Happy New Year Eve everyone! I will have some fun putting together the “nerd data” in an upcoming post–including more charts! Gotta have charts. And behind every chart is a great spreadsheet! Stay tuned for 01/10/22.
Meanwhile, I wanted to share the Goodreads “My Year in Books” infographic, with some brief reflections and book discoveries. I’m pleased to say that I met most of my goals this year, and exceeded them in some cases (though in my full write-up I’ll admit that I missed a couple of reading goals). You can see the online infographic here, but this post covers the basics.
“You’re really good at reading, and probably a lot of other things, too!” Well shucks, thanks for the encouragement Goodreads! In 2021, I have learned about some things that I am good at that I have been trying to develop–as well as some things that I am not good at but probably should get over. I have learned more about how to work well when motivated and a bit about how my mind works with new ideas. In terms of yearly reading goals, unless I am on an award committee of some kind, I doubt that I’ll ever repeat my 2019 success again–that period where I was at the most productive time in my PhD thesis writing. However, I did well in 2021, reading 138 books (my spreadsheet shows 139).
I can certainly see a pattern emerging, where a natural rhythm for me is not 154 books, but 117-138 books per year. Indeed, the average is 128.4 books (whether tallied for the whole 7 years or leaving out high and low, 2019 and 2015, which is kind of neat). Next year, I am setting my reading goal for 132–a stretch, a goal that takes work and intention in a heavy teaching year with fewer lit courses, but a goal that rhymes with the last 4 years of reading.
For, reading-wise, I have learned that I am lazier than I would wish. I yearn for that dynamic, all-engrossing ability I had as a young adult to simply immerse myself in a book! Part of my goal for 2022 is to look for bedtime readings that enthrall me. Thus, I do tend to use the book list and page number count to motivate me. In 2021, I was up a bit in terms of books (138) and sheer page numbers (43,285), though, I saw a tiny drop in the size of books, down to 313 pages/book (from 315 last year).
I have been openly mocked for this, for good reason, but my average book rating is 4.0 stars–which is actually low for me (last year was 4.2). I rate books too highly–even though this year I tried to be tougher. It comes from my years ranking music, where 5-star reviews go to songs I want to hear most often, rather than a rating for the genius and exceptional works that land in my feed.
To be fair, I try not to read books that warrant 1, 2, or even 3 stars. My fiction and self-learning DNF pile is high. Unless I am made to do so, I simply won’t read something that isn’t good–though inevitably the 3-star books land on my desk, books that are “good but not my thing” or “good, but missing something.” Often, my 3-star books are simply things I’ve read that I’m disappointed in. In 2021, I rated a number of classics that I did not love, so they landed in the 2-star pile.
And, especially, I tend to read great authors who write 5-star books–C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, L.M. Montgomery, Frederick Buechner, Octavia Butler, Marilynne Robinson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Flannery O’Connor, N.K. Jemisin, Margaret Atwood, Shūsaku Endō, Madeleine L’Engle, Anne Rice, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Stephen King, and Haruki Murakami. Besides reading Lewis (18 books, and 1 read twice) and Montgomery (17 books, and 1 read twice), this year I focussed on Ursula K. Le Guin (22 books, and 2 read twice), attempted a Shakespeare play a month (and a couple of biographies), and read through this year’s Hugo nominees, including Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, Harrow The Ninth and its companion Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, Network Effect by Martha Wells, The Relentless Moon and 2 other Lady Astronaut books by Mary Robinette Kowal, and Susanna Clarke’s beautiful and evocative Piranesi–and, for the first time, Clarke’s Regency-era fantasy, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. While I did not love every feature of these books, they are global-class writers–and Piranesi was such an astounding work of fiction that I am reading it for a second time, this time with a rich audio reading by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
- In literary criticism, I found myself deeply engaged with Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’ gorgeously designed and well-written transmedial study in critical race, reader-response, and feminist theory, The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games. Getting to chat with Ebony as guests of honour at Mythmoot VII was pretty cool.
- And in reading The Dark Fantastic, I was pleased to go back to Toni Morrison’s powerful lecture series-née-book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (and also my first review of 2021).
- In theological works, I read the new edition of Miroslav Volf’s (for me) life-changing Exclusion & Embrace, and finally read through Willie James Jennings’ stunning 2010 work, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race.
- Also a theological discovery, Mark S.M. Scott’s Pathways in Theodicy—a book that came at the perfect moment in my paper on L.M. Montgomery’s theodicy-making in Anne’s House of Dreams.
- In the overlap between theology and literary criticism, Michael Ward’s After Humanity was an excellent guide to C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, and resulted in my most profitable and thoughtful experience of what is (arguably) C.S. Lewis’s most important work of non-fiction.
- My favourite book in the Blogging the Hugos series was actually a previous year’s nomination, Tamsyn Muir’s creepy and sassy, Gideon the Ninth. Of the 2021 Hugo-nominees, though I am biased, I think that Clarke’s Piranesi may end up being a “great book,” one we keep with us. Other than Piranesi, the book I was most attracted to was Roanhorse’s Black Sun–though the Hugo winner, Network Effect, was pretty fun.
- In 2021, I was rereading my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin books. My favourite new discoveries this year were her astonishing 1971 standalone dream fantasy, The Lathe of Heaven, as well as the concluding volume of the YA series, Annals Of The Western Shore, her 2007 Powers–nearly Le Guin’s last book.
- My biggest 5-star surprises are no surprise to fans and critics. This year I discovered Mary Doria Russell’s staggering book, The Sparrow–and joined some other book lovers for a discussion of the text (and you can join in here). I have the sequel queued up, Children of God, but am afraid to begin it! On an educational whim, I read Madeleine Miller’s The Song of Achilles with a student, and quite enjoyed it (see my review and reflections here and here). And with new glasses that allow me to return to graphic novels again, I hit the first one on my list: Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen (a Christmas gift and a great read).
Here is the rest of the infographic and stay tuned for more in January!