10 January 2014

My stand-out reads of 2013

I reread a number of books in 2013 - which is a recommendation in itself - but this post is about the first time reads that I enjoyed the most and would recommend to others. The recommendations are not entirely universal - after all, people have different tastes in reading - but most, if not all, of them should be appealing to a literary omnivore.

I invite you to visit the Pinterest board I made with cover images and mini reviews of these books. Just click on the screen-shot below and off you go. The link will open in a new window.

Bibliophile's favourite books of 2013

06 January 2014

Looking ahead to 2014

Another year, more books to read. I'm looking forward to discover new books and authors and possibly genres in the course of 2014.

If you have followed this blog for any length of time you will know that I have a tendency to make resolutions I don't keep or enter/create ambitious and complicated challenges that I fail to fulfil. There have been some I have finished successfully, e.g. the resolution to read 50 TBR books in 2013  and the 365 short stories challenge I did a few years ago. But mostly I tend to start well and then lose interest little by little until the resolution/challenge has become a millstone around my neck and I give up.

This year I am going to take it easy. Well, fairly easy. I read 60 TBR books in 2013, 10 more than I set out to finish. Consequently, this year I am going to set out to read 60 of my TBR books in the course of the year, because I know I can do it. If I end up with fewer TBR books than I set out with, it will be a bonus.

I also plan to read at least two more books for my Brontë project. Which ones? I don't know yet, but I think I might choose one reread (i.e. Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights) and possibly Agnes Grey, which I already read one chapter of last year.

My only other - let's call it a plan, because I don't want to call it a resolution - is to read more non-fiction. I plan to do this every year (sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't), because I enjoy non-fiction and in fact tend to give non-fiction books higher marks than I do fiction, which would seem to indicate that I like it better than fiction. My favourite genre, travelogues, is certainly non-fiction, and so is my second favourite, popular science. I have some interesting choices lined up in both genres but I do not intend to commit to finishing any particular titles.

I was toying with a possible century reading project, covering the 73 years of the 19th century from which I have not read any books (to read more about that, click here). For that purpose I gathered together a list of possible novels and then got carried away and managed to find books for every year of the 19th century that I might like to read, and for most of the 18th century as well. Most are British or American, but there is a smattering of Icelandic, French, Italian and Russian as well.

However, I am not going to commit to anything now. I may pick out the occasional book from the list in the course of the year, because there are a lot of juicy classics on it, but I'm not going to stress myself over it. I might follow Alex in Leed's example and create a book jar with only these titles.

How about you? If you have a book blog and have posted your resolutions or reading plans for 2014, please leave a link in the comment box. I would love to see what you are planning to read.

03 January 2014

Looking back on 2013

It's that time of the year again: Time to look back over the year that just ended, to give thanks for all the great books I read in 2013, bemoan all the potentially great books I planned to read but didn't and express regrets for the books I read that were not so good. However, I have come to the conclusion that one shouldn't have regrets about books not read and books read but not enjoyed. After all, the unread books might, once you actually read them, turn out to be crap, and the only way to find out that you don't like a book is to read it, so the time spent reading the "bad" books isn't really wasted time but rather invested. It's just that the time you invested in the books you didn't like hasn't paid dividends like the time you invested in the good, great and excellent books. Therefore I will not spend time discussing the negative points of my reading year but will let my comments in the monthly reading reports suffice.

As for the great, good and excellent reads: there were stand-outs for each month but there is no one book that I could nominate as the best book I read in 2013. I will go over those in a later post.

The tally of books I read in 2013 comes to 218, with 54592 pages read. These numbers should perhaps be higher, because I omitted some comic books I read online, but I don't consider either Gunnerkrigg Court or Bad Machinery to be a series of separate books but rather an ongoing story with chapters or episodes and I will not consider myself to have finished reading them until they come to an actual end. Therefore they don't go in the reading journal. Same goes for the comics that are ongoing stories without clear chapter divisions, like Questionable Content and Safe Havens. If that page count were to be added I think I would find myself having read considerably more pages than what my reading journal tells me. Whatever the real tally is, I think it is possible to try too hard to count everything and it will only cause headaches.

218 books makes 2013 a better than average reading year for me. However, I did do a considerable amount of rereading, and I find I generally read faster when I reread, especially if I have read the book several times before. This, as many rereaders will know, involves a certain amount of skimming between the good parts. I also (mostly re-)read a number of short books which push up the book count while contributing little to the page count. It is also questionable whether one should tally pages that are mostly pictures as read pages because although there is undeniably a considerable mental effort involved in looking at, digesting and appreciating them, looking at them still only takes a fraction of the time it takes to read a full page of text on the same size of page.

In other words: this shit is relative.

The average rating of the books I read was 3,4, which is about the same as in  previous years. Sometimes it's a bit higher, sometimes a little lower. It does look like there were slightly fewer 4+, 5 and 5+ rated books than usual, which is not surprising as I tend to give higher ratings to non-fiction books than to fiction and I read fewer of those than usual. My intake of non-fiction tends to fluctuate between years and maybe in 2014 I will manage to read more of them.

