Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2009 - The Reading Year in Review

I was about to log my second finished book of 2010 when I went back and realized that I had never put a total to last year's reading. In the fiction category, I ended 2009 with a respectable 31 books finished. This is way down from 50+ in 2008, but when you consider that I read a lot more history this year, it seems pretty good to me. It also explains why I don't get more miniatures painted... The quality of what I read was really high - there were many excellent and very good books, outnumbering the so-so ones handily. All in all a good year.

Giving 1 to 5 stars to a book seems a bit arbitrary given the whims of the moment, my mood on any given day and various other considerations, but I did exactly that this year. A five star "Excellent" book would be one of the ones I would go out of my way to pack if I were given one suitcase on the way to a desert island and told I could fill it with books. A five star book needs to be read by anybody who likes books and trusts my judgment (oh, come on, take a flier!). Anything with 4 or 4.5 stars I would heartily recommend to friends or others to read. 3 or 3.5 are good books, but there are better...

5 stars - Excellent
  • One Foot in Eden, Ron Rash (2002). My favorite book of the year, which following on his Serena last year, makes two years in a row he has written my favorite book read in the year.
  • American Rust, Philipp Meyer (2009). Book #2 of the year
  • Girls, Frederick Busch (1997). Tied for #3.
  • The Song is You, Arthur Phillips (2009). Tied for #3.
  • Waiting for the Barbarians, JM Coetzee (1980). A classic for good reason.
  • Rescue Missions (Stories), Frederick Busch (2006). The last book by one of my favorite authors, published soon after he died.

4.5 stars - Almost Excellent

  • That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo (2009). For some reason, in my early forties, books about mid-life angst seem to resonate a little more than they used to, and this is a good one.
  • Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead (2009).
  • The Jump-Off Creek, Molly Gloss (1989).

4 stars - Very Good

  • Saints at the River, Ron Rash (2004).
  • The World Made Straight, Ron Rash (2006). There's a pattern here...
  • Half in Love (Stories), Maile Meloy (2002).
  • The Messiah of Stockholm, Cynthia Ozick (1987).
  • That Night, Alice McDermott (1987).
  • Nobody Move, Denis Johnson (2009).
  • Last Night in Twisted River, John Irving (2009). Big book; should count as two...
  • A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick (2009).
  • Isn't It Romantic, Ron Hansen (2003).
  • Slow Man, JM Coetzee (2005).
  • Going to See the Elephant, Rodes Fishburne (2009).
  • Hotel du Lac, Anita Brookner (1984).
  • Wartime Lies, Louis Begley (1991).
  • Waveland, Frederick Barthelme (2009).

3.5 stars - Almost Very Good

  • Miles From Nowhere, Nami Mun (2009). Too dark for my tastes to be rated higher. And I don't mind dark, so this must have been dark.
  • All the Living, CE Morgan (2009).
  • Amsterdam, Ian McEwan (1998). Very good book until the predictable and silly ending torpedo'ed it. In retrospect, this might be a 3...
  • The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuna, Dagoberto Gilb (1994).

3 stars - Good but Nothing Special

  • The Humbling, Philip Roth (2009). Middle of the road effort from a great author. Sort of seemed to me like he mailed this one in, but has so much talent that it was good anyway.
  • Enchanted Night, Steven Millhauser (1999). I have read a few different things by Millhauser and I never quite know what to think. That may be a good thing, I'm not sure.
  • The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker (2009). Went to my alma mater.
  • Second Marriage, Frederick Barthelme (1984).

Nothing I read rated lower than 3 stars which means one of two things - I am an easy grader or I do my homework on books and authors and read stuff with a high probability of it being good. Or both. Now that I think of it there were a few books I got part way into, lost interest and stopped reading. Hmm. I should keep track of those too.

Factoids on the year's Reading:

  • I read 31 books.
  • I bought 126 books for a total of $926.83, or $7.36 per book, or $77 per month (books are my crack habit). Most are hardcovers and many were bought at used book stores and book fairs cheaply and in big bunches. I also do an excellent job of finding bargains in Amazon shops and trolling for low-bids on eBay.
  • I incurred a deficit of 95 more books purchased than books read. Not that this is a bad thing.
  • My library of modern literature is up to approximately 677 books, of which I have read all or part of only about 170.
  • The 31 books read in 2009 broke out as follows: six from the 1980's, five from the 1990's, and the remaining 20 from the 2000's (13 of which were from 2009 alone).
  • Only two of the 31 were story collections, which is much less than in prior years (although 3 half-finished collections are on the night stand and will show up in 2010 totals).
  • 14 of these books were by authors I had not read before.

So I did a very good job of keeping current on reading some of the better books of the year as they were hot off the presses, and I did a good job of reading different authors. I hope to keep that up this year.

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