Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jenny's 2013 Reading by the Numbers

GoodReads seems to disagree with itself as to whether I read 238 or 240 books this year.  I think the accurate number is 238, since the stats for end of year include two books I abandoned (but not all 26, so curious.)

238 seems high.  238 seems impossible.  I'm sure I'll hear a lot of these things.  Well, some of those are individual short stories that I counted because they were award nominees and I was reading them as single shots.  Some of them are poetry, which while short, I always read at least twice.  Some are cookbooks.  So clearly, some are not that lengthy.  On the other hand, the longest book I read in 2013 is Infinite Jest, at 1,079 pages.  I have the feeling that the numbers balance out.

Books by Format

Print: 150 (77%)
eBook: 44 (19%)
Audio: 34 (14%)

Interestingly, 41/44 of the eBooks were advanced reader copies from NetGalley, so I still very much prefer print.  The three eBooks I actually purchased were in moments of desperation, usually because I needed to get a copy in time for book club or a podcast.  Or they were a really good deal.  I bought far more eBooks than I read, since I always forget I bought the Kindle Daily Deal types.  Whoops.  About half the audiobooks were also review copies, but I do have an Audible subscription and pay for about half.  Print is always a mixture of new, used, swap, and library books.

Books by Genre

Foodie: 25 (11%)
Graphic novels: 11 (4%)
Memoir: 13 (5%)
Novella: 13 (5%)
Poetry: 22 (9%)
Science fiction and fantasy: 55 (23%)
Short stories: 22 (9%)
Travel: 10 (4%)

These aren't all the genres, only those I'm interested in tracking.  I guess what's left is the general, literary fiction, and some non-fiction.  And some of these crossover, particularly memoir with foodie or memoir with travel.  I'm happy that my poetry number has gone up, and I want to keep it around 10% if I can.

Award Winners and Nominees

Last year, I read all the nominees for a lot of award, so much so that it took 25% of my reading time, and some of that reading was not satisfying.  This year I pledged to only read the books I was interested in.  Quite a few of my abandoned books of 2013 are from award nominees that I dumped, and are not reflected in these numbers.  Added up as a sum total, this still takes up 21%, but many of the Booker-NBA-Orange overlapped.  The number is about 18%, a definite dip from 2012.  It feels great to gleefully abandon what isn't working!

Hugo: 17 (7%)
Man Booker Prize: 6 (3%)
National Book Award: 11 (4%) <- pretty directly 6 novels and 5 poetry finalists
Nebula: 2 (.008%)
Nobel: 0
Orange Prize: 3 (1%)
Pulitzer: 0
Tournament of Books: 15 (6%)  <- many of these I had already read for other reasons though!

Reading for a Purpose

I often read books for challenges, podcasts, and book clubs, but these are all part of my interests.  I don't look to decrease these numbers.

Around the USA Challenge: 31 (5%)
Around the World Challenge (includes The World's Literature group's focus on Turkey): 69 (29%)
Great African Reads: 2 (.008%)
International Book Club (in person, just joined in September): 2 (.008%)
League of Extraordinary Dorks Book Club: 6 (3%)
SFF Audio Podcast readalongs: 13 (5%)

I think 2013 was a great year in reading!  Tomorrow I will give more thought to my goals for reading in 2014, but for now it is time to relax and celebrate.  Happy New Year!

Reading Envy's Best Books of 2013

I previously posted a list of other people's best books of 2013 lists, and now it is time to make my own!  These are roughly in the order I liked them the most.  These are books I read in 2013, and not all of them were published in 2013.

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

About halfway through, I had to take a break from this book. It is an intense read of a too-recent war-torn Chechnya, from a perspective not quite the same as what we were hearing in American news. However this book has stuck with me and I think it is probably my best book of 2013.

The author moves backwards and forwards in time, but always tells you exactly where you are at the beginning of every chapter, which starts from a timeline listing the years from 1994-2004. The year in question is in bold, to leave no mistake. And then as the reader, you get dumped into the events of that year, concerning a rather small cast of characters in a small Chechnyan town.

