Saturday, December 31, 2005

Year End Tally

This is the first year that I have consistently kept a book journal. I did so simply so that I would remember which books I’d read and thus be in a position to recommend the best of them. The exercise has yielded much more than that. Like Sandra at Book World, I find in mulling over my record that it challenges some of my preconceptions about myself as a reader. Of course, there is always the possibility that the very act of keeping a record exerted an influence over what I chose to read.

I read 109 books this year. Of these, 70 were fiction and 39 were non-fiction. The fiction was pretty evenly divided between literary fiction, mysteries and YA/children’s novels. One-quarter of the literary fiction titles were short story collections; the rest were novels. The non-fiction spanned a range of topics: biography, memoir, literary criticism, writing and publishing, essays, history, and sociology.

Looking at the dates on which I finished each book, I note that I read nearly half of these books in the first three months of the year. This is not altogether surprising. I was on sabbatical for the first half of the year, and the deadline for submission of my own book manuscript didn’t yet loom large. But I think that the major force that slowed my reading was beginning this blog back in June. I said in my first post that this is precisely the effect I was after. I hoped that writing about what I was reading would compel me to linger a bit over each book and take the time to appreciate the author’s craft. The experiment has worked.

But there were surprises. The first thing that struck me is how many of the books on my list are recent ones. One-third of them were published in 2005. Half of them were published in either 2004 or 2005. I’ve always read more contemporary fiction than classic stuff, but I’ve never been one to race out to the bookstore to line up for new releases. I think that I can link this development to blogging as well. Since I became a regular reader of various litblogs, I hear about and seek out new books much sooner. A positive review by a blogger whose opinions I respect will pique my interest. Or a debate about the merits of a new book will prompt me to read it so that I can join in the conversation.

The second surprise is related to the first. I think of myself as an avid re-reader, someone who frequently revisits old favourites. Yet only six of my 109 books were re-reads. And only three of these were re-reads of old favourites. The others were second reads of new books which I was sufficiently taken with to go back through them immediately in order to figure out exactly how the authors achieved what they achieved.

The most important fact to emerge from my book journal is that I read a lot of good books over the course of the year. Most months I read at least one book that I felt wildly enthusiastic about, and several others which I found very thought-provoking in spite of (or in some instances because of) their flaws. I’ll roll out my ten favourites from 2005 in my next post.

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