Happy New Year, everyone! I am once again assembling the “reading nerd data” in an upcoming post. I love charts. And behind every chart is a great spreadsheet. I guess I just love spreadsheets.
Meanwhile, as is my tradition, I wanted to share the Goodreads “My Year in Books” infographic with some brief reflections and book discoveries. For the first time in a few years, I have to confess that I fell short of most of my goals this year–with a few exceptions. Still, the year has some lessons–and I hope some invitations to great book ideas for you, the reader of A Pilgrim in Narnia.
“You’re really good at reading, and probably a lot of other things, too!” Well shucks, thanks for the encouragement Goodreads! In 2021, I was focused on learning more about my strengths and weaknesses as a reader, writer, teacher, leader, and friend. In 2022, I completely failed to apply these lessons! Instead, 2022 was a year of survival. Most of my reading was about work–writing and teaching, especially–or imaginative escape. In previous years, I have focussed quite a lot on self-development. While there are threads of those kinds of books–and my life is designed to learn and grow from all of my reading–2022 was the least growth-centred year I’ve experienced in as long as I’ve been tracking what I read.
On paper, 133 books read looks quite great (actually, I read a couple of other books for review, which I don’t publish). In terms of yearly reading goals, the book number is right on. I had set a goal for 132–knowing that I’ll probably never repeat my 2019 success again–that period where I was at the most productive time in my PhD thesis writing. My natural rhythm is not 154 books per year, but 117-138–with an average of 129 books.
While these graphs look impressive, reading-wise, I have learned that I am lazier than I would wish. I yearn to recover that dynamic, all-engrossing ability I had as a young adult to simply immerse myself in a book! Part of my goal for 2022 was to look for bedtime readings that enthrall me. Instead, in the last half of 2022, bedtime reading for me was about rest and refreshment, not adventure or challenge.
Thus, while I tend to use the book list and page number count to motivate me, all of that fell by the wayside in 2022. In terms of sheer page number count, I turned fewer pages than in any of the five previous years (about 39,500 with review reading). As a result, I saw a huge drop in the average size of books, down to 295 pages/book (from 315 last year).
For the most part, the books I chose to read in 2022 were great. I have been openly mocked for my over-exuberant ratings, usually swinging between 4.0 and 4.2 stars, on average. I rate books too highly–even though I am trying to be tougher–to reassert 3 stars as a good book that either didn’t fully connect with me or has some correctable flaws. This inflationary star-number rating culture 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 by contract, I simply won’t read something that isn’t good–though inevitably, the 3-star books land on my desk. Often, my 3-star books are simply things I’ve read that I’m disappointed in. In 2022, I started and then set aside at least 20 books that I simply did not want to read. Instead, I picked up books I have loved from the past. Fully 55% (74) books in 2022 were rereads for me (especially C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Octavia Butler, L.M. Montgomery, Terry Pratchett, Nnedi Okorafor, and J.K. Rowling–and I would have read more Jane Austen, Stephen King, and Ursula K. Le Guin by audiobook if I had had the time).
Those are my 5-star book friends–and I would add others to the clique, like Frederick Buechner, Marilynne Robinson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Flannery O’Connor, N.K. Jemisin, Margaret Atwood, Shūsaku Endō, Madeleine L’Engle, Anne Rice, Charlotte Brontë, and Haruki Murakami.
Similar to last year, my list is dominated by C.S. Lewis (18 books, including 2 read twice) and L.M. Montgomery (18 books). In 2021, I focussed on Ursula K. Le Guin (22 books, with 2 read twice), and I finished a couple of others in 2022–though none of my favourite fiction.
Once again, I attempted a Shakespeare play a month (trying to include a couple of biographies and some lectures or background reading. And like the previous two years in my Shakespeare Play of the Month challenge, I failed. In 2022, I only read 5 plays–and these were all in the first half of the year, and included rereading 3 of my favourites. Oh well, here’s to 2023! I do still want to complete Shakespeare’s catalogue so I can pretend less at parties and lit-prof gatherings.
I did, however, manage to entwine Macbeth with teaching and a struggle with sleeplessness in early 2022, which resulted in a couple of my favourite blog posts of the year: “‘But then begins a journey in my head’: Shakespeare’s Haunting Poetry of Sleeplessness” and “Thoughts from Different Angles on Joel Coen’s Macbeth with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, and Is This Why I Can’t Sleep?“
Have I mentioned that I struggled in 2022 to come up with snappy, short blog-post titles?
