My Year in Books: The 2013 Reading Roundup
2013 turned out to be a remarkable reading year!
According to my Goodreads page, I read 186 books during the calendar year, but that number isn't entirely accurate. Unless I were to go in and manually change the dates on books I've re-read (which I haven't done), those books were not counted toward my 2013 total.
I know for a fact that I re-read Connie Willis's entire Oxford Time Travel sequence in 2013, plus there were some books that I read aloud to my classes year after year which didn't get added into the count, so the true total would be somewhere much closer to 200.
But let's not quibble.
One of my goals every year is to read more non-fiction than fiction, but this year I didn't succeed in this goal at all: I read 125 fiction books and only 59 non-fiction. That's actually 6 fewer non-fiction books than I read last year, but 14 more fiction.
Here are some stats:
Total number of books read: 186
Total number of pages: 55,142
Average Book Length: 297 pages
Average Read Per Day: 151 pages
Longest Book: Stephen Inwood's delightfully readable A History of London, clocking in at 1,136 pages (which I lugged around with me while on crutches because I was in the middle of reading it when I broke my ankle and apparently I am a glutton for punishment).
Breakdown by category:
Young Adult Fiction: 51
Misc. Fiction: 18
Juvenile Fiction: 16
Devotion/Religious Issues/Theology/Missions: 15
Misc. Non-fic: 11
True Crime: 6
Literary Criticism/Writing: 5
Standout Reads of the Year:
Young Adult Fiction
Far and away my most memorable reads of the year were Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, which I read in March, and the companion novel Rose Under Fire, which I was fortunate enough to receive over the summer as an ARC through Netgalley. In Code Name Verity, Wein pairs sharp prose with gripping narrative to create a story of staggering magnetism, hurling the reader face-first into all of the agony, drama, and suspense of the WWII era while simultaneously highlighting the supreme delights of close female friendship. In Rose Under Fire, Wein once again displays her ability to shred my heart into oozing little pieces through a terrible (but poetically stunning!) narrative set inside Ravensbruck. Beautiful and awful and lovely and gut-wrenching. Though some gentle readers may find some of the language and frank descriptions of brutal torture a bit off-putting, I think that these elements add a cold-water dash of realism that could hardly be provided any other way.
I should note that I read Code Name Verity in two anguished sittings while suffering from jet lag in Israel and Rose Under Fire while road-tripping through Pennsylvania, where the central character is from originally and which throughout the narrative, she is seen pining after. All readers know that sometimes the time or place of a reading can affect the impact a book has, and that proved to be true in both cases.
Also, let me just say... Jamie.
This turned out to be a somewhat dry category for me this year, but one bright spot would be Ted Oswald's Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti. Having visited Haiti multiple times both before and after the quakes, I found that this story really resonated with the reality I'd seen for myself. Oswald not only has a unique style, but he also has the ability to channel the voice of the culture more clearly than anyone else I've read. More than just using Haiti as a backdrop, he provides the readers with a genuine sense of place.
Apparently my brain decided that this was the year to obsess over the Civil War. What started as one book to supplement a summer road trip led to a massive read-a-thon involving all things Gettysburg (Joshua Chamberlain!), Harper's Ferry (John Brown!), and Reconstruction. Regarding Chamberlain, I very much enjoyed Willard Wallace's Soul of the Lion; regarding John Brown, I recommend Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising; regarding the Reconstruction, I recommend Bruce Levine's The Fall of the House of Dixie.
Due to a job change, I saw a sudden uptick in my number of JF, a category I haven't generally paid much attention to. I've been enjoying being re-introduced to my old friends the Ramona books, which really are modern-classics, I'm finding, but far and away the most enjoyable read of the year would have to be Richard Peck's A Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts. I don't care who you are or what you normally read. Get your hands on this one. You can thank me later.
Due to a Kindle sale, I spontaneously snapped up Gail Carriger's five-part Parasol Protectorate series, which turned out to be a frothy and enjoyable paranormal steampunk comedy of manners. It was also exactly the sort of nonsense I needed to ease my mind during the trying experience of trying to pack up my house and move while having a broken ankle.
I also very much enjoyed Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, which I picked up on a whim and was quickly shocked to find hit nearly all of the markers that typify my favorite reads: an atmospheric bookstore, massive loads of quirk, a secret society, intensely-focused and obsessive research, conspiracy, travel, secret libraries, technology, tweed jackets, mystery, romance, the wearing of robes, humor, philosophy, friendship, fantasy. Also, the cover glows in the dark.
