General Overview 2017
I am happy to say that I hit my reading goal of 150 books for 2017! I managed to read 151 books this year, squeaking in just under the buzzer.
Last year I read 162, so overall I read 11 fewer books this year, which works out to around a book a month less than last year.
Jan 2017 kicked Jan 2016’s ass, but Dec 2016 kicked Dec 2017’s ass, so if we take those two end months out of the equation and treat them as anomalies, it was in the middle 10 months that I incrementally lost ground, 1 book a month at a time.
I’m still happy – 151 is still about 2-3 books a week, which is really all I aim to maintain. As for why I lost that extra book a month – I’m not sure! I wrote and co-produced a play this year, published two books, fell in love, moved to Kyoto for a few months for a fellowship – all of these things were so so wonderful and they maybe took up a bit more time than expected. In other words, life happened! Given the loveliness of life, it was worth losing 11 books, I think.
But lets look at trends from year to year! I’m so excited to have data on this.
So, what’s cool is that from April onwards, my reading trends from 2016-2017 are almost identical! Look at those blue and yellow lines. They’re basically hugging. They tight.
So the Januaries started out very differently, but things evened out quite amazingly by April. 2018 is going to show whether these data points equal a pattern or whether it’s just a coincidence.
Reading by Gender
This year was no different than 2016 – I continued to be drawn to and read mostly books authored and collected by women.
Proportionally and numerically, I read more books by men (35 to 116 by women) in 2017 (2016 chart below for comparison).
In particular, I remember in October I actually read 3 books in a row by men, broke it up with Fay Weldon’s Worst Fears and then read two more male-authored books.
So in October 50% of my reads were male-authored. I also read only 10 books in October, my third lowest number of the year. COINCIDENCE OR CORRELATION? Haha, who knows. Either way, overwhelmingly I continue to read female-authored books.
Two interesting facts:
- Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. felt very male to me
- I was surprised to learn that M.R. Carey of The Girl with all the Gifts and this year’s read, The Boy on the Bridge, was male and not female – I had just assumed the latter
These subverted expectations tell me that I do think there is a fundamental stylistic and thematic difference between male and female writing. Again, I think this partially goes back to the awareness the female voice has about the possibility of male violence at any time, which is absent in male writing. Male writing, in some ways, romanticizes romance between men and women in a different way to female writing. It assumes agency and choice for females, idealizes that – which female writing does not, always juggling checks and balances, threats and opportunities.
Reading by Genre
No surprises here – category fiction (romance, thrillers, mysteries) were almost half of my reads in 2017, followed by “literary” fiction, and then non-fiction. I read less YA than I thought – am a little surprised by this.
2017 was inadvertently a year of graphic novels – 7 of them. They were all actually really good – Habibi up there as a disturbing and problematic and powerful piece of work, and I managed to read the seminal Watchmen as well.
Three poetry collections this year – 2 of them Mary Oliver’s (so clever and compassionate and wonderful), and 1 from a Bruneian poet, Fice KB!
Only 1 play, and that was a really old one – Marlowe’s Faustus. But it did open the door to thinking about how “deal with the devil” is such an interesting trope to use to comment on society – and to compare to Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes later in the year – what kind of deals with the devil do women make versus men – is really a question of what men are allowed to want versus what women are allowed to want.
Favourite Reads this year
In no particular order, my top 10 reads this year were
Naomi Alderman The Power An early entry – so early I thought I’d read it last year, and was surprised when going through my notes that it was actually January this year that I’d read it. I’ve written about it already, but this was a book I lent out, and loved talking about, and just generally a powerful, buzzy book that seems in hindsight particularly appropriate for the feminist revolution of 2017.
Annie Dillard The Writing Life Beautiful unflinching memoir about what it is to write – its meaninglessness except to oneself, how it is everything and nothing all at once, and nevertheless, how if one chooses to write, one must hold oneself to the highest, hardest of standards – because nobody else will.
