Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tallying Up and Taking Stock

I read 100 books in 2006. That’s fewer than last year, but in the same ballpark.

Those 100 books break down into 85 fiction titles, 13 non-fiction titles, and 2 collections of poetry. I always read more fiction than non-fiction but the numbers don’t usually tilt quite so decisively in favour of fiction. I’m not sure what to make of that. I suspect it’s an aberration. I’m early in the research phase of a couple of new projects at the moment and I have no doubt that the reading I do in connection with them will substantially raise the proportion of non-fiction in next year’s tally.

Of the 85 fiction titles, 73 were novels and 12 were short story collections. I would classify them as follows: 47 literary fiction, 27 mysteries, and 11 children’s or YA novels.

The non-fiction titles included biographies, memoirs, essays, and books on reading, writing, money, and health.

Eleven were rereads.

Twenty-five of the 100 were published by small or independent presses, and 75 by large, mainstream presses.

Sixty-one were written by women, and 39 by men.

Roughly one-third of the 100 were written by Canadian authors, one-quarter by U.S. authors, and most of the rest by UK authors.

Only one was a work in translation, a Quebec novel originally written in French and translated into English.

Only two pre-date the 20th century.

If all of the individual stories and essays that I read in addition to these books were taken into account, the diversity of my list in terms of countries of origin, works in translation, and time periods would improve. But significant gaps in my reading are obvious nonetheless. In light of this, you can anticipate what some of my reading resolutions for 2007 are likely to be.

Speaking of reading resolutions, I made a slate of them for 2006 and now is the time to assess how I fared. On the whole, I fared rather well. It seems that I’m much better at keeping reading resolutions than any other kind. The reason for this is readily apparent. Reading resolutions don’t represent attempts to pressure myself into doing things that I don’t want to do. Rather, they constitute permissions to myself to give priority to things that I do want to do but that might otherwise get lost amidst the stresses of daily life. Perhaps I ought to extend this resolution philosophy into other areas of my life...

On to the specifics…

My first resolution was to read the work alongside the biographies. I only read two literary biographies this year: Claire Harman’s excellent biography of Robert Louis Stevenson, and David Callard’s serviceable biography of Anna Kavan. In each instance I read several works by the subject either alongside the biography or shortly after finishing it. This practice definitely gave added depth to the insights that the biographies offered into the work and creative processes of the subjects and I plan to continue it.

My second was to revisit the work of some of the writers in my pantheon of greats. I reread a number of novels and stories by Anton Chekhov, Jean Rhys, Muriel Spark, Jean Stafford, and Adele Wiseman and relished the experience.

My third was to read some Samuel Beckett in honour of the centenary of his birth. I failed miserably at this one. For $1 at a library book sale I bought a Grove Press edition that contains three of his novels in a single paperback volume: Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. I have carried this volume around with me for ages and have so far only made it to page 11 of Malloy. Perhaps I would do better with three separate volumes with bigger print. I will definitely give Beckett another go in 2007.

My fourth was to search out small press titles from outside Canada. I did quite well at searching them out but not so well at actually reading them. Nevertheless a tantalizing array of small press titles from the U.S. and the UK now form part of my TBR stack and I look forward to reading them in due course.

My fifth was to devote more blog space to discussion of Canadian small press books. A quick tally reveals that I have mentioned 49 Canadian small press titles, some of them more than once, in blog entries over the course of 2006. Some were just passing mentions in connection with notices of or reports on public readings, but several involved full reviews or links to reviews published elsewhere. I will definitely continue to bring worthy Canadian small press titles to the attention of fellow readers at every opportunity.

Finally, my sixth was to turn more often to the books that languish unread in my own collection rather than always rushing off to the library in search of something new. Fifty-seven of my 100 books read were checked out from the library whereas 43 were from my own collection. This is a substantial improvement over last year. Mind you, I’ve bought many more books as well, so there are still an ample number of unread books on my shelves awaiting my attention.

Stay tuned for posts outlining my reading resolutions for 2007 and my ten favourite reads from 2006.


litlove said...

What a fantastic round-up, Kate! And I love your insight into the way that reading goals permit you to do something you want to do, and are therefore far more achievable than other more self-coercive ones. That is certainly something to ponder.

yellojkt said...

That is a lot of books. I haven't been keeping track, but I read about two a month. I'm trying to read a lot of novels in January, which I have dubbed National Just Read More Novels Month.

Nancy said...

Happy New Year Kate!

The Traveller said...

I like your idea of reading works along with biographies of authors - I'm about to start Pablo Neruda's Memoirs and have bought more of his poetic works to accompany it.

Heather said...

Great stats! I do like the idea of reading extra material when reading a literary biography. Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

I never even though to break down my books by genre, etc. in my year-end post - good idea!

Razovsky said...

Yeah, this is a great roundup. Geez. Do you ever *not* finish a book, by the way. My own roundup would include an awful lot of books I abandoned or got distracted from. They're lying all over my apartment, opened to a cobwebbed page.

As for Beckett, I absolutely love Molloy. But it's tough going, what with the absence of paragraphs and all. You might want to check out Watt, or perhaps Murphy. They're both excellent as well and a little more accessible.

Happy new year, Kate.