Thursday, December 31, 2015

I read 60,000 pages of books in 2015

Actually, 64,439 pages across 175 books. I set this relatively arbitrary goal because I wanted to make some headway on both my physical and virtual "to-read" piles, and 5,000 pages a month seemed reasonable: it's about 10 fat novels, or about a novel every 3 days, which is about how fast I read when I'm in a reading mood. I chose pages rather than books as my marker because I didn't want to incentivize myself to knock off lots of skinny, easy books at the expense of the big fat ones that haunt my to-read pile. Of course, sustaining that speed across an entire year was much harder than I thought it would be; after about three-months of high-intensity reading, my brain would want a break to go watch bad TV for a while, but I had to keep chugging along to keep up the pace. I also didn't stop to consider that a lot of what I wanted to read didn't read nearly as quickly as a comfortable novel; working through "Team of Rivals," "Pioneer Girl," "Alexander Hamilton," and "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" in particular left me more mentally exhausted than I've been since the rigors of graduate school. But exhausted in a good way!

Of the 175 books, 50 were non-fiction, 4 were poetry, and 121 were fiction (vastly disproportionately tilted towards SFF -- 68 SFF novels, more than half my fictional total). This was the year my reading toppled almost entirely into e-books; 150 of the books I read were on my kindle, with only 25 in hard copy. When I first began reading on a kindle, I found it harder to retain what I read, but that problem has faded and I seem to have gained kindle-specific reading skills the more I use it. I also tried to firmly restrict my re-reading habits (I'm a dire re-reader) because the point of 2015 was to read down my to-read pile, but even so I re-read 25 novels -- childhood favorites like the Little House books or Anne of Green Gables; and SFF comfort reading from Bujold, Eddings, and Pierce. I might try to break down my male vs. female authors later on, but I forgot to keep track as I was reading and it seems like a lot to look up now. Regardless, I read a lot of women.

I can't really make a list of the "best" books I read or my "favorite" ones, but I've put together lists of the books that most delighted me and most disappointed me -- in other words, books that were better than I'd anticipated them being, and books that were worse than I'd expected. And below that, behind the jump, you can see the whole messy list, loosely divided into genres.

Most Delightful (in no particular order)
Motel of the Mysteries - A children's book about how experts don't know nearly as much as they think they do, featuring the archaeological exploration of a 70s-era motel? YES PLEASE.
Ten Cents a Dance - A little YA historical fiction novel about taxi dancers in Chicago. I'm not sure where I stumbled across it, probably a Kindle Daily Deal, but it was charming and I loved it.
Fangirl - Where has Rainbow Rowell been all my life??? This is just so lovely.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - Mind blown into a hundred thousand pieces. The sequels weren't as powerful as the first one, but the first one was one of the best pieces of SFF I've read in a long time. Fantastic.
Team of Rivals - There's a reason everybody read it, and you should too.
Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years - I seriously could not put this down. It's about the importance of string, spinning, weaving, etc., to human culture, and why this is so under-recognized in archaeology and history (string decays). It's also tangentially about why diversity is so important; until women began entering archaeology, male archaeologists often didn't know what they were looking at when they did happen across fiber work or fiber art, because men in western culture don't sew. You don't know what you don't know; diversity helps us at least recognize those gaps that hegemonic thought can't even see!
Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation - The next time you're feeling depressed about climate change, this is the book to read. It's about the life of Plenty Coups, the Crow chief who helped his people survive the coming of the white man. It is not cheerful, but it is intensely hopeful.
Citizen - If you haven't read this, you've missed one of the most important books of 2015.
I, Claudius - An older classic, but so hugely entertaining! Compulsively readable.
The Wake - Haunting, terrifying, deep, weird, strange ... a tough book (written in a fake Old English dialect), but worth the effort.
The Dinner - Months later this is still haunting me and I still want to argue with people about it.
Americanah - The best novel I read in 2015, hands down. Just made me so happy.
The Martian - XKCD got me to read it by saying it was the "nerds making air filters" scene in Apollo 13 expanded out to an entire novel/movie. That's my favorite scene! Totally worth it.
The Goblin Emperor - When I first read it, I was like, "Oh, that was nice." Now I can't wait to go back and read it again, and I wish it were longer.
Alexander Hamilton - How DOES a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar? Now I know.
Fire Season - Really charming memoir of a man who works as a fire spotter in the GIla Wilderness.
Spillover - I love reading terrifying books about zoonotic diseases, I can't help it, and this was a good one. I now know everything that wants to kill you.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - It changed my life, so sue me. I HAVE EMPTY DRAWERS NOW.

