A year in reading

It seems that ‘inspired by’ is the term to use when one is shamelessly borrowing another’s good idea. With that in mind, this post is inspired by/pinched from Sean Lotman’s wonderful post of the same name. You are encouraged to take a look at the original as well as this weak derivative.

An earlier post on ten minutes hate details my early designation as the family bookworm and the part that public libraries have played in creating my reading habits. There are times when a ‘to read’ list is put into use, but more often it is the joy of discovering something unintended that makes a trip to the library worthwhile. So it was around the time that borrowing took over from buying books that, realising that some gems would no doubt be forgotten along the way, I started making a note of titles and authors as I travelled.

Engrossed in a book, Singapore, Christmas 2010

The writer, engrossed in a book, Singapore, Christmas 2010

Looking at my list, the first failure to note is that it doesn’t come close to Mr Lotman’s staggering 42 books. Shamefully, mine is barely half that. It is interesting that in the comments to the original post, the balance between reading and writing is mentioned and it is true that, for the first half of the year at least, writing took up almost every available moment of my free time. Then there was the temptation of reading long-form journalism on my phone instead of carrying physical books on commutes and journeys. Although some of the listed books were read on a Kindle app (being too lazy to buy yet another gadget) the majority of them were paper and ink and, however much technology adds to other areas of my life, I foresee that continuing.

Another notable trend is that, while reading will always be something done primarily for pleasure, there are words here that I took a more professional interest in. Mr Lotman talks about the joy of reading, saying that often, too many readers see it:

as a way to pass the time rather than an action worthwhile for its own sake.

Usually I would be in complete agreement, however other motivations for reading have intruded this year. My list contains a few books that were of interest for research purposes, or read in draft stage and edited, or – in perhaps the biggest leap of personal development – read in order to develop a hopefully interesting and stimulating literature curriculum. Teaching classes based on loved books, having hated everything school forced me to read in English class, was at times tough, although ultimately enjoyable. Still, it is rare for a book that you feel you ought to be reading to become as much of a favourite as one you are free to delight in.

This joy of discovery shows in the publication dates of many of these titles, few are contemporary, perhaps only a couple would have been marked ‘the book of the moment’ or reviewed by a Sunday newspaper. That is due to distance: picking up books via second-hand bookshops and swapping with fellow expats tends to rule out hardbacks and new releases. Many of my list were gifts or recommendations and there is something lovely about hearing ‘I think you will enjoy this book’ from a friend before finding that to be true.

Here then is my list of books read in 2012, in chronological order, with links to reviews I wrote along the way and some further thoughts following:

  1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Let’s Start Again, ABCTales short story compilation
  3. Hana Walker’s Half-Life 2:46, Our Man in Abiko
  4. Babylon Revisited, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. Musings of a Monkey, Steven Baxter
  6. Hunger, Knut Hamsun
  7. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  8. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  9. Moonraker, Ian Fleming
  10. Manituana, Wu Ming
  11. Never Come Morning, Nelson Algren
  12. In Pursuit of the English, Doris Lessing
  13. Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
  14. 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
  15. A Severed Head, Iris Murdoch
  16. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  17. From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming
  18. Dr No, Ian Fleming
  19. Mourning Ruby, Helen Dunmore
  20. The Mammy, Brendan O’Carroll
  21. Bon Voyage, Mr President, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  22. A View from the Chuo Line, Donald Richie
  23. The Maginot Line, Fiction Desk short story compilation
  24. Care of Wooden Floors, Will Wiles

I managed 24 books, two for each month. Four were re-reads, six were ebooks, eight were purchased by me and the rest were passed on by friends.

Impossible to choose one favourite, but the books by Doris Lessing, Wu Ming and Knut Hamsun were particularly enjoyable, for wildly different reasons. With Lessing taking her ‘pursuit’ into a post-War London suburb, the Wu Ming viewing the American Revolution from an unconventional perspective and Hamsun’s anti-hero lurching around late 19th century Kristiania (Oslo), my love of stories set outside my own time is clearly demonstrated. Despite their differing subject matter, all three were lively, gripping tales, fascinating and relevant.

Publishers will tell you that compilations of short stories never sell, however a busy year meant this format was far easier to dip into and out of than a 900-page novel. From the Fiction Desk compilation, The Maginot Line, Benjamin Johncock’s The Rocket Man was a haunting tale of a small girl grappling with an uncertain future, soundtracked by Bowie. My first reading of a Helen Dunmore novel also provoked the first negative review I have ever been bothered to write, while Haruki Murakami demonstrated more flaws than claims to greatness and Will Wiles’ first book sadly did not make me long for another from him.

