Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in review

I read 151 fiction books last year, plus 17 non-fiction. This year as my dissertation began, I started keeping track only of books read for fun, in one single list: fun nonfiction joined fiction, and the hundreds (I really think it's up in the hundreds by now) of dissertation-related books that I read (or skimmed) no longer count. I'm not disappointed that my reading total for this year has gone down, especially considering all my extra dissertation reading.

This year, I read 116 books for fun. I don't think I'll finish another one by tonight, although who knows? Part of the reason my total is lower is also because I was willing to branch out more. My fantasy and sci-fi totals are higher than ever in adulthood, and probably approaching those of my childhood and adolescence. This year, my reading was less carefully curated and more enthusiastically open. I tried books on bloggers' recommendations, according to bestseller lists and awards, and on whims. Some of these were successful. Some weren't. I abandoned an all-time high of 38 books this year, and oddly, I'm really proud of that. I don't regret the wasted hours. In some cases, I've had great conversations about why I abandoned such-and-such book. I'm proving myself to be a little more open-minded, a little more willing to try things I'm not sure about. And I'm living up to my reading philosophy: life's too short and there are too many good books to spend time reading something you're not really enjoying.

I'm still considering which of this year's reads will make a list of favorites (top ten? top eleven or twelve? top however many warrant the attention?). That post is coming. In the meantime, though, I want to revisit the bookish goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year.

  1. Finish Les Miserables. Nope. I didn't touch it all year, so my bookmark still stands at 478 pages out of 1463. I intend to come to it eventually, and I will definitely need to restart. Someday it will get off my nightstand where it waits!
  2. Finish Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. After my husband moved out to St. Louis to start his Ph.D program, I began reading a chapter or two before bed each night. For a while, I adored it. But as the semester picked up and I began having late nights of rehearsals or other obligations, I started realizing that the book is just too long. Whole twenty- or thirty-page chapters have only a single event in them, one that could easily have been relayed to us in a single paragraph or even sentence. The book was long, I was losing track of characters, and I was getting bored. So I finally gave myself permission to give it up. Oddly, though it's an abandoned book, I kept it - my husband thinks the introductory section about the magicians' society of "magicians" who only study magic without ever doing magic will be a useful pedagogy tool as he teaches theology.
  3. Read the long form of Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love. Well, I reread the short form, does that count? The mistake I made with this book was putting it not on my to-read shelf for fun books, but among the tangential-to-the-dissertation nonfiction, a shelf which largely got ignored all semester.
  4. Read Shirley or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for my winter break Bronte. This year it's Shirley, and I'm approaching 100 pages in. Not my favorite Bronte novel so far - it's not psychological enough. There's a large cast of characters (I'm having some trouble keeping track of all the names) and the narration isn't internal to any one of them for long enough. I don't feel connected to anybody yet. I am eager to see how the economic controversies work out, though. Oh, and also, I bought a copy of Tenant for next winter, so my collection of Bronte novels is complete.
  5. Begin reading my complete Sherlock Holmes for October. Check! I read A Study in Scarlet in a single sitting a few days before Halloween. It was great - very atmospheric. Also weird. I agree with everyone who told me that the digression about the Mormons is both offensive and unnecessary.
  6. Read another novel by Shusaku Endo. I did! This year I went back to the beginning and read an omnibus of two of his early novellas, White Man and Yellow Man. They were beautifully-written and packed an emotional punch, but I didn't love them in the way I've loved his longer and more developed novels.
  7. Read the Moomin series and The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh in conversation with each other. I read (adored) all the Moomin books I had, and the much more obscure The Moomins and the Great Flood is, I think, on its way to me as a Christmas present from my sister. I didn't get to Winnie the Pooh, in part because that hardcover book is too large to carry around easily. But I still think "Scandanavian Winnie the Pooh" is a good way to describe Jansson's wonderful characters.
  8. Get my TBR pile down from two and a half shelves to one. Hmm. No idea. Probably not. When Husband moved away, we moved out of the office to allow space for a roommate, which also meant consolidating my books (plus all the new dissertation books from the library needed a place to live). So my TBR pile is now literally a stack of piles on the two bottom shelves of my dissertation bookcase. I don't think I read very many of them this year. Then again, I haven't bought many new books this year either, so that's a win.
  9. Get my public library to-read list down from over a hundred to 75. Very briefly, for the last few weeks, it was down in the 80s! Now it's back up to 90. An overabundance of good books - it's a nice problem to have.
  10. Write my book. Well, this didn't happen either. I'm not unable to write; I wrote a 55-page dissertation chapter this semester. I'm just currently unable to write fiction, which depresses me, so I avoid thinking about it. The children's book I mean to write is one I've been planning to write since I was a very small child myself, and I'm terrified of getting it wrong. Thus I never start. Perhaps I ought to find a source for short fiction writing exercises to begin to stretch this muscle again.

Setting these goals was an experiment, and, it seems, one that wasn't very successful. Only two out of ten goals were completely accomplished, with another three partly done. I do best with goals regarding individual books tied to specific times of year. October means a mystery, so that reliably happens; winter break means a Bronte; the first snowfall of winter means Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child. But then, those aren't really goals so much as they are plans. I like reading plans. They fit my highly ritualized personality and routine lifestyle.

Was I unrealistic with this first attempt at reading goals? What sort of goals are you most successful with? How do you make sure to chip away at them throughout the year?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter break

I've been away from this blog for a while now. This semester got especially busy. November in particular was full of traveling to research and to sing. My free reading even fell off this fall, which doesn't normally happen. But once the semester ended - I got my students' work turned in to my boss professor and passed another voice jury - things settled into a really wonderful holiday. My husband came home from his own semester (I may have neglected to mention on this blog that he's now attending school in another state to begin his own PhD program). I've baked a lot and held both Thanksgiving and Christmas tea parties. I've sung three rounds of Lessons and Carols, plus an Evensong and a Christmas Eve choral prelude. Husband and I have been watching all 8 seasons of The Big Bang Theory, and we've now begun a Star Wars rewatch so we can go see the new movie. I've gotten back to reading in earnest (including on my new Kindle, Christmas gift from my mother after my old one died). I'm currently in the middle of Nancy Mitford's Christmas Pudding, Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion, Sage Blackwood's Jinx, and Charlotte Bronte's Shirley. And perhaps most excitingly, I completed and submitted my first dissertation chapter draft. It's been a really stellar winter break, and with two more weeks to go, I look forward to much more reading (both fiction and dissertation books), tea and pastries, and cuddling with my husband over sci-fi. If only the weather would cooperate and be properly wintery!


This is my new Kindle. I've named it Bodley, after the guy responsible for Oxford's Bodleian Library. Also, showcasing my new red hair, Christmas present to myself!