Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Reading Summary . . . with Graphs!

Here are some random thoughts on my 2012 reading.

It felt like life took up more time than usual this year, so I was pleasantly surprised when my books-read total turned out to be a respectable 92. Getting off to such a big start in January helped a lot. See below for a graphical representation of my reading totals by month.

Last year, there were several books that I really liked and made a big impression on me. This year, there aren't as many books that stand out. I'm not sure why this is, but let's attribute it to me instead of to the books. One book that I do remember liking, even though I read it almost a year ago, is HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford, about two creative teenagers and a radio show. I was also happy with Kristin Cashore's most recent Graceling book, BITTERBLUE. I read THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO for the first time and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. I bet the BBC could make a fantastic mini-series from it.

I read four non-fiction books this year, all for Book Club Bronte, none of which I would have picked up on my own, but each of which I enjoyed/appreciated. There are four girls and three boys in Book Club Bronte, and we take turns selecting the book for the month. Each of the first three books listed here was selected by one of the boys. Only the last was chosen by a girl. Before we had boys in Book Club Bronte, we didn't read much non-fiction. Our selections are quite varied now, as you can see from this non-fiction sample:
NOMAD by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
MAPHEAD by Ken Jennings

Several of the books I read this year had pictures. Always a plus. Two, THE APOTHECARY and BITTERBLUE, were illustrated beautifully by Ian Schoenherr. WINTER TOWN's pictures, by the author, Stephen Emond, give it the feel of the graphic novel the main character is drawing with his friend.

I self-identify as a reader of YA, so I'm always surprised to see what percentage of my reading was actually adult (see second graph, a pie chart because I like pie). Because adult books are often longer than YA ones, I wonder how much the percentage would change if I calculated number of pages instead of number of books. Hmmm. Maybe next year. I also wasn't sure how to classify some of the books (to be expected, but that is a topic for another post). For example, Ursula K. LeGuin's A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA can often be found in the YA section of the bookstore or library, but does that mean that the later books in the series, like TALES FROM EARTHSEA, should also be counted as YA? That's what I did, because I read the whole series this year. But if I were to read just TALES FROM EARTHSEA next year, I might count it as adult.

And in the third graph are the totals by genre. Each book was counted in only one genre. To clarify some of my distinctions, Dystopia/Future includes THE HUNGER GAMES. Heyer refers to any historical fiction/romance novel after the style of Georgette Heyer, not that anyone can match Heyer, as she was brilliant and hilarious. Most of the books counted in that category are actually Heyer's. Classic refers to books written a long time ago, 'long time' as determined by me. It would appear that the only mysteries I like are those that are set in the past, hence the category Mystery-Historical Fiction. I read most of Lauren Willig's THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE PINK CARNATION series and have just started Jacqueline Winspear's MAISIE DOBBS books. And in another example of apparent self-deception, it seems that I don't read nearly as much Fantasy as would be expected from someone who answers the question "What do you like to read?" with "Fantasy."

I'm reading fewer real books now that I have an ereader. Sometimes it makes me sad that I can't buy real books anymore (ha ha), but it was a necessary move, as you can see from this:

Happy reading in 2013!

2010 Summary
2009 Summary

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What I Was by Meg Rosoff

This book has left me puzzled. And confused about what is puzzling me. I know I read it too quickly to enjoy the good writing, but I wanted to know what was going to happen, and I had only so much lunch time. What I Was is the reminiscence of a 100-year-old man who lived an unexpected life when he was a 16-year-old schoolboy in 1962. (By my calculation, that means that he is telling this in the year 2048. This is not important to the story.) He has started at his third and most mediocre school just off the coast in East Anglia when he meets Finn, a boy his age who lives in a tiny, tidy hut on a bit of land that is accessible only at low tide or by boat.

Finn lives the life the schoolboy wants to live. Finn is the boy the schoolboy wants to be. The schoolboy, whose name is only revealed at the end, disdains, but fully participates in (if that isn't too active a term), the mediocrity of his life: the school, the other students, the life he's being led to. About the one student who follows him around despite all discouragement, he says, "His habitual wretchedness left me cold back then, as so much of human weakness did." In contrast to the dull grayness of his regular life, Finn is beauty and grace and strength. Finn catches his supper in the sea and cooks it over a fire that he has built. Finn climbs up cliffs and maneuvers small boats in a tossing ocean with ease.

Maybe part of what is puzzling me is that the schoolboy and Finn's story doesn't really end. I suppose the stories I've been reading lately have all had satisfying closure, so this story's lack of it has left me somewhat adrift. I still enjoyed the book, although I liked Rosoff's How I Live Now much better.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Beatrice is 16 and about to choose where she is going to spend the rest of her life. Although she was raised in the faction Abnegation, whose members value selflessness over any other trait, she chooses Dauntless, where bravery is the biggest requirement. After arriving at the Dauntless headquarters, she and the other initiates train in physical and mental combat. Only the top-ranked get to stay, so as the smallest, Beatrice is determined to do the work to get to the top.