Another notoriously long-named piece is “Thoughts on Classic and Contemporary SF vs. Fantasy Hugo Best Novel Award Winners while Failing to Write a Review of a Great Book that was not Nominated.” I think that post captures my 2022 journey in reading fairly well! It also meant that I fell away from my newly developed habit of keeping up with the Hugo Novel Award nominees. We’ll see what the new year brings when it comes to new brings, but I would like to keep up with new-writing authors like Rebecca Roanhorse, N.K. Jemisin, Tamsyn Muir, Martha Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Susanna Clarke. Clarke’s Hugo-nominated 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.
I try to read good books. Why do anything else?
My highlights from 2022 include faithful rereads and new discoveries:
- In literary criticism, I once again turned to 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 when we were both guests of honour at Mythmoot VII in 2021 was pretty cool, and I was able to use her work in my Fall 2022 curriculum. That sent me back again to Toni Morrison’s powerful lecture series-née-book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (which was also my first review of 2021).
- Actually, 2022 was a “refreshing the spirit” literary criticism reading year for me, including returning to works by Elizabeth R. Epperly, Diana Glyer, Donna J. Haraway, Stephanie L. Derrick, Marsha Daigle-Williamson, and C.S. Lewis.
- One of my favourite lit crit/bio surprise discoveries of 2022 was John Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved (2012). Super fun and intriguing work that enhanced my reading.
- Another great discovery was William Cronon’s now-classic environmental history, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1992). Cronon is such a great data-centred storyteller.
- Because of my mental exhaustion this year, I struggled with authors I have traditionally loved, like Albert Camus, Anne Rice, Angela Carter, Sir Thomas More, Jonathan Swift, Goethe, Franz Kafka, and Jorge Luis Borges (though he is still pretty great taken in small bites). Even Flannery O’Connor, who I think is brilliant, was less flavourful to me this year.
- By contrast, I binged Dorothy L. Sayers‘ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries in late Autumn, which I found deeply refreshing.
- Successfully completing Cervantes’ Don Quixote was a highlight for me in 2022. I blogged about it with cat poetry, which I think is fitting.
- I read no full books from the medieval world or antiquity. Weird.
- In terms of full theological works, I failed utterly in my reading goal of one theology book a month (that doesn’t fit under other categories). I had quite a few great books queued up, but I simply lacked the mental space to penetrate them (or allow them to penetrate them).
- Most of my reading is theologically informed, however. I was able to use an invitation by the Atlantic School of Theology to teach an online short course to deepen my theological focus on L.M. Montgomery. “Spirituality in the Writing of L.M. Montgomery” was super popular, with more than 75 participants, and gave me permission to dive deep into text that we might too easily dismiss as being unsophisticated kids’ books, like Anne of Green Gables, Anne’s House of Dreams, Rainbow Valley, The Story Girl, and Emily of New Moon.
- On the heels of this course, in June 2022, I presented a paper at the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s 15th Biennial International Conference. While my presentation was a bit more focused than my proposal (see here), “Reverent Irreverence: Images of God and Montgomery’s ‘Pilgrims on the Golden Road of Youth’” allowed me to do a very cool theological close reading of the early chapters of Anne of Green Gables. I have the notes written up for the chapter, but I am trying to think about whether there is a better mode of sharing that work.
- The Montgomery conference was where I officially received my Elizabeth R. Epperly Award for Outstanding Early Career Paper for my reading of Anne’s House of Dreams as theodicy–which was the background to one of the short course units.
- My 2022 reading was far richer than past years in terms of ecology and creation care. More of this anon!
- I had set a goal of one BIPOC author a month with the goal of stretching my experience a bit. While I came close to that goal, it was really by reading authors I knew already: Robin Wall Kimmerer, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Toni Morrison, etc.
- I read several new or newish Inklings studies critical texts this year that range from interesting to excellent. These include Hal Poe’s trilogy of new C.S. Lewis biographies, and studies by Jason M. Baxter, James Como, Gina Dalfonzo, Mark Vernon, John Garth, Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, and Charlie Starr. I also read some critical C.S. Lewis studies that I had never completely finished during my PhD, including work by Sharon Jebb, Doris T. Myers, and (in progress) Paul Holmer.
- In teaching a new approach to Narnia in early 2022–a course on Narnia and Communication, Leadership, and Culture at UPEI–I not only had one of the greatest teaching experiences of my life, but was also refreshed by reading the Narniad in a new way.
- While I usually share my “5-star Surprises” with readers, this year, only two works of new-to-me fiction made it to my 5-star list: Cervantes’ Don Quixote from the early 17th century, and The Blue Moth Motel by Olivia Robinson from 2021. Admittedly, Don Quixote is one of the greats and Olivia Robinson is a past student of mine, so these “5-star Surprises” might be a bit biased. Still, I loved reading both of these books (in quite different ways).
Here is the rest of the infographic and stay tuned for more!