26 February 2010

Annual reading report for 2009

2009 was a very good reading year for me, with a total of 196 books finished. This is 43 books more than in 2008, making my weekly average 3,77 books.

I hardly expect to read as many this year, unless I start reading shorter books. However, reading a large number of books has never been a priority for me. What I want, above all else, is to read enjoyable books. This year I actually want to focus a bit more on my other hobbies, not just the bookbinding, but also rock painting and crochet, and my stash of quilting fabrics could also do with some attention.

As in 2008, there were very few unfinished books in 2009, and they consisted of guide books.

Fiction: 139 (70,9%), down by 5,6% since last year.
Non-fiction: 54 (27,6%) up by 7,3% since last year.
Mixed: 3 (1,5%)

My non-fiction percentage is up from 2008, which means I managed to fulfil my goal to read more non-fiction in 2009 than in 2008.

Total no. of pages read: 49672, compared with 44691 in 2008.
Average number of pages per book: 253. This is 39 pages less than in 2009.
Number of books 300+ pages long: 57 (29%). This percentage was 51% in 2008 and 49% in 2007. Not surprising considering that I got through 43 more books than in 2008.

Re-reads: 4 (2%). This is less than last year and shows that I am seeking out more new reading and going back less to my tried and trusted comfort reads.
Library and loan books: 58 (29,6%). This is 14,5% more than in 2008. I hope to make it less in 2010, because my TBR stack really needs some attention.
E-books: 5 (2,5%)
Audio books: 1
Translated books: 12 (6,1%)

Books published before 1900: 6. In 2008 it was 3, so the count has gone up by 100%. I didn't read any Sagas as I had planned, but I did read the oldest book I have ever read.
Books published after 2000 (that year not included): 51, or 26%, compared with 35,3% in 2008.

Average rating per book (out of a possible 5+): 3+. Last year the actual average was 3,5 stars, but this year it’s 3,6 stars, so the average rating is ever so slightly up.
Most common rating (out of a possible 5+): Not surprisingly (considering the above), the most common rating is 3,5 stars (representing 34 books, or 17,3%). This year, no books got a score of 1, but 2 got a score of 1+. 12 books got 5 stars versus last year’s 6, and 5 got 5+ stars. I was unable to give scores to 5 books in 2009.
See the reading report for 2008 for reasons for not scoring books.

Languages: I read and listened to 148 books in English in 2008, the same number as in 2008, but whereas the percentage in 2008 was 93%, in 2009 it was 75,5% out of the total. This is of course due to the Icelandic books challenge. Out of these, 6 were translated from other languages.
I read 48 books in Icelandic in 2009, out of which 6 were translations (from 5 languages). This makes a total of 21,4% of books written in Icelandic, which is a lot more than in 2008.

Breakdown by genre:

The books that mix (or seem to mix) fiction and non-fiction I divided into genres as I saw fit.

Crime, mystery and thrillers: 82 (41,85%), up %7,15
Romance: 14 (7,15%), down by 21,6%
Fantasy, sci-fi, fairy tales, myths and supernatural: 10 (5,10%), down by 2,7%
Miscellaneous fiction: 33 (16,85%) up by 11,6%
Travelogues, memoirs of places, geography, guide books: 29 (14,8%) up by 5%
Miscellaneous non-fiction: 24 (12,25%), down by 1,55%
Miscellaneous other: 4 (2%)

Most read authors:
This was a more even reading year for me than 2008 was, in the sense that I didn't do a major glom and the book per author distribution was more even. Nora Roberts won the author stakes like last year, but with 13 fewer books than in 2008 and only one book more than Ngaio Marsh. Only 6 authors made it to 3 books, but 19 to 2 books, compared with 9 and 8 in 2008, respectively.

Here is the score:
J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts: 6
Ngaio Marsh: 5
Dorothy L. Sayers: 4
Len Deighton, Dashiell Hammett, Sharyn McCrumb, Ellis Peters, Fred Vargas: 3
Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, Arnaldur Indriðason, Suzanne Brockmann, Edmund Crispin, Jennifer Crusie, Gerald Durrell, Neil Gaiman, Patricia Highsmith, Tony Hillerman, Michael Innes, H.R.F. Keating, Frances Mayes, Ed McBain, Terry Pratchett, Rakel Pálsdóttir, Satyajit Ray, Snjólaug Bragadóttir frá Skáldalæk, Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir: 2

As to publishers, some of the older books I read were published by what were then independent publishing companies but have now been swallowed up by other publishers and become imprints. I therefore decided to count imprints this time. Most of the books were published by a publisher bearing the same name as the imprint, but some subsequently became imprints of a larger company.