Finally, it is with a sense of guilt that I note that there are five downloaded but yet to be either started or finished books lurking on my Kindle app. This is something that I hope to address very shortly, as an extended holiday break in England with typically wintry weather offers little incentive to venture outdoors. With a little luck, 2013’s list will offer even more gems than this one.

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87 responses to “A year in reading

  1. Honoured to be included in such a good reading list, though for my money, Lucky Jim was the best of the lot.

  2. D’oh! I read the title and thought the post was going to be about living in a town West of London for a year. ;)

  3. That’s a good list! Sadly, it’s not just reading that has gone to the wayside as something modern humans can’t seem to do for its own sake. These days, if an activity isn’t for the sake of “getting something done” it’s pretty low on peoples’ priority lists.

    Cheers to you and your love for reading!
    Courtney Hosny

  4. Wow what a literary year! I am excited to read The Great Gatsby- it’s been on my list for a long time. It will also be my first F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  5. edvinasfreibergis

    1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. That’s just great, I really like word parallelism. I also write short thoughts, feel free to drop by and check it out. http://edfowly.blogspot.com/

  6. Being June

    Did you love Gatsby? One of my all-time favorite books. Can’t wait for the next film. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  7. Just like 3arnowl I was expecting a post about living in a commuter town 50 minutes from London…lol!! Happy to see it was about books!! Excellent selection you have there, I have been planning to start reading the Fleming James Bond books… have to add those to my list!

  8. A fellow James Bond fan, very nice!

  9. I really liked your point about the library being a good place to discover something unexpected. I often go in with no idea what I will come out with and frequently come out with something I hadn’t heard of before I went in. Wonderful way to broaden the horizon so to speak.

    Joel, author
    http://lifesmostimportantandobscurequestions.blogspot.com/

  10. A great list! I agree with the above comment re the library as a good place to broaden and vary reading titles. I find book clubs do the same. A great blog, thanks

  11. Whoo, great list. I’ll add some of those to mine. Guys please read my post (link below) on my Top 10 Books I’ve Read and Would Read Again and let me know what you think. Cheers!
    http://artbecomesyou.com/2013/01/03/10-books-ive-read-and-would-read-again/

  12. I’m motivated and plan to pick up a couple of your suggestions. Maybe, if I start reading then my son will become interested as well!!

  13. I envy you. I have about 6 unfinished books from the past several months. lol

  14. Sir Conan Doyle is very quickly making his way to the top of my list. I’d loved to hear your thoughts and suggestions, perhaps even some opinions on my recent reads: http://myonethousandlives.wordpress.com/
    Forgive me, I’m new to the blogging world. :)

  15. 1Q84 probably took up quite a bit of your time! I’m reading it right now and loving it!

    • I started it in the summer and it was winter when I was done. My fault for buying the 3-books-in-one volume so it was too blooming heavy to carry anywhere! Am mulling over a review to follow soon, but I had very mixed feelings about it…

  16. Great list – I like the mix of old & more recent. I spend a lot of time in used book stores and like reading classics. I recently re-discovered G.G. Marquez, too, a book of short stories. Good to see him on your list. I also read an Aldous Huxley this year. We’re tracking!
    Have you read Robertson Davies, the Canadian author? I am about to re-read his Deptford Trilogy, which i used to adore. I’m interested by how many re-reads you had on your list. I rarely re-read a book because there are so many to discover. I want to do more of it.
    Thanks for sharing; congrats on FP!

    • THANK YOU, Melanie! A colleague was reading The Deptford Trilogy and I meant to get it but completely forgot. Will get on the case…
      And I love re-reading. Have to leave a decent gap so you can start to forget things about the writing and come to it almost fresh and yes, it can feel quite indulgent, but that’s probably part of the enjoyment!

  17. I hate Brave New World. That just may be one of the worst books I`ve ever had the misfortune to stumble upon. I think the only books in your list I actually like at all are Sherlock Homes and The Princess Bride, which you hopefully read the full (not more popular abridged) version of?

  18. love the list…am putting some of these titles down for my to-read list in 2013! Thanks

  19. lythya

    Funny, the book I share with you is “hunger”

  20. Nice list! I read a few of those last year too. I really enjoyed 1Q84 but was less keen on Lucky Jim.

  21. Great reading you have here! Now I’m off to making my own for this year.

  22. bigblue45

    Yup, by the looks of it, it is time for me to get a list too. Thanks Blogoshpere peer pressure! For me, it is going to be the Hobbit and the Lord of the rings, the Hunger games series. I’ll work out the others after I deal with Romeo and Juliet for school. Nice work :)

  23. Whenever I see lists of books like this, especially with the listmaker’s recs, I wonder why I bother writing at all. I just want to read, read, read.