Katherine Arden The Bear and the Nightingale AND The Girl in the Tower A bit of a cheat here naming two books as one, but I loved this (series that I didn’t realise was going to be a series) that is set in medieval Russia, draws on Russian folktales, has a daring and reckless heroine, and perfectly captures the arbitrary, fickle cruelty of the best fairytales. I’ll put up a post about this at some point because some of the lines are just lovely.
Neil Gaiman The View from the Cheap Seats A collection of non-fiction essays from Gaiman, on art, writing, life – compassionate and generous and wide.
Naomi Novik Uprooted High fantasy, a girl who reluctantly goes to work for a dragon and who even more reluctantly comes into her own as a witch. I read a lot of fantasy novels this year about girls/women who are forced into their destinies, who are just trying to survive because – Maslow’s hierarchy. These stories haven’t generally ended with self-actualisation, but they have ended with the heroines realising that self-actualisation is a thing, and it is a thing that they can claim and seek. I’ve loved that and been saddened by it, because I have always believed that the world is as big as your dreams – the bigger you dream, the bigger your world is. When you’re in survival mode, your dreams are necessarily truncated, limited.
E.M Delafield Diary of a Provincial Lady 1930s Britain, a hilarious, sparky, country wife who worries about hats and her children and her absent but loving husband. Just a book that I will go back to again to re-read because it’s light-hearted and good-hearted and fun.
Susan Carland Fighting Hislam Based off a PhD thesis, this book had the best articulation of feminism with faith that I’ve read so far – clear, accessible, and so relatable to me.
Robin McKinley Deerskin Painful retelling of a Charles Perrault fairytale, in which a king-father falls in love with his princess-daughter, and rapes her. The ending is redemptive, mostly, but it’s a hard journey.
Robin Sloane Mr.Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore This reminded me a little bit of Dave Eggers’ The Circle – but it was just a very very skillfully crafted story about bookstores and technology, with a very likeable protagonist and cast of characters. So readable, so satisfying. Sometimes all you want is a good dependable story with no pacing issues- and they’re actually really hard to come by!
Cherise Wolas The Resurrection of Joan Ashby A very late entry to the top ten! This was my second or third last book of the year, a 500 page behemoth rivalling last year’s A Little Life. This would be an excellent book club read I think – a genius writer who reluctantly embraces motherhood when she falls accidentally pregnant, despite her husband promising her they would never have kids because of her writing – how she struggled to find balance between work and life, how she kept her writing life secret and sacred, how understanding is not the same as love.
One of the great things about this book was that it gently evoked how much writers predict and construct reality in the world around them. Ashby could see the future because life has a narrated quality about it.
There was a bit of a cheesy turn when one character goes to India to seek spiritual truth, but overall it didn’t kill the book. So yes! I would recommend. Readable and kind and expansive.
Reading Goals for 2018
Looking back at my goals for 2017, I mostly hit them, except I’m starting to think I’m never going to get around to finishing those classics I mentioned at the end of 2016. But I know that books come to you at exactly the right time, so there may come a time in 2018 that something about The Brothers Karamazov will be how God wants to speak to me, so I haven’t given up hope on finishing that or the others yet.
Goals for 2018! I want to keep reading 2-3 books a week, so 150 will be my goal again. I also am planning to track my book expenditure this year! I want to know exactly how much money I give to Amazon and to overseas bookstores and to Best Eastern and generally how. much. I. spend. on. books. It’s definitely not an expense I begrudge, but I also don’t want it to be a careless, thoughtless expenditure, so tracking this will be a good first step I think.
I would like Feminist Book Club to keep going, definitely. It has been a joy and a privilege to discuss books with these women.
I would also like to get better at taking pictures of my reads! I love those artfully set-up and photographed book accounts on IG, especially @cosyreads – so pretty! It’s going to be my goal to do one of those a month? Is that realistic, given my limited designing and photographing skillz? We shall see!
That’s pretty much it, reading-wise. Here’s to a wonderful wonderful 2018.