Penguin won hands down with 24 books, and that's without counting the imprints and counting just the books actually published under variations of the Penguin name.

Then came:
Mál og menning and Ballantine: 7
Bantam: 5
Vaka-Helgafell, Project Gutenberg, and Bjartur: 4
Vintage , Simon & Schuster, Signet, Pocket, Pan, Jove Books, Houghton Mifflin, Fontana/Collins, Fontana, Fawcett Crest, Bókaútgáfa Menningarsjóðs, Avenel, Almenna Bókafélagið (+ 1 with another publisher), Abacus: 3
Örn og Örlygur, Veröld, St. Martin's Publishing, Random House, Puffin, Piatkus, Oxford University Press, NEL, JPV, Ísafold, Harper Paperbacks, Grámann, Grafton Books, privately published, Dutton,
Dell, Black Swan, Berkley Books: 3
Plus 62 other with 1 each

24 February 2010

Short stories 51-55

“Veiðitúr í óbygðum”, by Halldór Laxness. From Sjöstafakverið.

“Double Damnation” by Michael and Mollie Hardwick. From 50 Great Horror Stories. A story about guilt and psychic projection. Very cheesy but could be told as an effective ghost story if the part explaining the phenomenon were skipped.

“Aðsókn”, by Þórarinn Eldjárn. From Ó fyrir framan.

“Kórvilla á Vestfjörðum”, by Halldór Laxness. From Sjöstafakverið.

“Áhrínið” by Þórarinn Eldjárn. From Ó fyrir framan.

23 February 2010

Review of Sullivan’s Woman by Nora Roberts

This is my second book in the Bibliophilic Books Challenge. It qualifies because it features a writer as the heroine. Her writing is very important to her and the narrative frequently shows her writing, working out scenes or joking about her manuscript and its journey from publisher to publisher. Technically speaking, it could go in the Global Challenge as well, but I am trying to read all new (to me) authors in that one, so I’m not counting it in.

Year published: 1984
Genre: Romance
Setting & time: San Francisco, contemporary (modern timeless)

Struggling writer Cassidy St. John can’t keep any job for long, so being offered a steady one sitting for celebrated painter Colin Sullivan is a blessing... to begin with. Colin is a hard taskmaster, egotistical, passionate and extremely sexy and it isn’t long before Cassidy has fallen in love with him. But Colin is known for not sticking to any one woman for long, and Cassidy is not the kind of woman who likes being discarded like yesterday’s newspaper. She knows her heart is going to get broken, but she can’t help being attracted to him.

This is an early Nora Roberts novel, with the typical larger-than-life hero and a heroine who can’t keep away from him even if she knows he’s trouble. There are none of the thriller or fantasy elements of Robert’s later romances, just a basic, tempestuous love story with all the doubts, hesitations, passion, kisses and misunderstandings you can expect from a good romance novel. And, interestingly enough, no sex. This was rather a surprise, as Roberts is known for writing scorching love/sex scenes, but in this case it just makes the book better because the suggestion of sex hangs between the heroine and hero through the whole book but the lack of actual between-the-sheets action builds up to an almost frenzied tension between them which drives much of the plot.
3 stars.

19 February 2010

Short stories 46-50

“The Devil in the Flesh” by Ronald Seth. From 50 Great Horror Stories. An attempt to turn the true story of the judicial murder of 4 old women into chilling entertainment. Would have been okay if the story had been made up, as it is well written, but as it is based on true events and uses the real names of women who fell victim to witch hunts it is, in my opinion, tasteless to say the least.

“Dúfnaveislan” (The Pigeon Feast) by Halldór Laxness. From Sjöstafakverið. Surrealistic and funny. This is a library book that I will need to return soon, so I will be reading all the stories from it within a short time.

“Death wears a Mask” by Steven Saylor. From The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives. An interesting early Gordianus the Finder story.

The Bo’sun’s Body, by Michael and Mollie Hardwick. From 50 Great Horror Stories. An entertaining retelling of a folk tale.

“Í Draumi sérhvers manns”, by Þórarinn Eldjárn. From Ó fyrir framan.

17 February 2010

Mystery review: Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

According to Amazon UK this book is due out in Britain in an English translation in July. I could find no information about publication in the USA.

Original Icelandic title: Aska (Ash)
Genre: Murder mystery
Year of publication:2007
No. in series: 3
Series detective: Thora Gudmundsdottir
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Lawyer
Setting & time: Reykjavik and the Westman Islands, Iceland, 2007.