So I'm about a year behind the times, but I will add my praise to large amount already out there. This book sucked me in. After reading straight through the first 2/3, I made myself stop because I had to get a least a few hours of sleep before work the next day. Then I didn't let myself pick it up for a few days until I had enough time to finish. I wouldn't recommend that process, because I had been away from the story long enough that the end felt a little disjointed, but I am looking forward to reading the next book, which is coming out May 1.

Tris is a compelling character. Her unstinting bravery and determination moved the book forward at a good pace. I admired her strength and spunkiness. I certainly wouldn't do well in Dauntless. There's a very nice romantic element in this book too, always a plus for me. Although I was inevitably reminded of The Hunger Games books, the comparison didn't detract from this story. But I wonder, would Tris and Katniss get along?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card

It's the beginning of the 23rd century. After devastating wars and natural disasters that have reduced the world's population by 90%, the remaining 10% have learned to live in peace and equality. Technology has been developed that allows scientists to watch the past. One woman of Pastwatch, Tagiri, makes a startling discovery: they have the ability to influence the past. A woman of great, almost burdonsome, compassion, Tagiri feels she must use this ability to lessen the suffering of the people of the past, especially the enslaved. As more information is discovered and more researchers join the team, the project evolves into a plan to change Columbus's discovery of America into an enlightening and empowering of the native Americans so that they will be able to work with the Europeans instead of being conquered by them.

I really enjoyed reading about Tagiri and the other related members of Pastwatch. Their thought processes as they work out the probable effects of their changes to history are intriguing. But Orson Scott Card balances this with scenes from Columbus's point of view, which never lets you forget that the theories the team is developing will affect real people.

This book brings up fascinating questions. I'd seen it in college and intended to read it but somehow never did. When it was suggested for Book Group Bronte, I was glad to have a motivation to try again. This month's designated book chooser (we take turns) wanted us to come to the discussion with an answer to this question:
~ If you could go back in time and make one change to make the world a better place, like the scientists do in this book, what would it be?
Suggestions like having Hitler get into art school and saving the library of Alexandria were discussed. I copped out and didn't have an answer. As I thought about the question, I realized that I am so ignorant about history that I don't even have a grasp on what the great tragic events of history are that should be changed. In the book, Tagiri is explaining to her first collaborator why Columbus was so pivotal. She tells him that anyone else who discovered America wouldn't have considered it worth exploring and gives her reasons.
"You've been studying," he said.
"I've been thinking," she said. "I studied all this years ago."
And that is why I could never have been Tagiri.

A few other questions (of the many) that this book brings out:
~ Would you marry your true love and have children if you knew that in a few years you would go back in time, and your marriage and your children's lives would be erased?
~ Has there been a defining moment in your life, a choice that has determined everything you've done since?
~ And of course the big one: not how you would change the past but if you should. If the technology is available, is it your responsibility to use it to try to alleviate suffering, or would it be the ultimate arrogance to take the lives of generations of people into your hands?

We may not have the ability to go back in time and change the past, but the decisions we make now are changing the future, and that's responsibility enough.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

This is a hard book to read, but you get to cheer at the end, which I hope isn't too spoilery to start out with. 15-year-old Lucky Linderman has been bullied by his classmate Nader McMillan since they were seven. Even in the summer he can't escape Nader, who is a lifeguard at the pool Lucky goes to with his mom every day. But after Nader grinds Lucky's face into the pavement, Lucky's mom takes him to her brother's house in Arizona so they can both get away for a while.

I adore Lucky. He has a pretty level head and a remarkably kind heart for someone in his situation. He does what he can for another girl who's bullied by Nader. He has a nicely developed sense of humor and is geographically knowledgeable. About the scab on his cheek after the pavement incident, he says, "...it's the exact shape of Ohio. Like - identical. My eyeball is floating lazily on Lake Erie. It's thinking of going water-skiing later." As the weeks go by, the scab gets smaller and progresses through the shapes of several other eastern states. He also turns out to be a good cook, which he discovers when he's driven to desperation by his aunt's canned gravies and microwaved chicken nuggets and volunteers to cook.

