2013: A Year In Reading

Time for my annual tradition of analyzing my reading for the year (I guess if you do it more than once, it’s a tradition, right?).

Goodreads sent me a link to my “year in books” and, honestly, it looked pretty light. I must not have been as meticulous about logging my reading in Goodreads as I thought I was.

At the same time, my Xcel spreadsheet is awfully vague on dates this year. I have lots of books written down simply by the month in which I read them. If you know me, you know that that irritates me; I prefer precision and accuracy in a project like this.

In last year’s post, I mentioned how 2012 was a difficult year for me personally, and it certainly was. Well, 2013 was no great shakes either in many ways, although it had more positive motion than 2012 did. Let me just say that I’d prefer for 2014 to keep the personal and professional disasters to a minimum and bring me some positive developments for a change. Please?

That said, let’s take a look at 2013’s reading stats.

I started 64 books, similar to last year’s 62, and completed 56 of them, two more than last year’s 54. So let’s say I’m consistent. For the most part, the ones I didn’t finish were fiction that didn’t grab me… including, for the third time, “Wuthering Heights.” I’m sorry. I just can’t.

I also read quite a few books about writing this year because I have the opportunity to be doing more teaching in 2014. And getting paid for it. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Looking over my list, there was more I loved than didn’t this year, but as always there were the ones that I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. Let’s only talk about the good ones.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein:  YA historical about two young women involved in the Allied intelligence forces during WWII. Emotionally devastating and heart-rending. Absolutely beautiful, and a must-read, for adults and young adults alike.

The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light:  The song “Hallelujah” is now trotted out every time there’s a natural disaster or a wedding or an occasion that feels remotely solemn… or any time some kid tries out for a TV singing competition. But what’s the story behind the song? It used to be nothing, a throw-away, written by some guy you never heard of, with lyrics you never hear anymore because it’s not a love song or a song of hope and promise, but a song about heartbreak and loss and giving up… or is it? This tiny gem of a book will tell you more than you ever thought you could know about the weighty past of this now-mighty song. Oh, and YouTube all the performances as they are referenced in the text. They will blow you away.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: If you love books; if you love reading; if you love bookstores; if you love puzzles and mysteries; if you’ve ever dreamed of quitting your job and going to work in a bookstore, or better yet, of opening your own shop, this book is for you. It’s worth reading just to get to the last line. And no, I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll have to read it for yourself. No cheating! Read the book!

The Diviners by Libba Bray: I haven’t always loved Libba Bray’s work, but I respect her tremendously. If you’ve ever read her blog, she is incredibly honest about how hard writing is for her. She’ll tell you straight out that she has no idea what comes next; that she’s lying on the floor in her bathrobe crying because she’s lost; that she’s ready to quit because she hates her writing so much… and then she publishes a book like “The Diviners.” This is YA historical fantasy, of which I read a lot this year, set in jazz age Manhattan where everything is “the cat’s pajamas” and you can only get your hooch at a speak-easy. The main character’s voice leaps off the page at you, the setting is so real it breathes, and the story is fantastic – deep, twisty, scary, believable, smart… I can’t wait for the next book, and the next. You may want to wait until the series is complete to devour them all at once, which is one of the highest compliments I can give.

Murder As A Fine Art by David Morrell:  Speaking of a setting so real it breathes, that would apply as well to this book, where Victorian London is basically another character. You can feel and smell the city as you read. While an early description of a murder is particularly grim, the story is fascinating and the main characters are wonderful.

Honorable MentionsA Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn (I will read everything this woman writes, ever. She writes history as though she had lived it, and her lead characters are women you wish you had been, or could be, or could be friends with); The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill (This is the fictionalized story of the Quaker woman on Nantucket whose desire to study science and love for an East Indian sailor put her at odds with her traditional community. It started off slowly but proceeded with a strong, steady pace that kept me reading, and never took the easy paths of “women’s fiction”); In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters (This YA historical fantasy combines the very real horror of the Spanish Influenza and tail end of WWI with the supernatural chills of ghosts into a spine-tingling tale of a young woman who struggles to find her way in this strange, haunted world).

So tell me:  what were your favorite books this year? What did you read that was overrated or overlooked? What would you recommend or steer people away from? Did you manage a book a week? More? Less? Do you stick with books you don’t love or move on? Do you read as much as you would like to or do you not have that kind of time? Can that change in the new year?

Happy new year and happy new books!

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