The darkness almost got to be too much for me, but there are some things that balance it out. Other readers have pointed out moments of humor to me, and while I wasn't ready to see them as funny while reading, they did have a balance, a humanity, that the senseless violence really needed. Also the author will sometimes show you the future of a minor character, many living decades longer and having completely fulfilling lives. This helps to counteract some of the bad situations and bad decisions for some of the people on the periphery, but the more we learn about the main characters, the worse it gets. There is no humanity in war.

Five Star BillionaireFive Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

Five Star Billionaire follows characters in very modern Shanghai as they attempt to survive expectations and pull themselves up economically and socially through plain hard work - or through deception, if needed. It's like the "Protestant Work Ethic" without any time for religion, turbo speed.  I appreciated the portrayal of a very modern China. So much of what I read, even from living authors, feels somewhat traditional to the point of old-fashioned. This was a world where a girl might spend the last money on her copycat handbag in hopes that it will help her acquire the new job/boyfriend that will change her life, where people are sitting around eating matcha muffins, sipping lattes and talking on their smartphones. The characters believe in this China, and in their potential to do more, to be more.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and LongingMastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing
by Anya Von Bremzen

"Inevitably, a story about Soviet food is a chronicle of longing, of unrequited desire."

Anya Von Bremzen was born in the USSR and later emigrated to the United States with her mother. Her James Beard award winning cookbook, Please To The Table: The Russian Cookbook, was published in 1990, so her knowledge of the food of Russia is not to be disputed. Instead of the regional focus that her cookbook had, this memoir is divided into decades of Soviet Russia. Each chapter takes a decade and discusses the historical events, the food, and how each impacted her personal story - her family, her ancestors, her memories - from 1910s into the twenty-first century.  From reading how Lenin had a fondness for apple cake to the puzzling "luxury" of Salat Olivier, I enjoyed reading about the very Russian foods and stories. Highly recommended!

A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern IraqA Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern Iraq by Fernando Báez

This is an incredible book, too overwhelming to read cover to cover, and it took me two months to read it. I stopped when I started to cry, which happened more than I expected. For this is the story of libraries and books from ancient times up to Iraq in the last decade, and their destruction, by fire, by war, by censorship, by librarians, and by worms. Rough reading, but Fernando Baez, the director of Venezuela's National Library, did an amazing job researching the details and the history.

The PrestigeThe Prestige by Christopher Priest

I read this for an SFF Audio readalong discussion podcast, and watched the movie, and probably wouldn't have done either otherwise. But wow, I'm not sure why not. This book is great. The more I talk about it, the more I like it. All the questions left at the end, all the missing pieces and the way the pieces we are given fall together. I can't really say much more than that but this is really good stuff.  If you've only seen the movie, I think reading the book is a different story.

The Brothers KThe Brothers K by David James Duncan

No, not those Brothers K.  I have had this book on my radar for a long time but it took a group read to get me started.  I've had it on my mind ever since I finished! This was a wonderful book. I don't even care that it had baseball in it and that sometimes I needed to skim those parts. This novel about a family going through life, in the 1960s in Camas, Washington, and the characters are so vibrant and real I may never forget them. Highly, highly recommended.

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Read by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne

This audiobook, my favorite of 2013, was 19 hours and I finished listening to it in three days. That's on my 3 mile commute. I just couldn't stop. I'd make up reasons to listen. This is a very well-written thriller that I can hardly discuss without giving things away. I almost hate myself for liking it because of all the hype, but it really pulls you in and makes you want to know where it is going. I don't read many thrillers, but this was a good one!

The audiobook is a great way to "read" this, because the chapters are divided between Amy, who has gone missing, through her diary, and Nick, her husband who is a key suspect. The two readers, male and female, really bring the story to life.

