Monday, January 24, 2011

Essay – Tidying up 2010 Part Two

I seem to recall thinking to myself at the start of 2010 that I was going to break new ground for myself. That I was going to move in a bold new direction. The main thrust of this was to read what I normally don't read. Two main areas of newness was to be female writers and Canadian writers. A third minor resolution was to read more international fiction. Looking at my numbers apparently it was all good intentions:

Total # of books read: 55

By Type; 89% Fiction, 11% Non-Fiction

By Gender, 90% Male, 10% Female

Breakdown by country:

56% UK

16% USA

9% Canada

3% Germany

1% each of Korea, France, Greece, China, Portugal, Sweden

This is not very good really, especially if you add in the fact that I have broken my standing rule of one fiction then one non-fiction when choosing books. I am also quite embarrassed by the fact that my Canadian reading is below the US and for some reason in 2010 I was an Angophile (perhaps I should start drinking tea). The oddest thing is that the UK/US is really all a blur requiring deep thought to recall the volumes consumed, whereas most of the other countries I remember. I don't know if this is the law of statistics (more names are harder to remember than a fewer number of names) or if I have a knack for picking good international fiction.

In a more subjective sense, I actually impressed with many of my book choices in 2010. Of the four women writers I read this year, I was impressed with the two Oriental writers— Kyung Ran Jo (writer of the creepy novel TONGUE) and Xialou Guo (writer of the very dreamy TWENTY FRAGMENTS OF A RAVENOUS YOUTH). I might consider reading other works by them. My solo woman writer for non-fiction was Zadie Smith. Her collection of essays CHANGING MY MIND was quite informative and convinced me to give George Elliot a try this year.

In the collection of men from foreign shores again the non-UK/US stick out. I finally read "THE READER" which held up better to the hype then "BRIDA" did. 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA felt like a children's classic I should have read long ago (I also had a proper translation). I have previously discussed my GIRL CRAZY experience and FRUIT was the other big Canadian Read I got into 2010, it was a very small book which threw me (apparently on top of being an Angophile, I'm addicted to epic) I'm still deciding whether it was the best book it could be or not. Probably one of the most enjoyable non-fiction books of the year was A READING DIARY by Alberto Manguel, he convinced me of several books to try as Zadie Smith had—although the INVENTION OF MOREL didn't quite live up to his review.

A couple of re-reads, the Doom Patrol cycle and the completed Planetary run. The Silmarillon was finally completed this year and was surprisingly easier to read then I remember from the last time I failed to read it. The other "finally finished" book this year was James Wood's HOW FICTION WORKS, which unlike Tolkien's tome was never finished due to the circumstances beyond the book's control. It was quite good, if a bit didactic.

I was on a James Bond kick this year, mostly get to them out of my house and returned to a friend of mine. After getting through the boxed set, I was surprised to learn that the books I liked were not the ones he or any of my friends enjoyed. My top favorites were FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. It appears I am drawn to the unconventional in my conventional thrillers. What was striking about the series as a whole is how mundane they seemed. I won't go as far as to say realistic, but there is breathing room in the stories, people have months to heal in some cases and plot move at a slower pace. It is quite a different feeling from the adrenaline superhero thrillers of today. I prefer the novels, but it really isn't a fair comparison as the movies are a completely different beast.

Finally this was the year I started a book club (250 pages or less) and I must say that it has been quite enjoyable and without it I don't think I would have Read THE TURN OF THE SCREW by Henry James. It was a rough experience for me but it was probably one of the best challenges to me this year in my reading. A penultimate book of manipulation making a very creepy ghost story (or psychological horror story if you prefer), it left me with a lot to think about and I find myself thinking about it every so often. Just yesterday I was considering rereading it. I'm a glutton for punishment. J

So what was the biggest surprise this year? THE CITY AND THE CITY by China Mieville. It was an amazing book which would be my number one recommendation. I weird story of two cities that exist in the same place, a book you just have to read. I smiled most of the time while reading it (a similar smile that INVISIBLE CITIES, ON A NIGHT A WINTER TRAVELLER, and ONCE)

Now, 2010 is properly filed, it is time to look forward. Since 2011 began I have seen a number of reader challenge's kicking around. I am horrible at giving myself exact books to read so I will try to stick to general principles.

  1. Read more female writers; let's target 30%
  2. Read more non-fiction; get back to 40-50%
  3. Read more Canadian fiction; 30% again

That said, I do hope to tackle a couple big books this year. WAR AND PEACE, THE BIBLE, THE ODYSSEY and MIDDLEMARCH are under consideration. Mostly I want to work through all the gifts and borrowed books that litter my shelves. Otherwise, I will play it by ear.

Wish me luck!

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