Three desiccated corpses and a head are discovered in the basement of a house that is being excavated after having lain under volcanic ash since the 1973 volcanic eruption in the Westman Islands. It falls to lawyer Þóra (Thora) to represent the man who found the bodies in the basement of his childhood home, since certain facts of the matter have cast suspicion on him, not only for the deaths of the four men, but also for the recent death of a woman from the islands who is in some way connected to the head and possibly the bodies as well.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir keeps getting better. Her writing is more polished than in the earlier books and her storytelling and plotting skills, which were good in the first two books in the series, have gotten even better. As in the previous book, the roots of the whole case lie in the past, and Þóra has to dig deep and sift thoroughly through the evidence before she finds what she is looking for.

Intermingled with the main story is, as before, Þóra’s personal life, but in very small doses that make the story more realistic without dragging it down as such stuff sometimes tends to do. No fillers here, just a few small details to make the character more lifelike and the story more realistic.

Interestingly, Yrsa has decided to flesh out Bella, the surly receptionist who works for Þóra and her partner. Of course there is a reason: Matthew, who assisted Þóra in her previous two investigations, is only present in a couple of phone calls, so instead of having him as a partner and his experience with police and security work assisting her considerably, she now has a sidekick with no experience of such work. Fortunately Bella doesn’t come across as one of those clueless stupid sidekicks I hate so much, but merely as one who is not too terribly keen on the job but knows what she is doing nonetheless. I expect to see more of her in the next book, Auðnin (sorry, I haven’t a clue as to when it will be published in English, but apparently the title will be Veins of Ice), because she is a refreshingly different kind of sidekick.

4 stars.

15 February 2010

Short stories 41-45

“Rökkur” by Anton Chekhov. From Á ég að segja þér sögu (translated short stories by Chekhov, Maugham and others). A very short funny story about a woman who wakes up in the middle of the night and sees a prowler enter the house. Recommended.
I would appreciate if someone who recognises the story from the above description could tell me the English title, because it wasn't given in the translation.

Lost Face”, by Jack London. From A Treasury of American Horror Stories. A man desperately tries to escape an excruciating death. Recommended.

Setna and the Magic Book” by Anonymous. From Great Short Stories of the World. An Egyptian tale of magic and mysticism from 1400 B.C.E. Interesting.

“The Listerdale Mystery”, by Agatha Christie. From The Listerdale Mystery. A nice, if tad predictable, little mystery.

“Tryggur Staður” (A Safe Place), by Halldór Laxness. From Sjöstafakverið. A nice little story in the form of a childhood memory by Iceland’s only Nobel Prize winner.

14 February 2010

Review: The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk (Global Reading Challenge and Bibliophilic Book Challenge)

Part of Dorte’s Global Reading Challenge that I am participating in was to discover a new author or read a book from a country or state on your own continent that you have not read before. With this book I have done both. I have also managed to kill two birds with one stone by combining both outside challenges I am participating in, the Global challenge and the Bibliophilic Book challenge).

Year published: 1979 (English translation: 1990, by Victoria Holbrook)
Genre: Historical novel
Setting & time: (mostly) Turkey, 17 century.

The former imperial astrologer to the Sultan of Turkey tells the story of two men, one an enslaved Venetian and the other his Turkish master, who, over their long acquaintance, come to know each other almost better than they know themselves.

This is an interesting novel, a historical tale of an unhealthy relationship of love and loathing between two men who cannot part from each other, one because he is the other’s slave and fears punishment for trying to escape more than he desires freedom, and the other because he is obsessed with his slave-companion.

This is one of those books that are published under the cover story of being found manuscripts, which in itself makes it a bibliobook, or a book about books, but additionally the narrator speaks of this manuscript, which he says he has been working on for 16 years, and throughout the narrative he again and again returns to books, both the reading and writing of them.

I found this an interesting story rather than a captivating one. It is very straightforward in the telling, and a quick read, but one that gives the reader much to ponder. I can’t say too much for risk of giving away a couple of important plot twists, but will recommend it, especially to readers who enjoy historical novels and stories about twisted psychology. 3 stars.

12 February 2010

A closer look at the short story

If you share my interest in short stories and would like to do some background reading about the genre, here are some links for you:

10 February 2010

Short stories 36-40

“Grace Notes”, by Sara Paretsky. From Windy City Blues. A V.I Warshawski story. This is the first V.I. Warshawski story I have read (shameful admittance from a mystery fan, I know). It’s okay, but not conducive to make me like Warshawski.