  24. Books, books, books. Words, words, words. The glorious stuff of life. My latest post is “How many books will you read this year?” My stacks runneth over.

  25. Good job! Owing to the very poor reading rate over the past few years, reading 12 books in 2013 is one of my New Year resolutions. Looking at yours and others’ lists, I think I ought to take it up a notch. Peer pressure rules! :-)

  26. I set a goal of 50 books last year and accomplished it. That was stupid. It became about reacing the goal, rather than savouring the book. This year I am off to a much easier pace. It has taken me a week to get halfway through 19 minutes by Picout and I like it that way. Sometimes books need time to purcolate or the characters need to be mourned. 24 is a reasonable goal! Looking at your list, I have to say The Princess Bride was a laugh out loud book for me. I read it on a train trip across the country and was constantly disturbing people around me :) I heart books!

  27. I remember library visits as a child, and the librarians letting me leave the children’s section to discover new worlds, new ideas, and new thoughts. Hooray for librarians!

  28. Hey, great list! Was “Brave New World” a reread? I ask because I reread it this year as well. I also liked what you said about short stories. Not enough attention given to them and masters of the craft such as Lovecraft, Cheever, and others are lost in the much. Anywho, great post!

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! Yes, I reread Brave New World because I was teaching it to a class of 17-18 year olds. I used it to get them started talking about other visions of the future they’d enjoyed and they came up with some great examples.

  29. Glad to see Sherlock was your first read of the year. I included his creator in a list I made on my writing blog: http://rhubahb.wordpress.com/2012/09/ You obviously have excellent taste.

  30. In praise of librarian, you should check out the book “This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All,” by Marilyn Johnson. Save us, indeed! If at all interested, check out other book reviews on http://frayeddustjackets.wordpress.com

  31. Excellent. Great list for 2012. How do you find the time. Nice read.
    Rob

  32. Sounds like a varied and enjoyable reading year:-) And your reading plans for 2013? I’ve made a plan to read a bit of everything this year, including poetry and non-fiction and am thoroughly enjoying it http://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/my-january-5/

    • I don’t really plan too much! I have a few ‘Christmas books’ that I’m enjoying and friends have passed me a couple and then I think I’ll have a try of the new Hilary Mantel and we’ll see how it goes from there.

  33. Great stuff. I’ve done something very similar for the past 2 years at http://folioreviews.wordpress.com. I try and keep track with “micro” reviews, some long ones, and at the end of the year, I divide the list up into ones I really liked, ones I quite liked, and ones I didn’t like. I haven’t come across a couple of the books on your list, but IQ84 is next in my pile.

  34. Well written. You’ve got great list and enjoyed your post a lot. Reading is really fun and a relaxing way. It is an enriching experience and forget the real word even just for awhile. Congratulations for being on FP!

  35. ” I managed 24 books, two for each month. Four were re-reads, six were ebooks, eight were purchased by me and the rest were passed on by friends. ”
    nice inspiration, I think I just finished less than 10 books.

  36. Did you download an app to my mental library? So many of the books you read are in my personal canon (Holmes, Bond, Fitzgerald, Huxley)… which is why I must point out that William GoldMAN abridged S. Morgenstern’s tale of adventure and true love. Though I’d pay good money to read what William GoldING would have done with the ROUSes.

  37. You’ve did a great job!!!! I need to pick up my reading again. I’d love to do something similar, 2-3 books each month. :)

  38. Awesome…you are a voracious Reader Friend….

  39. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is an excellent choice. Best in the list, I think.

  40. congratulations on featured in Freshly pressed.

  41. Great stuff. What did you make of The Great Gatsby? I read it in 2012 in anticipation of the Baz Luhrmann film. Surprisingly disappointing! But I might have just expected too much from the Fitzgerald.

  42. I have written myself a top 50 list for 2013 that I am hoping to get through! It’s been great so far, until I realised that 50 means almost one a week… not even on track already! Luckily I am going away for 4 months holiday and have loaded a fair few on my kindle! Wish me luck ;)
    In response to @Aileen Donegan above, I totally agree about The Great Gatsby and worried maybe it was just me that didn’t get what the hype was about. I can’t even bring myself to finish it. I appreciate that some people might look for deeper meaning in the words, but a story in essence should capture and captivate and that book unfortunately doesn’t do it for me. Cue literary outcry!

  43. Gatsby for me and I’m looking forward to finding out how Baz Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio interpret it. Great post – very well presented. Well done.

  44. Pingback: A year in books – J. C. Greenway | ten minutes hate

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