The Forty Rules of LoveThe Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

This was my favorite book from the Turkish authors I read this year. I had  reasons to be interested in Shafak. When I took a visiting Turkish artist to the High Museum in Atlanta, and her English was just a bit better than my Turkish, we still managed to have a conversation about books and authors. I learned that Elif Shafak is her favorite author, and that this is her favorite book.

This is a love story, on so many levels. The love of the outcasts, the love of the self, romantic love, teacher-student love, love of people who move us closer to god and to ourselves, it just goes on. I was surprised that it touched me so deeply, and I almost feel silly reacting in a strong way to it, but I suppose that says quite a bit about Shafak's writing. The chapters are short and the frequent move between centuries kept me reading just... one... more... page until I had sat and read the entire book in one day.

Infinite JestInfinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

After years of post-modern reading boot camp, I embarked on the journey to finally read this book with a bunch of amazing readers in the Summer of Jest group. I'm more proud of myself of finishing than I think I enjoyed the book.  I loved the readers I met through the experience, and we are all still reading together and will keep doing so. 

This is a novel where you would discover new parts every time. There are questions I can't answer after one reading and may not ever be able to answer, about abuse, wraiths, supernatural, yogurt beards, etc. The chapters aren't in chronological order, which makes the ending of the book a bit of a letdown. There are people out there who have sat down and figured out how to read it chronologically, and I'm tempted.

Detroit: An American AutopsyDetroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

I'm surprised to find so much non-fiction on my Best of 2013 list! This was a great book that I couldn't put down, as much as you can say a book about a destroyed city is great. What makes it great is the journalist-author Charlie LeDuff, who is from Detroit and has lost several family members to terrible situations there. This makes it different from a detached, paid-to-experience book that most journalists will write, forgotten the minute they are published. This is partly about the city of Detroit, and partly about Charlie's own life and background. The mix is great, his writing is great, kind of a combination of old newspaperman and gumshoe detective in tone, with short clipped sentences and metaphors that actually work. In anyone else's hands I'd probably be rolling my eyes, but not here.

The Shining GirlsThe Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

This is almost purely a horror, serial killer novel, except for the time travel element. The story is not told in linear time order, but in the order of events as the killer is experiencing them, as he goes to different time periods from a house that he believes is sending him. This isn't what I expected from Lauren Beukes, whose previous two novels have bridged cyberpunk and urban fantasy, but that isn't a bad thing.

I'm always trying to not just make my blog a duplication of my GoodReads reviews, and I've left a lot of great books from this year off of my list!  If you want to see all my thoughts on the books I'm reading, please add me as your friend in GoodReads!

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Year of Reading Turkey in 2013

Bir varmış, bir yokmuş....

I started playing with the idea of immersive reading when I first joined the Around the World in 52 Books group in GoodReads back in 2012.  Back then, the idea was that I would read a book and bake something from the same country every week.  That didn't happen exactly, I mean sometimes it did, but I didn't always get to both in the same week, and kept revisiting countries.  

Several people in that group were also in The World's Literature group, also in GoodReads, and I found my way into it in 2012 in time to readalong with quite a few of the picks for Japan.  This year, in 2013, the country picked was Turkey.  Sometimes I read along with the group, sometimes I set off on my own, and all told I read twenty books this year from, set in, or about Turkey. This post will be too long if I discuss all of them, so follow the link to gain access to my reviews.  I read seven books by actual Turkish authors, and while I wish that number was higher (because they definitely give a greater feel for Turkish thought!), it was very educational to read outsider perspectives of the country as well, through travel writing and through fiction.  The travel writing I read spans from 1716 to 2008. 

Turkish books read in 2013
Books I Read from Turkey in 2013

Not long after 2013 began, the academic library where I work started a subscription to Mango Languages, an amazing tool of language learning.  I poked around a few languages until I thought, oh hey, why not try Turkish?  I found it to be more accessible to learn than others, but I didn't get very far until being introduced to my first Turkish arkadaş, Neval.  She helped me with some of my pronunciation issues and explained how the grammar was working behind the scenes.  We met a few times over lunch during the summer because she was doing research on my campus.  I also met a few more Turkish people through her, and a few more through one of the other librarians.  There is apparently a Turkish table on my campus for academics planning to live in Turkey for research, but I sensed that my language skills were too limited to join them.  Maybe someday!  Still, I feel like I know enough Turkish now that I could have a very basic polite conversation, I could ask for directions and for items in a shop, and some basic food conversation.  At least I would know enough to try. 

