Monthly Archives: December 2011

2011 wrap-up

I finished my last book of the year this morning, so it’s finally time to sit down and wrap things up. I read my highest number of books ever this year, 100 (as far as I know, since I haven’t been keeping track for long, but I doubt I ever read this much). This has been fun, although I’m not going to try to match the number in 2012. I usually read in the neighborhood of 60 or 70 books a year, and the number went up in part for two reasons: I counted audiobooks this year for the first time, and I read quite a lot of short books. But I only listened to seven audiobooks, so that doesn’t account for much, and I read some decently long books as well. A full 9% of my reading was the Little House series, though, and those books fly by.

But, whatever. My only resolution for 2012 is not to care about numbers so much (although I will still keep track) and to read whatever I please. So although it’s been fun reading fast (for me) this year, and not going to try to keep it up.

So, a breakdown:

  • Books read: 100
  • Fiction: 67
  • Nonfiction: 33 (I thought this percentage would be higher than last year, but it’s only higher by a little; last year I read about 30% nonfiction)
  • Poetry: 0 (I read part of a book that I didn’t finish)
  • Essays: 9
  • Biography/autobiography/letters: 16
  • Theory/criticism: 6
  • Short stories: 3
  • Mysteries: 11
  • Books in translation: 11

Gender breakdown:

  • Men: 28
  • Women: 68
  • Both:4

I’m usually very close to even between men and women, and I don’t know what made the difference this year. There were the nine Little House books, of course, but beyond that, it was just a matter of what I felt like reading at any particular moment (and the books chosen for book groups).


  • Americans: 54
  • English: 20
  • Canadian: 5
  • French: 4
  • Irish: 4
  • Finnish: 2 (two books by Tove Jansson)
  • 1 book each by Czech, Egyptian, Nigerian, Scottish, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss, Trinidadian, Virgin Islander, and Welsh writers. Plus one book by authors from various nationalities.

Year of publication:

  • 17th century: 1
  • 18th: 1
  • 19th: 2 (yikes! these numbers are low)
  • First half of 20th century: 22
  • Second half of 20th century: 17
  • 2000s: 22
  • 2010-2011: 33
  • Various time periods: 2

This is way more contemporary writing than usual, 55% from the 21st century. I read a lot of review copies this year, which contributed to this.

Now a word about my riding this year. In a lot of ways, it was an off year for riding: I didn’t race much and I spent a lot of the year trying to get in shape after having fallen out of it. This happened partly for good reasons: my 3 1/2 week trip to Ireland and England was great but meant a lot of missed riding. There were also lost days because of my thyroid problem and because of bad weather, both last winter and this fall (hurricanes, blizzards).

BUT, 2011 is also my second highest mileage year ever, at 5,213 miles. My highest year was 2010 when I rode 6,597 miles, and 2009 is now my third highest when I reached 5,097. So, even though I was often riding slowly, I still rode a lot. I’ve kicked up the mileage in November and December in preparation for winter training and the March racing season, and if keep I my current pace up, I might break my mileage record in 2012. But that’s not a particular goal of mine. We’ll just have to see what happens.

I’d like to write a best-of 2011 list; I’ll be back to do that soon.


Filed under Books, Reading

Reading notes: Didion

Recently I picked up Joan Didion’s essay collection Slouching Toward Bethlehem because I needed a nonfiction book and was in the mood for some classic essays. And classic they were. I liked them so much I wanted to read more Didion right away, and as I had The Year of Magical Thinking on hand, I picked that up. It, too, was very, very good. I liked the essays better, by a little bit, but both books are great examples of Didion’s voice: clear, pared down, melancholy, implying rather than spelling things out. Both books are about loss, The Year of Magical Thinking most obviously as it tells the story of her husband’s death, but Slouching Toward Bethlehem is also about the loss of ideals and dreams in California, and sometimes in Didion’s own life. There is an elegaic tone to Didion’s writing, even when her topic isn’t obviously loss, but it’s never sentimental; instead it’s almost numb, reflecting her inability to change anything. She witnesses but has no power, except the power to write about what she sees.

Critics have written about the differences between The Year of Magical Thinking and Joyce Carol Oates’s own grief memoir A Widow’s Story, which I read earlier this year. But the entire time I was reading Didion, I kept thinking about the similarities between the two. The books have the same structure: they cover about a year’s worth of time after the husband’s death, they tell in great detail the story of the death itself, dwelling on and returning to the details of the death scene, trying to figure out how it could have happened. They tell of kind and not-so-kind friends who try to offer support, and of reading their husband’s writing in search of clues that might tell them something new about their lost one. They also are going through a traumatic experience from a place of great privilege: their husbands will get obituaries in famous newspapers and will be mourned by strangers and neither needs to worry about financial security. This makes a difference in some ways and in others it doesn’t: they are describing an experience many people have gone through or will, but theirs is not exactly a universal story. Still, both books offer much to think about — and to feel. If Oates’s book speaks more on an emotional level — and I was riveted by the raw emotion on the page as well as horrified by it — I admired Didion’s resolve not to accept comfort that violates long-held intellectual beliefs. She knows there is no God to create meaning out of her loss; all there is is change and all she can do is watch change as it happens.

I thought when I picked up The Year of Magical Thinking that reading Blue Nights right away might be more grief memoir than I could handle, but I don’t feel that way now. Reading two grief memoirs by Oates might be more than I can handle, but Didion is not such an emotionally raw writer. But I don’t have Blue Nights on hand, so that reading will wait until I find a copy somewhere.


Filed under Books, Reading

Brief Reviews

The form of the very brief review is working well for me these days, so I’ll do it again.

First, The Marriage Plot. I liked it just fine. But, but … I wanted to like it more than that and so felt a little disappointed. It’s a very absorbing story, and I read the novel quickly. Ultimately, though, I didn’t think it was doing anything terribly interesting. It was good but not great. I guess I don’t think the question the novel asks — what happens to the marriage plot in the modern age when marriage is so embattled? — is all that interesting. Forms of the marriage plot still exist, but it is radically changed and becomes something more like the relationship plot. But this is something tons of novels explore, right? I did like all the novel’s bookishness, Madeleine’s literature and theory courses and her obsession with A Lover’s Discourse. And I liked Mitchell and his religious explorations. I thought the ending was satisfying as well.

Also, Mariana, by Monica Dickens. Again, I liked it just fine, and again, it was good but not great. The story is episodic, recounting scenes from the main character Mary’s life from her girlhood up through her (early or mid?) adult years. She visits the country, she goes to school, she gets “engaged” as a child to a boy who takes the “engagement” much less seriously than she does, she slowly comes to face more grown-up worries. What makes the novel’s structure more interesting is the opening scene, which shows her as an adult during World War II waiting to find out whether her husband was drowned or not. After this, we move back into her girlhood and don’t find out what happened to the husband — or even who the husband is — until the novel’s end. This created enough suspense and interest to keep me going. The novel was charming and fun, but not something I was in a mood to fall in love with.

I’ve been in a mood to read fiction that’s a little more experimental and strange and not likely to be the kind of perfectly competent but not very exciting novel I’ve read recently, so I picked up David Foster Wallace’s short story collection Oblivion, and even though I’m not loving that book either, it is closer to what I’ve wanted. It is strange, certainly.


Filed under Books, Fiction