What I’ve Been Reading: 2011

No book recommendations in this post – kind of working on it, but I’m already nearly two months behind with this post, so we’re going to press without them.

Last January, I wrote a post that applied geekology to my 2010 reading habits and analyzed them to see what sort of reader I had been that year. I discovered that 2010 had been the Year of YA (young adult) literature, with a full 29% of my reading material falling into that category. I also discovered (not that it was news to me or anything) that I tend to read things that are entertaining and not a big brain-drain – that I take my vacations in written form. The majority of my reading was either mystery/thriller, action, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance.

I decided to track my reading again this year. I am always thinking that I would like to be a more “serious” reader, and that it would behoove me to go back and read all of the surely wonderful classics that I’d missed or dismissed throughout the years. (Can I just take a moment to say how much more I like The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc., now that I’ve re-read them as an adult?) And then, when it actually comes time to read something… well, let’s just say that habits are hard to break.

I’ll begin with a nod to my competitive streak. This past year on Goodreads, I pledged to read 75 books with the 2011 Reading Challenge. I based that goal on 2010’s reading (76 books, some of which were pretty short). Little did I know that I would blow past that goal long before the year was actually over, and would go on to read a grand total of 118 books (not including books half-read or unfinished by 12/31). My five-year reading chart is looking pretty good!chart tracking past 5 years of reading

Of those books, seven (Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, The Crucible, Hamlet, Jhereg, The Mists of Avalon, and Night) were re-reads; excepting Jhereg and Mists, I was re-reading with my students.

So, the question remains: did I do a better job of reading “quality” literature, instead of just escaping into easy, entertaining reads?

Hmm. Well. About that.

Chart analyzing 2011 reading by genre

(You can click to enlarge.)

If 2010 was the Year of YA, 2011 was pretty much the Year of the Monster. A full 21% of my 2011 reading was either paranormal (I separated “paranormal romance” into two distinct categories) or horror, with another 20% categorized as science fiction, urban fantasy, magic realism, fantasy, and/or steampunk. (Note: a book might fall into up to 3 categories by my system.) Clearly, I didn’t quite manage to cut down on escapism! And I’m sure that Jung would have a thing or two to say about my psyche over the past 12 months, given my literary fixation with all things ghoulish and beasty.

Only about 17% of my books fall into a category that you could call “intellectually edifying,” and that’s assuming that you include the books in the Science/Health category. The majority of those books had to do with fertility/pregnancy and baby names (hey, that’s a science! Ever heard of onomatology?) so I’m not sure those were exactly deep reading, but at least I was learning something. About 9% of my books were professional in nature, whether books about teaching or books written for my students’ demographic.

I also like (because I’m a nerd like that) to look at my reading in each month, to see what sort of trends I can spot. I have usually believed that I read more in the summer and in the “bleak midwinter,” but I actually found that this past year didn’t really fit that theory. The following charts compare my trends (in quantity, not genre) from the past two years, first in terms of books and second in terms of pages (because I read some real beasts this year).chart tracking reading trends by book

chart tracking reading trends by pages

As you can see from those graphs, my 2011 reading actually took a sharp decline in the summer. I had three peaks instead of two: late spring/early summer, that dark dismal winterperiod, and surprisingly, the fall – which is usually a rough time for my reading because of the start of school. Not sure what happened there.

After last year’s reading wrap-up, I thought it would be neat to compare what I was reading each month rather than just how much. That gets pretty unweildy if I try to track everything, so I targeted a few specific genres and discovered that I read the bulk of my horror, paranormal, and romance books (many of which, to be fair, are paranormal romances) in the summer, when I have time to tackle gothic tomes a la King and when I just want a nice “beach read” (even if that beach read is stuffed full of sun-averse vampires). I also found that I tend to read science fiction in the winter, and that I only seem to read YA lit during the school year – probably because it is sitting on my classroom bookshelves beckoning me. In the fall, I had an upswing of adventure and “chick lit”… and then, of course, when November 2011 hit, I piled on a bunch of nonfiction books about human reproduction, which skewed my stats a bit (and subsequently, buried my brain in mysteries and really bad paranormal romps after the early December letdown).

So, what did I read that was worth reading? Quite a lot, actually – and I plan to come back and write about those in a day or so. It’s a lot easier to pick out (and pick on) the bad stuff, so here you go:

The worst book of 2011 is a contest between A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card and Minion by L.A. Banks. The former was a dumb novella squeezed into the otherwise brilliant Ender’s Game saga, almost embarrassingly preachy and saccharin in content. The latter – well, talk about embarrassing. This was the book that you keep reading just so you can recite the especially poorly-written passages out loud and make your friends giggle. Not only were both of these books bad, but they were so disappointing – I was excited to find another Ender book, excited to find an urban fantasy series featuring an African American heroine… and both books HORRIBLY let me down.

For my complete list of 2011 books, or to see what I’ve read in past years, check here.

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Water Damage

I am tired of being sad.

Of course, “sad” isn’t really the right word. “Sad” fails to adequately describe the feeling of an insufficiently healed wound, broken open again and again. It doesn’t articulate the sense of being unmade and remade into something fundamentally weaker, like a paperback novel after having been dropped into a bathtub. Sure, it’s still a book – but it’s wrecked.

I don’t feel like I’m made out of the same “stuff” that I was four months ago. That person didn’t cry during church hymns, movie previews, work meetings, commutes. That person liked to read and write and plan. She slept well.

And sure, I know… It’s a grieving process. And even though I have days or weeks when I feel like I’ve made it through to the other side, in truth it’s been not even three months since a lot of joy and hopes (not to mention a baby) died. So it is natural, I know, to have bad days, or bad weekends… even bad fortnights.

Still… it gets old.

And if it makes you feel better to say, “snap out of it!” or “go to the gym” or “get therapy,” then go ahead. Probably those are all good suggestions.

This has been a challenging couple of weeks. I think, probably, that if everything else in my life were great, that I’d be able to be stronger about other things. But there’s been trouble with work, and trouble with family, and so on. And it’s late winter in Idaho, which is always so cheery. 😛 And it’s hard to sit there with a woman with a belly and due date that pretty much match what mine was supposed to be, doing the girly coo-about-nurseries-and-maternity-photography thing. Feels like a direct hit on a fresh scab, and now my whole soul is oozing pus.

(Which is different than ‘puss’ – thanks, autocorrect.)

I am not writing this to whine or solicit pity or advice. I just want to feel better, and as time goes on I begin to suspect that I need to write if I’m going to heal. Isn’t it in Macbeth that Shakespeare said to give sorrow words, because unspoken grief will break the heart?