As for the plans I outlined in my Looking forward post at the start of 2013, I never got round to doing the What's in a Name Challenge. I'm ashamed to admit I forgot all about it, as it is always fun to do.

I fulfilled my resolution of reading 50 of my TBR books, and as a matter of fact I made it to 60. I also kept the book-buying resolution. I still bought books, but I bought them with the stated purpose, i.e. books I wanted to read but knew I was unlikely to find at the library, and books I knew I might want to keep once I had read them.

I failed in fulfilling my wish to read more in my native language, but did read a few books. For example I started making inroads on the numerous books left to me by my grandmother.

As for the books I specifically mentioned in last year's post, I finished none of them. The Pratchett book lies half-read in the stack on my bedside table - no surprise since I have actually read about half of the material elsewhere and I have not been much interested in short stories this year. Instead of Jón Árnason's folktale collection I went instead for folk-tales collected by his cousin and collaborator, Ólafur Davíðsson and finished three out of four volumes. I did start reading Ulysses, but other books intruded.

Taken all in all, 2013 was a satisfactory reading year: not outstanding but by no means bad.

For a visual overview of the books I read in 2013 (and mini-reviews of some of them), click here to visit my "Books read in 2013" Pinterest board, or click on the image at the start of this post.

01 January 2014

Reading Report for December 2013

I finished 18 books in December. Of those, 5 were rereads and the rest were the usual mixed bag: some romances, a literary novel, a book of heraldry, photograph books, and folk tales old and new.

Five books had a Christmas theme and I am rather sorry I read two of them. I should have followed my instincts and stopped reading them when it became evident that I was in for unrelenting tweeness.

Some years ago I read an enjoyable Christmas novella by Debbie Macomber. It had just the right amount of sentimentality one expects from a good Christmas story, without being actually saccharine. Then I discovered that the lead characters in that story, the angels Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, were featured in full-length books. I got hold of two of those books and read both this December and I can safely say that I have had enough of Shirley, Goodness and Mercy. The stories were pure glurge: hyper-sentimental, saccharine tear-jerkers.

A third Christmas book was a volume of two novellas of the paranormal genre, both of which feature vampires and humans falling in love. They were nothing extraordinary, except the purpleness of the prose in one of them made me giggle a couple of times (I may post about that later).

The standouts, apart from Dickens‘ Christmas Carol, which doesn’t count because it’s a reread, were Vestal Fire, Reimleikar í Reykjavík, and the two photography books, The Book of London and North Dakota 24/7.

Vestal Fire is a juicy tale of scandal within a community of expats on a romantic Italian island in the years immediately before, during and immediately after World War One. It is full of wonderfully drawn eccentric characters and nuanced descriptions of a tight-knit community that begins to unravel when a stranger lands in their midst and becomes an apple of discord.

Reimleikar í Reykjavík is a collection of ghost stories from my home city, Reykjavík, set down by an accomplished writer who knows how to turn up the chill factor. It is available in English.

Both photography books are fascinating records of a particular place at a particular time. The Book of London is full of charming, mostly black-and white, photographs of London life and landmarks in the late 1960s, for the most part by one photographer, while North Dakota 24/7 is a portrait of a week in that US state in the mid-2000s, recorded with digital photographs by many, many photographers, both amateurs and professionals.

I am writing down some thoughts about the past year in reading and my plans for the new year, and if I have time and inclination I may post some statistics, although they will not be as detailed as they have sometimes been. It has, however, come to my attention that I now have reading journal entries covering a whole decade. I might do something with that, maybe take a look at how my reading has developed genre-wise and see how many books and pages I have finished in that time.

The Books:
  • Rosemary A. Chorzempa: Design Your Own Coat of Arms: An Introduction to Heraldry. Heraldry.
  • Jennifer Crusie : Faking It. Romance. Reread.
  • Jennifer Crusie; Anne Stuart; Lani Diane Rich: Dogs and Goddesses. Romance. Reread.
  • Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. Christmas story. Reread.
  • Georgette Heyer: The Quiet Gentleman. Historical romance. Reread.
  • Compton Mackenzie: Vestal Fire. Novel.
  • Debbie Macomber: A Season of Angels and Touched by Angels . Inspirational Christmas romances.
  • Maureen Child; Caridad Piñero: Holiday with a Vampire. Two paranormal Christmas romance novellas: Christmas Cravings (Child); Fate Calls (Piñero).
  • Iain Mcmillan (photos); Roger Baker (text): The Book of London. Photograph book.
  • Jeanette Murray: No Mistletoe Required. Christmas romance, novella.
  • Morag Neil: Curious Cats. Picture book.
  • Ólafur Davíðsson: Íslenzkar þjóðsögur III. Folk tales.
  • Terry Pratchett: Moving Pictures. Fantasy. Reread.
  • Nora Roberts: Hidden Star and Captive Star. Romantic suspense.
  • Steinar Bragi: Reimleikar í Reykjavík. Ghost stories.
  • Various: North Dakota 24/7. Photograph book.