While this is by no means a lit review blog, I do want to take some time in my first post of 2013 to review some of my 2012 reading choices, reestablish my non-academic reading goals, and just generally delve into my reading habits a bit.
As a graduate student, my schedule is somewhat hectic. I work 20 hours a week as a graduate assistant at an academic library, I’m usually in at least 3 classes, and am often involved in volunteering or internship activities. Most of my unscheduled time is spent chipping away at the mountain of academic reading that accompanies graduate school classes. Thus, when I resolved to start reading more for pleasure during my first semester of graduate school, I knew it would take a concerted effort. I’ve now settled into a routine where I usually read a little over an hour a day (20 minutes on the bus to campus, 30 minutes at lunch, 20 minutes on the way back; lunch is sometimes longer). This seems like a lot to my friends who are non-LIS graduate students, but I often feel like it pales in comparison to many of my librarian friends.
While it is a common misconception that librarians have tons of time to read, I’ve found that many of them make reading every day a pretty high priority, myself included. This past year I finished 26 non-academic books for a total of 10,611 pages. Some were for the book club I attend (which meets about once every 6 weeks). Some have been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for years simply because I hadn’t gotten to them yet. Some were recommended by loved ones. Some I just felt were long overdue because they’re such “classics.” In short, here are the books I read in 2012, with occasional thoughts and comments (for full reviews, see my Goodreads page) (also, my must-read favorites are marked with *’s):
- The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
My first book of the year was a children’s book! And a lovely one at that. Good if you like wordplay/puns.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, Robert Pirsig
This took me over a month to slog through. At times insightful, but often very tedious.
- The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
- Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
- Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Saw the first movie and then instantly whipped through the books. Very fun. I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction, but assuming some of it is this level of quality (and it’s not all just Twilight knockoffs), I might need to get on it.
- The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, Amy Hempel*
I like breaking up my reading repetoire with short story collections. I was introduced to Amy Hempel through a collection put together by David Sedaris called Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules, which has led me to a number of excellent short story authors. Amy Hempel is lovely, heartbreaking, and definitely worth a read. If you’re not in it to win it for the whole collection, I recommend “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” and “The Man in Bogata” to whet your appetite.
- White Oleander, Janet Fitch
I’d seen the movie adaptation of this years ago and loved it (still do), so I was very intrigued to come across the book one day. Overall, very gripping. I approve of the cuts they made for time/plot in the movie.
- Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Lovely and haunting, but almost a let-down (much like the movie).
- The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion*
So unbelievably lovely. I’m a sucker for sad stories, and Didion’s memoir about the year after she lost her husband is so fragile and honest and real.
- The Sandalwood Tree, Elle Newmark
During the summer my work schedule finally allowed me to start going to book club again! Yay! This book was alright, and mostly just made me want to travel to India.
- Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, Malcom Gladwell
Read on recommendation of my boyfriend, Will. Also fit in nicely with my tentative goal of trying to read more non-fiction for pleasure. Was very interesting and easy to digest.
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver
Mmm morose short story collection. Perfect for those dog days of summer when reading outside comfortably is a thing of the past, so you hunker down in front of your window unit and sweat out a book.
- The Complete Maus, Art Spiegelman
Another reading goal of mine was to branch out, genre-wise. Thus, I looked to the internets for a good starter graphic novel with crossover popularity (to hopefully ensure a positive initial experience). What the internet spat back was Maus and Persepolis. I found Maus to be quite lovely, especially when Spiegelman gets really introspective and starts incorporating his own thoughts, doubts, and misgivings into the novel.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling*
Ah, and so it begins. Yes, it’s true, I am one of those rarities who grew up in the Harry Potter generation and never actually read them. During grade school my Christian parents barred me from reading them, and from high school onward I just never felt I had the time for any series, let alone the 700 page bricks that the Harry Potter novels eventually become. But, after many years of harassment, I decided it was time. So I spent most of August – November reading the Harry Potter series. My conclusion: loved them, of course. Found it very difficult to part with the characters when I finished. Have since taken a break from series (but am working myself up to start Game of Thrones soon…)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling
- Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Stopped mid-series so I could read the next book club book. Had heard good things about this popular 2012 novel, but didn’t end up liking it. I enjoyed the first half, but after a few major plots twists I lost interest. Whipped through it in about 2 days, but only begrudingly at the end.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling
- Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell*
Took one last Harry Potter break to read this gigantic nesting doll of a book, because Will saw the movie and really enjoyed it (I still have yet to). The book is truly lovely though; it is made up of 6 stories that span hundreds of years and are only loosely connected in subtle cosmic ways. Each story/narrative voice is so different, and yet it wasn’t difficult or unpleasant to switch between them. Very lovely, indeed.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling
- Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri*
Another find from the David Sedaris collection, I absolutely love Lahiri’s writing. Her protagonists are often introverts, so much of the stories are their inner thoughts and monologues; her plots are very minimal and understated, but the emotional smack of many of them stuck with me for days.
- Man and Superman, George Bernard Shaw
Another recommendation of Will’s (in fact, his favorite non-series novel), this play was… interesting, to say the least. It reads like bitter, philosophical Oscar Wilde, and while none of the main characters are respectable or even morally redeemable, it’s still an interesting read, particularly in Act III, which becomes hilariously blasphemous.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain*
Will’s last contribution to my 2012 reading list; he’d been advising me to read it since the spring. Another non-fiction title that was extremely engaging, Quiet really makes you think about a variety of people in your life, both introverts and extroverts, in a new light. Very interesting, indeed, and I would recommend it to almost anyone.
- The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
My second foray into the graphic novel world, Persepolis also turned out to be surprisingly delightful. There are times when I wished I was reading a memoir so that Satrapi could delve into her personal thoughts and reactions to things more extensively. But I also thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations and think the medium of a graphic novel works well for a coming-of-age story.
Overall, a very good year. Two series, two graphic novels, a few memoirs, two non-fiction books, and a handful of excellent novels and short story collections. I feel like I’ve stretched myself to read more often and to explore unread territory.
As for 2013, I’m not going to get too ambitious. Seeing as how my workload will be the same (as I’m still working and in school), I’d like to accomplish about what I did in 2012: around 25 books or 10,000 pages (whichever comes first?). I’d like to read another series (probably Game of Thrones) and maybe a young adult series (my sister has been pushing me to read the Uglies series for a few years now). I’d like to continue finding new short story authors to love, I’d like to continue pushing myself to read non-fiction for pleasure, and I’d like to read a few more literary classics (I seem to have missed a lot of them in high school and undergrad). Hopefully at the beginning of 2014 I’ll have at least this much to write about and more!