shoulder. Andy Martin, uber Reacher fan, Cambridge academic, expert on existentialism, and dedicated surfer, sat behind Lee Child in his office and watched him as he wrote. While Lee was writing his Reacher book, Andy was writing about the making of Make Me.
Reacher Said Nothing is a book about a guy writing a book. An instant meta-book. It crosses genres, by bringing a high-level critical approach to a popular text, and gives a fascinating insight into the art of writing a thriller, showing the process in real time. It may well be the first of its kind."
Source: Bought a copy when I was out book shopping with my friend John Valeri, aka The Hartford Book Examiner. John saw if first and I had to buy a copy, too. Just started reading it and think fans/thriller readers/and writers will find it fascinating.

Also History/Military/Political Science
Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm American and The World by David Vine
Did you know the U.S. military has close to 800 bases world-wide, many in other countries? Next to the U.S. is France and England who, between them, have only 14 bases on foreign soil. Vine argues that our current policy and presence overseas actually makes the U.S. less safe in the long run. 

From the publisher: "Overseas bases raise geopolitical tensions and provoke widespread antipathy towards the United States. They also undermine American democratic ideals, pushing the U.S. into partnerships with dictators and perpetuating a system of second-class citizenship in territories like Guam. They breed sexual violence, destroy the environment, and damage local economies. And their financial cost is staggering: though the Pentagon underplays the numbers, Vine’s accounting proves that the bill approaches $100 billion per year.     For many decades, the need for overseas bases has been a quasi-religious dictum of U.S. foreign policy. But in recent years, a bipartisan coalition has finally started to question this conventional wisdom. With the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan and ending thirteen years of war, there is no better time to re-examine the tenets of our military strategy."
Source: Originally checked out from library, purchased a copy. Currently reading it. A headline I saw last week highlighted that there are now talks of creating even more U.S. bases in Africa and the Middle East to combat ISIS.

Literary magazine subscriptions are an option and are a gift that keeps giving throughout the year. Here are four I've enjoyed over the years:
Bookmarks Magazine
World Literature Today
Mystery Scene Magazine
Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers (academic)

Memberships or Donations
If you're hesitant to buy a book for the voracious reader in your life (because you're afraid they've already read everything), consider a membership to a museum that maintains the legacy of a writer they may love like The Willa Cather Foundation or The Mark Twain House & Museum (or shop online at their websites for fun literary swag). Such memberships often come with a monthly or quarterly journal featuring news and current research. Also potentially a gift that keeps giving throughout the year.
Or, if you want to get something for someone who has everything and doesn't want anything else entering their home (de-cluttering fiends), perhaps make a donation in their name to The American Writers Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2017, or to a local literacy organization or library.

Ho, Ho, HoHappy Holidays!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Classics Club Spin #11

It's time for another Classic Club Spin! I haven't always followed through on actually reading spin picks, but this time I'm committed! This will help kick off my 2016 focus on #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.

How it works: Classic Club moderators will chose a number between 1-20 on Monday, December 7th, and participants will have until February 1, 2016 to read the corresponding book from their list.

I put some big chunksters on the list because two years ago I started off the year with reading The Count of Monte Cristo and it set a nice tone for the rest of my reading year.

Here's my list:
  1. Don Quixote
  2. The Monk
  3. Ivanhoe
  4. The House of the Seven Gables
  5. Les Miserables
  6. War and Peace
  7. Crime and Punishment
  8. Anna Karenina
  9. The Bostonians
  10. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
  11. The Education of Henry Adams
  12. So Big
  13. The Magic Mountain
  14. Goodbye to All That
  15. A Testament of Youth
  16. The Grapes of Wrath
  17. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  18. From Here to Eternity
  19. Catch-22 <------ #19 chosen! Wish me luck!
  20. Ship of Fools
If you want to start or get back into reading classics, check out The Classics Club

Friday, December 4, 2015

Book Buying Hiatus Reconsidered and #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks

I went a little overboard buying books this year. Used books, new books, so many books!

Part of this is due to having new bookshelves in my office. Whee! More book space! Part of it is due to all the great library tent sales in my area. Part of it is due to discovering Elliot's Books earlier this year. And another part of it is due to exploring New England and visiting bookstores, like the Harvard Book Store in Boston where last month I found some gems in their used section after meeting up with fellow blogger Cass for the first time (thanks for the tour, Cass!).

Cass in Harvard's Widener Memorial Library

Books, books, books. Binging on books.

Toward the end of any binge one starts to have that over-saturated feeling coupled with a need to start doing something else. In the case of my book buying binge, I eventually started wanting to READ these new-to-me books more than I wanted to bring home more books from yet another sale or bookstore to pile on top of previous purchases. Confession: when a stack of new books comes into the house they almost always hang out on my office floor for a while--sometimes they're there for just a few days before making it onto a shelf, other times a few months. I don't know why. It just happens that way. It doesn't matter where I've lived and it has nothing to do with a lack of bookshelf space . . . apparently I'm just a floor stacker.

Current floor stacks
A few months ago when the glow of the book binge started to fade, I started thinking that perhaps I'd take a book buying hiatus in 2016. When I've mentioned this to friends some nod with understanding and others look at me with shock and horror. I myself vacillate between these two reactions.

I went on a book buying hiatus several years ago when we were saving every penny we could for our impending move from Illinois to Connecticut. It was really hard for the first several months. I found myself suddenly having to read a new release that had 100+ holds at the library. Gee, guess I have to buy it! And speaking of the library, I found myself going to the library more than usual those first months (like 2-3 times a week) and checking out a ridiculous amount of books at each visit, more books than I could possibly read, but it satisfied that new book feeling. Eventually I relaxed and focused on reading. It was a delight to finally read some of the books that had been on my shelves for years.

So I was seriously leaning toward taking a book buying hiatus in 2016 when Andi announced her own plan to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. I am so with her on this. There are several really good challenges out there that focus on reading the books one already owns or a TBR list, but what resonates with me about Andi's is that there are no rules, you make up your own rules if you want to have any. Since I usually fail at reading challenges, participating in one that is based on my own rules is perfect.

And my own rules are that I will have no rules. My wife claims that I often take things to the extreme (e.g., buying every book in sight versus not buying any). So, I have decided not to take a book buying hiatus for 2016. Next year my intention will simply be to read more of the books I already own (the road to hell be damned). I will, however, try to be more mindful about why I want to buy a book  before automatically skipping to the register.

Glad that's resolved.

Are you making any reading plans for 2016?

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