“The Black Gondolier”, by Fritz Leiber. From Night Monsters. A well-written and interesting story about a dreadful conspiracy that may or may not be imagined. I have a special fondness for Leiber, having devoured many of his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser fantasy stories some years ago. This is the first I read of his horror stories, and I also have a volume of his sci-fi short stories that I would have liked to include in the challenge, but I can‘t find it.

“W.S.” by L.P. Hartley. From Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories. A chilly story about an author who starts getting mysterious postcards. Recommended.

“The Market Basing Mystery”, by Agatha Christie. From 13 For Luck. A locked room mystery with a twist.

The Haunted Mind”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales (Norton critical edition). An insightful, dreamlike story about waking up in the middle of a winter’s night and looking back on one’s life with regret.
By the way, although I read them ages ago, I think I will include in the challenge the stories from this book that were part of my set reading for a course on 19th century American literature, because they were what are considered to be the best of Hawthorne’s tales. Since I have completely forgotten what they were about, I can’t really consider it cheating ;-)

07 February 2010

Short stories 31-35

The Tapestried Chamber”, by Sir Walter Scott. From Classic Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories. A fine example of a 19th century ghost story that manages to come across as if it were a real story, so understated and realistic is the horror. Recommended.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, by Ambrose Bierce. From A Treasury of American Horror Stories. A terrifyingly effective horror story. Highly recommended.

The Gentle Boy”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. From Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s Tales. A sentimental story about religious persecution. Not one of Hawthorne’s best.

“The Entertainer and the Entrepreneur”, by W.D. Valgardson. From The Divorced Kid’s Club. A moral tale about prejudice, for kids.

Faithful Johannes”. From The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, vol. 1. A bloody and violent fairy tale about the rewards of duty and gratitude, far from the sanitised tales I read as a kid. (This is probably a different translation from the one I read).

01 February 2010

Reading report for January 2010

January has ended and in addition to the 22 books I have finished I have read enough short stories to fill a volume or two.

In the challenges, I reduced the TBR challenge stack by 11 books and read 2 Top Mystery Challenge books. What was unusual this month was that none of the challenges overlapped – the top mysteries were ones I acquired less than a year ago and so didn’t qualify for the TBR challenge.

I only managed to read 1 Icelandic book, but have plans to do better in February.

9 books were non-challenge (counting the Icelandic book, which didn't qualify for the TBR challenge), mostly books I knew I wouldn’t read at all if I didn’t finish them soon, books I took a peek at and got pulled in by, and one I started on the flight home from India and had been savouring for nearly 2 months.

I went on a Ngaio Marsh mini-glom and read 4 of her Roderick Alleyn books. I think I may very well finish the series before the end of the year. As to genres, I read my usual dose of mysteries, several romances and the usual smattering of various other genres.

I’d say this is a pretty good start to my reading year ;-)

I started working again at the beginning of last week after nearly 4 months of no work. The nature of the job is such that I will be attentively reading, proofing and translating all day long, so I may not have much energy left for fun reading when I get home, at least until I fall into a routine. We will have to see.

The annual reading report for 2009 is in post-production and should be finished soon.

The Books:
Lydia Adamson: Dr. Nightingale comes Home Mystery, murder
Alice Albinia: Empires of The Indus Travelogue, history
Belle de Jour : The Intimate Adventure of a London Call Girl Memoir, prostitution
Bjarni Thorarensen : Kvæði (Ísl. úrvalsrit) Poetry
Tom Clancy: The Hunt for Red October Thriller
Albert B. Feldstein: The Portable Mad Humour
Lori Foster: The Winston Brothers, Wildand Say No to Joe? Romance (modern)
Julie Garwood: Shadow Dance Romantic thriller (modern)
Georgette Heyer: False Colours Romance (historical); Why Shoot A Butler? Mystery, murder
Ngaio Marsh: Hand in Glove; Dead Water; Death at the Dolphin, and Clutch Of Constables. Mystery, murder, police
Sister Carol Anne O‘Marie: Death takes up a Collection Mystery, murder
Sharyn McCrumb: If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him Mystery (including murder), legal
Naomi Novik: Temeraire: The Throne of Jade Fantasy, alternative reality, historical
Jane Sullivan: The Matchmaker's Mistake Romance (modern)
Josephine Tey: The Franchise Affair Mystery
J.R.R Tolkien & various artists: Hugarlendur Tolkiens Fantasy art and illustration