Most Disappointing (in no particular order)
Un Lun Dun - I like China Mieville, but this was just tedious, even for a children's book.
The Lost Prince - Flatly ridiculous. I can't imagine I would have enjoyed it even as a child; the protagonist had a serious case of massive stupidity and terminal genre blindness.
Banner of the Damned - I like Sherwood Smith, but in this one she gives in to all her worst habits and it was wildly inadequately edited. Nice world-building, terrible story.
The Time of the Dark - Saw it raved about in several places; was just meh.
Saplings - For Noel Streatfield, this was SUPER-DARK. I was depressed for days.
Brideshead Revisited - This was so obviously a convert's book, and just sort-of embarrassing in its shallow exposition of issues of faith to arrive at the author's predetermined outcome. Reading it gave me terrible fremdscham.
Hild - Great setting; meh plot. Relies too much on the fact that there will be sequels; doesn't provide a strong emotional through-line. It wants to be a sort of fictional biography, and as such doesn't feel too obligated to provide a narrative structure. It's good, but it was disappointing compared to how good I expected it to be.
Condominium - This book is terribawesome and I totally recommend it as a hate-read. This is the flap copy: "He's in finance, she works at a hipster small press, yet both are indie-rock East Village veterans who aren't above snorting a little heroin on the weekends. But when they decide to take the logical next step and buy a condo in one of the glass-and-steel skyscrapers now dotting the waterfront of Williamsburg, their lives start to fall apart." It's more entertaining than that makes it sound, but it's pretty hilarrible.
Dead Key - flatly awful. Not even worth a hate-read.
Wreckage - The entire plot hinges on a wildly incorrect understanding of the law, and therefore makes no sense.
Burned Bridges of Ward Nebraska - Everyone in this book is terrible and you root for no one.
Monuments Men - It's hard to even say what was so bad about this book: the writing is weak, it tries to end every chapter on a pithy cliffhanger that never works, the author makes it impossible to follow his large and shifting cast of characters, he sets things up as about-to-be-momentous and then they disappear with no explanation. It was such a disappointment for a book on a topic so naturally interesting to me.
Garlic & Sapphires - Like virtually all food memoirs, about 1/3 too long. Also kinda mean.

The Great List of 2015

Non-fiction: Science
Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City (Ross)
Emperor of All Maladies (Mukherjee)
The Ghosts of Evolution (Barlow)
On Immunity (Biss)
Packing for Mars (Roach)
The Soul of an Octopus (Montgomery)
Spillover (Quammen)
What a Plant Knows (Chamovitz)

Non-fiction: Philosophy and Theology
Laudato Si' (Francis)
Man's Search for Meaning (Frankl)
Open Mind, Faithful Heart (Francis)
Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Lear)

Non-fiction: Memoir
A Baby's Cry (Glass)
Belles on Their Toes (Gilbreth)
Blackout (Hepola)
Blood, Bones, and Butter (Hamilton)
The Book of Mormon Girl (Brooks)
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Chast)
Damaged (Glass)
Fire Season (Connors)
Garlic and Sapphires (Reichel)
Gnarr! (Gnarr)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Eggers)
The Journal of Best Practices (Finch)
The Night the Angels Came (Glass)
Some Girls: My Life in a Harem (Lauren)
Waiter Rant (Dublanica)
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Murakami)
Wild (Strayed)