Gulhanim brewing tea at the SC Dialogue Foundation Cooking Class

The final way I immersed in my Turkish adventure was in the cuisine.  I had attempted a few recipes on my own - several different types of börek, gözleme, and right now I have the ingredients for kunefe in my freezer! Sadly, Greenville has no Turkish restaurant, so I had nothing to compare what I was making to.  What we do have is the SC Dialogue Foundation, which among other things offers Turkish cooking classes!  Thanks to my colleague Laura, who pointed me in that direction, I attended two classes in the fall - one about ezogelin soup, and one about mosaic cake.  I plan to attend more in the spring.  Each class is more than a class - the women show the participants how to make one dish, and then they serve lunch with food they've prepared.  I have learned more about Turkish cuisine and culture in those 90-minute lunches than I ever would have expected.  If you are in the Upstate of South Carolina, I can't recommend them enough.  The foundation also has a wee grocery where you can buy Turkish ingredients, which are not easy to find in my area.  

Even though my book group is moving on to Iceland in 2014, quite a bit of my heart is still in Turkey.  I still have at least fifteen more books I know I want to read, and a lot more cooking to learn about.  I must have talked about Turkey a bit this year, because I got a Turkish coffee set for Christmas, which I have been nervous about trying, but tomorrow it will happen!  (Did you know that brides to be used to have to prove their coffee making skills to their future in-laws?  Oh the pressure!)

Here are the books I know I want to read.  If you have recommendations, I'd love to hear them.  Otherwise, I'll continue dreaming through my Turkey Pinterest board, my reading, and my growing knowledge of the language and cuisine.  Perhaps someday I'll get to visit!

Books on Turkey Still to Read

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Abandoned Books of 2013

I'm getting close to feeling like compiling end of year reading lists.  A little pushy bird in my brain keeps insisting I will probably read more before the end and I shouldn't count anything yet.

This is the first year I kept track of the books I started reading and then decided not to finish.  In the past, I just deleted them from my list, but then would sometimes forget I had already tried something (short memory I guess.)

I thought it would be interesting to explore which books were abandoned in 2013, and why.  I should probably explain that I don't think every book is meant for every reader, and in abandoning a book, I am not saying it does not have value.  But life is too short to read books that aren't clicking with you, and abandoning these freed up time to read other things!  This may be one of the reasons I read more books in 2013 than in any other year so far. Stay tuned for the end of year posts.
  1. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong - too much analysis!
  2. The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse by Sam Sheridan - just not as interesting as I wanted
  3. Ariel by Steven R. Boyett - talking unicorns
  4. Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon - bogged down by uninteresting detail
  5. The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka - boxing poetry
  6. Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson - Booker longlist, only got a copy after the award had been announced, wasn't caught immediately
  7. The Kill by Richard House - I'm just not a crime reader, although I keep trying
  8. The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough - more military sci-fi than I wanted
  9. Harvest by Jim Crace - got 123 pages in and nothing had happened
  10. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - yes it won the Booker. still felt like a slog.
  11. Helium by Jaspreet Singh - assumed the reader knew more than she did, and I was lost
  12. Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler - abandoned halfway but skimmed to the end, was not sad I'd abandoned
  13. Taipei by Tao Lin - drug use is mildly interesting, but only the first time
  14. The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem - yep, I lemmed* it. Clever but repetitive.
  15. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi - the storytelling was repetitive 
  16. HHhH by Lauren Binet - self-aware narrator, more of a structure than a story, it got tiring
  17. Spooner by Pete Dexter - speed date reject
  18. It's Only Temporary by Evan Handler - speed date reject
  19. Lit by Mary Karr - speed date reject
  20. Late Night THoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony - speed date reject
  21. A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore - speed date reject
  22. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley -speed date reject
  23. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen - speed date reject
  24.  The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa - speed date reject
  25. The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt - speed date reject (originally made it through round 2, but then I reconsidered.)
  26. The Difference Engine by William Gibson - I got halfway and made every attempt for a book club, but just couldn't force it