Oh, and I also re-read Connie Willis's Oxford Time Travel sequence, and you should read it too. I'm not going to tell you again. Stop dithering and read it.
I probably learned the most from Timothy Tennant's Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. Assuming familiarity with standard Western theological concepts, Tennent takes the reader through the basic theological categories in context of majority-world movements, hoping to stimulate a revitalization of Western theological thought by promoting increased global discourse and more overlap between scholarship and practice. Quick, neat summaries coupled with concise explanations made for an enjoyable, stimulating read. (And the footnotes are divine!) Although I learned quite a bit along the lines of his primary message (the need for increased intercultural theological discourse), the idea that most struck me was his point regarding the importance of encouraging more overlap between scholarship and practice. His statement that "We do not meet any 'pure theologians' in the New Testament, if by that expression we mean people whose entire lives were given over solely to theological reflection. Instead, we meet people like the apostle Paul, whose lives were devoted to proclaiming the gospel and in the process produced remarkable theology" rings true and correlates with certain things I've experienced in the past few years.
Re-reading the Anne of Green Gables trilogy with my pre-teen niece over the past few months turned out to be an experience that had us both in stitches. These books are classics for a reason: L.M. Montgomery is a master of narrative voice and character development!
While I may not have read a much non-fic as I would have liked, what I did read was golden. Alexandra Robbins's book The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive after High School resonated strongly with me, for reasons that should speak for themselves (I wouldn't call myself an outsider, exactly, but I matched her description of Quirk Theory pretty much perfectly). Jon Krakauer's narrative of the 1996 Everest disaster Into Thin Air had me gasping for breath, and Alex Beam's fantastic American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church aided me in my continued intellectual pursuit of all things LDS (also, another ARC from Netgalley! Hooray, Netgalley!).
Also, I got really into physics for some reason this year and read three or four books on that. Don't worry: Valerio Scarani's book Quantum Physics: A First Encounter: Interference, Entanglement, and Reality is way more readable than it sounds. (It would sort of have to be...?)
Far and away, the most enjoyable book from this category would be Charles Portis's True Grit, which I read after seeing both movie versions and became curious as to which one remained more true to the book. (Answer: the one by the Coen brothers. Watch it.)
My true crime reading took a dip this year, mostly because I've read through nearly everything that Ann Rule has written and I'm finding that not many other writers can hold a candle to her in terms of style. I did, however, find The Monster of Florence, co-written by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, to be fairly gripping. And horrifying. So, so horrifying.
I decided after having written and published three plays that I should read a few books on play-writing, none of which has turned out to be particularly helpful. Eudora Welty's book On Writing, however, was worth reading just for her essay on how to develop a sense of place.
Prior to traveling to Israel in March, I read several books regarding the country's history and cultural development. The best one, which I really should have categorized under History/Biography, I suppose, would be Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem: The Biography. Despite the fact that Montefiore and I clearly stand on the opposite banks of a philosophical divide, I still very much enjoyed this surprisingly concise and readable biography of Jerusalem, a city with one of the most complex, turbulent, and hyper-analyzed histories of all time. I also found that although this book went a long way toward sating my passion for wry descriptions of some beautifully bloodthirsty and unhinged rulers, it only began to help me put the city's sprawling, unwieldy, and often haphazard development into the greater historical context. Readers, be warned: the author takes much for granted on the part of his readers. It would not do to pick up this book without first having a working knowledge of general world history.
Montefiore demonstrates a clear command language, exhibiting a rare gift for producing prose that is substantial without being ponderous. Occasionally, he'd produce a turn of phrase that would make me laugh aloud -- not something that happens often enough in books such as these. And although I did not always agree with his commentary, I found his comments to be both thoughtful and restrained.
Note: I found Montefore's analysis of how Kingdom Theology impacted the politics both of the Victorian and Post-Victorian Era to be especially interesting.
The newest (to me) installment in Alex Bradley's Flavia de Luce series, A Red Herring Without Mustard, proved that the pint-sized poisoner Flavia still packs a punch.
Though I'm currently mid-way through a collection of John Donne (with original spellings!) I doubt I'll finish it before the year's out, leaving me with only two books of poetry read during 2013: Amy Carmichael's Toward Jerusalem and Marciuliano Francesco's I Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats.
To scroll through all my 2013 reads--the good, the bad, and the ugly (not including re-reads)--feel free to see here.