Non-fiction: History
Alexander Hamilton (Chernow)
Central Asia in World History (Golden)
The Courtiers (Worsley)
The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History (Lauck)
Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction (Vincent)
Marshall Field's: The Store that Helped Build Chicago (Soucek)
Martha Washington: An American Life (Brady)
The Monuments Men (Edsel)
North American Indians: A Very Short Introduction (Perdue & Green)
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Wilder, Smith)
The Silk Road in World History (Liu)
Team of Rivals (Goodwin)
Washington: A Life (Chernow)
Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years (Barber)

Non-fiction: Misc
Abstract City (Niemann)
Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Piketty)
Engineering the City: How Infrastructure Works (Levy & Panchyk)
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Kondo)
Partly Cloudy Patriot (Vowell)
A Pattern Language (Alexander)
The Plane That Wasn't There (Wise)

Citizen (Rankin)
Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Angelou)
Dhammapada (Buddha)
Leaves of Grass (Whitman)

Historical Fiction
Aztec (Jennings)
I, Claudius (Graves)
Little Town on the Prairie (Wilder)
Madonnas of Leningrad
Master and Commander (O'Brian)
The Perfume Collector (Tessoro)
Saplings (Streatfield)
The Summer Queen (Chadwick)
Ten Cents a Dance (Fletcher)
The Wake (Kingsnorth)
These Happy Golden Years (Wilder)

Literary Fiction
Absurdistan (Shteyngart)
Americanah (Adiche)
Anne of Avonlea (Montgomery)
Anne of Green Gables (Montgomery)
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Mantel)
Brideshead Revisited (Waugh)
The Bone Clocks (Mitchell)
The Buried Giant (Ishiguro)
Condominium (Falatko)
The Dinner (Koch)
Euphoria (King)
Everything I Never Told You (Ng)
Fangirl (Rowell)
Hausfrau (Essbaum)
Hild (Griffith)
The Magnificent Ambersons (Tarkington)
My Brilliant Friend (Ferrante)
Norwegian by Night (Miller)
The Round House (Erdich)
The Secret Life of Bees (Kidd)

The Corinthian (Heyer)
Crazy Rich Asians (Kwan)
Elizabeth the First Wife (Dolan)
Flat-Out Love (Park)
Frederica (Heyer)
Greensleeves (McGraw)
I've Got Your Number (Kinsella)
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Simonsen)
Miss Buncle's Book (Stevenson)
The Royal We (Cocks/Morgan)

Other Fiction
Burned Bridges of Ward Nebraska (Curtright)
Dead Key (Pulley)
Don't Let Me Go (Hyde)
The King's Hounds (Jensen)
The Lost Prince (Burnett)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (Chesterton)
Motel of the Mysteries (Macauley)
Mr. Mercedes (King)
Saturnalia (Davis)
Scruples (Krantz)
This Is Where I Leave You (Tropper)
Wreckage (Bleeker)

Science Fiction and Fantasy (aka my wheelhouse)
Because so many of these are series by one author, I've sorted by author here

The Goblin Emperor

Forge of God
Anvil of Stars

The Curse of Chalion
Penric's Demon

Emperor's Edge
Dark Currents
Deadly Games
Blood & Betrayal
Beneath the Surface
Forged in Blood I
Forged in Blood II

The Girl in the Road

The Diamond Throne
The Ruby Knight
The Sapphire Crown

Enna Burning
River Secrets
Forest Born

The Time of the Dark

Shadow Scale

The Glass Magician
The Master Magician


Memory of Water

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Broken Kingdoms
Kingdom of the Gods

Grave Mercy
Dark Triumph
Mortal Heart

Ancillary Sword
Ancillary Mercy

The Three-Body Problem

Station Eleven

Un Lun Dun

Boundary Crossed

The Leftovers

First Test
Lady Knight
Sandry's Book
Tris's Book
Daja's Book
Briar's Book
Magic Steps
Street Magic
Cold Fire
The Will of the Empress
Melting Stones

Small Gods
Equal Rites

The Atlantis Gene

Old Man's War

Banner of the Damned


The Martian

A Matter of Magic