I'd like to hear about which books you have abandoned this year! Do you keep track?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Best Lists of the Best Books of 2013

We here at Reading Envy just love a good list, and starting December 1, lists of the best books of 2013 start appearing.  This is your one-stop shop for those lists, and this post will be updated as the days go by.  And since you might need something to listen to to accompany all your new reads, check out the Count Me Out's Top 50 Albums of 2013.  He's one of my favorite music blogs, and I love his pick for #1.

Amazon.com's Best Books of 2013 List
Beware, I'm pretty sure they'll try to sell you something.  This is a longer list, of 100 books. You can also view a kids list.

Book Riot's Best of 2013 List

Brain Pickings Top 13 Books of 2013
They describe their post as "Soul-stirring, brain-expanding reads on intuition, love, grief, attention, education, and the meaning of life."

Fiction Advocate: Books That Mattered in 2013
A list of laudable books by women in 2013. 

The Globe Books 100: The Best Canadian Fiction
We shouldn't forget our neighbors to the north!  Thanks to Robyn for the link.

GoodReads Choice Awards 2013
While GoodReads creates the original pool,  users vote on and select winners for several categories.  Margaret Atwood won best sci-fi for MaddAddam, so I will give that the ironic award of the year (she refuses to call it science fiction.)

The Guardian: Writers and Critics on the Best Books of 2013
I love this list.  Adichie picked Five Star Billionaire, one of my favorites from this year, and Jonathan Franzen makes me want to read about nuclear power.  Thanks to Robyn for this one too!

Huffington Post Best Books of 2013
Two of the book editors make their recommendations, and remind me that I really want to read that Scientology book. 

NPR Best Books of 2013
This is a bit of a farce, they are wanting to try their exploration machine based on their recommendations for the year, but that's still somewhat of a list!

NY Times - The 10 Best Books of 2013
I've read 3/10 this year. They have just as many non-fiction as fiction titles for the best of the best, but if that isn't enough, they did have a list of 100 Notable Books of 2013.

Paul Weimer's Personal List - the Best of 2013
I definitely hadn't heard of some of the books on this list!

Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013
A very concise, highly selective list.  The one book from it that I've read will be on my best books of 2013 list, so I feel like this is a good indicator of quality overall.

Slate Staff Picks 
They also have lists for best first lines, best poetry, best overlooked books, and will eventually narrow down to a top 10.
Tor.com - Reviewers' Choice 2013
Interesting picks from their most active reviewers, very eclectic even within science fiction and fantasy.

Have a favorite best-of list?  Leave it in the comments and I'll add it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bringing NaNoReadMo 2013 to a Close

It is just past midnight on December 1, so that means my National Novel Reading Month is over! I have 44 books listed on my NaNoReadMo shelf (where you will find my reviews of these titles), but not all of them are books I've finished reading. My original list for NaNoReadMo has been updated with the books I finished crossed off. I read the first 50 pages or so of even more books in my third round of speed dating.

But it is SO much more glorious to see a picture of a pile!  This shows everything I read cover to cover except Rivers by Michael Farris Smith (audiobook), Goslings by J.D. Beresford (audiobook), and Herland (eBook) (and the cookbooks I finished reviewing that I didn't bring upstairs.)

Not too shabby for a month!  I also got 2/3 of the way into The Brothers K by David James Duncan but won't finish it until my reading group does. 

Thanks to all of you who joined me for the month of reading more! Let me know in the comments what you read during NaNoReadMo, if you'd like.