I wish my obsessive-compulsive tendencies were in the housecleaning vein, but unfortunately they are limited to useless tasks like carefully keeping track of what I have read. And why? Am I supposed to be earning gold stars from someone? I don’t know why I do this. But I do — and this year, I kept more careful track than ever, with each book noted by fiction vs. nonfiction, if it came from a library, whether I read it for review, etc. etc. I can only blame this on working in a library, where our job is to keep track of things, and classify them. It turns out I like cataloging.
The good news: I read almost twice as much this year as last. That, too, is probably due to my new job. Not that I read on the job — a common but mistaken belief about working in a library — but being surrounded by books all day and learning about lots of newly published books probably inspired me. Not to mention having a job that truly is limited to 40 hours a week most of the time, unlike any job in journalism.
I read 62 books in 2008, compared to 34 in 2007. Twenty-nine of this year’s were nonfiction; I didn’t deliberately set out for an even split but it’s interesting it turned out that way. Thirteen were from the collection of the Monroe County Public Library. Thirty-three were from the Florida Keys Community College Library (like I said, access helps). Seven were via interlibrary loan, six of those from FKCC and one from MCPL. I keep meaning to write an ode to ILL, a wondrous service I have often heard praised but never, until this year, took advantage of.
Fifteen were by writers coming to the upcoming Key West Literary Seminar — starting with The Name of War by Jill Lepore in February and winding up in the week between Christmas and New Year with Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and … Jill Lepore. Very different books (one nonfiction, one fiction and different in other ways, too) but both excellent and highly recommended especially for those who are interested in Colonial New England and our nation’s foundations. For the Seminar I read some old favorites, like Andrea Barrett, and made some new discoveries, like John Wray, Samantha Hunt and Calvin Baker.
I read five books that you would call graphic novels, although three were actually nonfiction — and one of those was one of the best books I read all year, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. It’s harrowing, for sure, but extraordinarily well done in every aspect.
I “read” one audiobook, Lady Macbeth, which was OK and meant to read more but then this David Baldacci thriller got stuck in my car’s CD player and now I’m afraid to put anything else in there. The new year will have at least one audiobook, as March by KWLS keynoter Geraldine Brooks is currently keeping me sane through a painting project.
I found myself reading a lot of historical fiction even by writers who are not going to be at the Seminar — most notably Dennis Lehane’s latest and, I suspect, best so far, The Given Day. I’ve always liked historical fiction — who doesn’t? — but now I’d have to classify it as a minor addiction. I finally read a couple of Swedish mysteries (Sun Storm by Asa Larsson and The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksen) and I suspect I’ll read more of those in the near future.
Very few of the books I read this year were chores to get through — I think I’m pretty good at choosing my books, because once I start I tend to finish though I’m thinking more and more about Nancy Pearl’s counsel on this subject (her rule: give every book 50 pages except when you’re more than 50 years old, then you subtract your age from 100 and that’s the number of pages you’re required to give it). My rule has always been: I’m not going to let some crappy book defeat me, even if it is torture to finish. The worst this year was probably The Linguist and The Emperor, a slim nonfiction volume that took forever because it was my lunchtime reading at work (OK OK I read at work but only in the half hour when I’m NOT BEING PAID) and because it was terrible. It jumped all over the place, AND it was badly written. A bad combo. Too bad because the premise was interesting. (Napoleon’s forays into Egypt and the guy who figured out the Rosetta Stone.)
So that’s my year in reading, my accounting. What’s the warning? Just this — on the odd chance there are any regular readers of this blog I must warn you that it is about to get even more irregular. I’ll keep it up because 1) I never know when I feel like publicly spouting off 2) it’s free and 3) I like the list of links I’ve assembled and being able to access it from anywhere. For people looking for a more reliable resource on books and reading, I can recommend Literary License and Philobiblos, both excellent blogs listed in the blogroll to your right, both of which I found via the excellent LibraryThing, another fine source for books, especially in its discussion groups and reader reviews. You can find me there, by the way, as Keywestnan. Literary License has more general fiction and links to news about the publishing industry, Philobiblos focuses on history as well as including excellent links to news reports about the rare book and historic document trade. And while I like to think of myself as an avid and relatively fast reader, both of these bloggers put me to shame — and inspire me to spend less time on Facebook and more time with real books.