While in regular life Lucky seems a small, unobtrusive teenage boy, what no one knows is that he has another life in which he is big, strong and attempting over and over to be a hero. At night when he's asleep, or sometimes when he daydreams in the daytime, Lucky goes to Vietnam to rescue his Grandad, who was listed as missing long before Lucky was born. His Granny devoted her life to reopening the search for him and other soldiers who went missing during the war. Practically every article of clothing Lucky owns has the MIA/POW symbol on it. Despite dozens of attempts, Lucky has not yet managed to rescue Grandad from his guard and the prison camp. But he can talk to Grandad, who listens and offers advice calmly, and is sometimes Lucky's only refuge.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dash is walking through the Strand bookstore a few days before Christmas when he sees a red Molskine notebook hidden among the novels. In it are clues from a girl named Lily leading him to other books in the bookstore and eventually a request for his email address if he wants to continue with the game. Dash is more than willing to get to know the mysterious Lily, but he sends her on a search of her own. As both are parentless for the holidays, Dash by choice and Lily by grudging consent, they have the time and freedom to continue their chain of dares. Will they ever meet face-to-face? Will they like each other as much off paper as they do within the notebook?

This book is written from both Dash's and Lily's points-of-view, David Levithan writing Dash's and Rachel Cohn writing Lily's. Dash is smart, in his word, "bookish." My teenaged self would have admired him from a distance, too intimidated to do anything so bold as talk to him. One of my favorite things about Dash is that he dreams of owning the complete, hardcover, 20-volume OED. So do I, Dash, so do I! Lily is loveable and awkward, and she makes absolutely delicious cookies. I liked both characters and was worried about what would happen if they met. Something that Dash says about meaning describes his and Lily's situation.
...I don't think meaning is something that can be explained. You have to understand it on your own. It's like when you're starting to read. First, you learn the letters. Then, once you know what sounds the letters make, you use them to sound out words. You know that c-a-t leads to cat and d-o-g leads to dog. But then you have to make that extra leap, to understand that the word, the sound, the "cat" is connected to an actual cat, and that "dog" is connected to an actual dog. It's that leap, that understanding, that leads to meaning....
...in the same way that a kid can realize what "c-a-t" means, I think we can find the truths that live behind our words.
Dash and Lily are reading and liking each other on the pages of the red Molskine, but they might be making leaps to false actualities. Will they be happy when they discover "the truths that live behind [their] words"? Here are some of their words that I liked.
My hands were starting to shake a little. Because I hadn't known that I knew these things. Just having a notebook to write them in, and having someone to write them to, made them all rise to the surface.
* * * * * * *
The Strand proudly proclaims itself as home to eighteen miles of books. I have no idea how this is calculated....Were there eighteen miles of shelves? No one knew. We all just took the bookstore at its word, because if you couldn't trust a bookstore, what could you trust?
* * * * * * *
She led me into a room that could only be called a parlor. The drapery was so thick and the furniture so cloaked that I half expected to find Sherlock Holmes thumb-wrestling with Jane Austen in the corner.
* * * * * * *
I am not dangerous. Only the stories are dangerous. Only the fictions we create, especially when they become expectations.
Hmmm. I think these are all Dash quotes. I can't help it. I really like him!

Although this book is mostly about Dash and Lily, it is also a little about the Strand. This whole book is a little tribute to New York City. I've been to the Strand, and it is wonderful.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book group 2 and e-readers

This post is about nothing in particular and a few things in general.

I'm in two book groups. This can sometimes lead to reading jams.

Tonight Book Group 2 met after our annual January hiatus. Book Group 2 is a boring name. I'm going to call it Book Group Austen. It's made up of women from church, usually four of us. Oh, I'm going to give the others Austen names! Elinor and Catherine have young grandchildren, and Jane is a few years younger than me with four cute kids. I'm the singleton, so when the others talk about parenting, I just smile, nod and tune out. Tonight we went over our reading list for the year, which led to talking about other good books we wanted to read. Elinor showed us a book she'd picked up at a used book sale: Lady-in-Waiting by Rosemary Sutcliff, about the wife of Sir Walter Raleigh, which sounded interesting. My other book group had read one of Sutcliff's YA novels; I didn't know she'd written for adults too. Catherine is reading Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz and thinks she'll suggest it for our reading next year. I'd seen the book at a (Polish-speaking) friend's house but hadn't known anything about it. I like that this group has introduced me to older books I'd never have picked up on my own.

Tonight we spent the first 15 minutes or so talking about our e-readers. There's one Kindle and three Nooks among us. The Kindle owner bought hers first, a couple of years ago I think, and I just bought my Nook a few weeks ago. The others really like their devices. I'm still deciding. The instant gratification aspect is fantastic, and I really don't have room for more paper books, but I just like reading real books. I like the feel and smell of paper and the sound of turning pages. And when I go back to re-read parts, it's so much easier to flip through the pages to find the spot I want than to swipe through the pages electronically or try to guess the page number. I also like taking notes in a real book. Handwriting just conveys more feeling and personality than typed letters. Maybe a few months from now I'll be writing a new blog post on how much I love my e-reader, but at the moment I still prefer real books.

Next month's read: Emma by Jane Austen. I've read it before, of course, but am happy to read it again.