Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 Wrap-Up

I finished two books today and am unlikely to finish another one by tomorrow, so it’s time for my usual by-the-numbers wrap-up. I’ll probably come back and make a list of my favorite books in a day or two. It was a good year for reading; I read 84 books, which is my second highest number, down from the 100 I read last year, but up from my usual 60-70 of recent years. I may have read lengthier books this year than last year, which would account for the difference. This year there was no Little House on the Prairie read-through to bump up my numbers, which is fine. Whatever. My resolution for 2012 was not to care about numbers so much, and I was only moderately successful at that; I still set a goal over on Goodreads (of 75 books) and I paid attention to whether I would reach that number or not throughout the year. For 2013, however, I am not going to set any kind of goal whatsoever, on Goodreads or elsewhere. With a new baby, I’ll be happy if I get to read some books, and I’ll leave it at that. So here are my stats:

  • Books read: 84
  • Audiobooks: 6
  • eBooks: 3
  • From library: 23
  • Fiction: 54 (64%)
  • Nonfiction: 30 (36%, up a little bit from last year)
  • Poetry: 0 (harumph)
  • Essay collections: 8
  • Biography/autobiography/letters/journals: 14
  • Theory/criticism: 3
  • Short story collections: 1
  • Mysteries: 11
  • Books in translation: 6

Gender breakdown:

  • Men: 30 (36%, a little more equal than last year where men were only 28%, but still off the perfect gender balance I used to [accidentally] keep, which is fine)
  • Women: 51 (61%)
  • Both:3


  • Americans: 46 (55%)
  • British: 24 (28%)
  • Canadian: 2
  • Japanese: 2
  • One each by Bosnian, Czech, Egyptian, Finnish, Irish, and Swedish writers. Plus one book by an author of uncertain nationality (Olaudah Equiano — was he born in Africa or South Carolina?) and three books by multiple authors from various nationalities. There was not as much diversity here as usual, alas.

Year of publication:

  • 18th century: 3
  • 19th: 0 (wow — down from the already low number of 2 from last year! I need to read some 19th-century fiction soon)
  • First half of 20th century: 8
  • Second half of 20th century: 20
  • 2000-2009: 18
  • 2010-2012: 35

I’m reading a lot more contemporary fiction lately, which I don’t like in theory, although I’m enjoying it in practice.

As for cycling, my total mileage is way down this year, for obvious reasons. I rode 3,677 miles, down from 5,213 the previous year. But I rode over 3,000 of those miles in the first half of the year, mostly before I knew I was pregnant. If I’d kept up that pace, I would have been close to my old yearly mileage record of 6,597. That’s a number I won’t see again for a while. I did some races last year, maybe 6 or so, but that’s all over for a while. Next year, I’ll be grateful for every mile I get to ride, and I won’t even think about racing.

And now to think about which books from this year I liked best …


Filed under Books

Updates: Recent reading and 35 weeks

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season. All is well here, although everything feels slightly strange, in a not-bad way. Hobgoblin and I usually spend Christmas with my parents, but this time we didn’t want to drive the six hours required to get there so (relatively) close to my due date, so Christmas was quiet, with just the two of us and Muttboy. But we had fun opening presents, eating Hobgoblin’s awesome cooking, and seeing The Hobbit (not my kind of movie, really, and not perfect, but enjoyable nonetheless).

And now I … wait. After submitting final grades last week, I now have no obligations at work until I return 6-8 weeks after the baby is born (at which point I won’t have many obligations — it will be nothing but putting in an appearance in the writing center a couple times a week during the remainder of the spring semester to keep the paychecks coming). So all I have to do is stay healthy, take care of a few things like buying a car seat and arranging the nursery, and sit on the couch and read in between muttering complaints about my sore back. I’m extremely lucky to have so much time to rest before the baby is born (extremely!), but at the same time, I’m wondering what the next few weeks will bring. I generally don’t deal well with having a lot of time on my hands. I get anxious and cranky and find myself doing nothing at all. But this time I’m going to keep telling myself to enjoy it while it lasts, because it won’t last long, and maybe I’ll convince myself. We’ll see.

As for what I’ve read recently, I’ve been ploughing through Francis Burney’s long (900+ page) novel Camilla and should finish it in a day or two. It’s been a fun read. Yes, it could be shorter — there are episodes that could easily be cut — but it’s obviously not the kind of book you pick up when you want a quick read; it’s the kind of book you pick up when you want to be absorbed in a long story, and it’s perfect for that. Camilla is that very typical 18th/19th novel character — the young woman venturing out into the world for the first time without the protection of a mother, finding that all is not what it seems and that people can be treacherous and deceitful. Even those who appear to be kindhearted and friendly can pose dangers — in fact, these are the most dangerous of all because they seem so trustworthy. But they are all too often frivolous, or friends with the wrong people, or profligate with their money, or vain, and they lead poor, susceptible Camilla down dangerous paths. The book is all about the dangers of having the wrong friends, and also, although Burney wouldn’t frame it this way, about how horrible it is that women of Camilla’s background can’t easily earn money. As the novel goes on, it gets more and more obsessed with money and the problem of not having any, and Camilla can do nothing about it except look for new people to borrow from and hope her relatives can come to her rescue. If only she could just work a small part-time job for a while, she would be fine, but, of course, she doesn’t live in that world. And I don’t live in Camilla’s world, a fact for which I’m very, very grateful. The restrictions she lives under are absurd, but no one in her world sees it that way.

I also finished Virginia Woolf’s diary, volume 2, which I’ve been reading off and on for several months now. I’ll admit I skimmed over some of the passages where she talks about her social life, except those where T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster appear, in favor of passages where she discusses her writing and reading and her mental state. Those passages are fascinating, particularly toward the end of this volume where she is working on Mrs. Dalloway. She struggles with it at times, but she also seems to know that this is going to be one of her masterpieces. She is writing in a way that pleases her and she doesn’t much care, at least in her best moments, about what people think. She’s found her style and her subject, and it’s fun to know from the perspective of the future that her confidence is justified.

A few quick notes on other books I’ve read in the last month or so: first, Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which was as great as everyone seems to be saying it is. It’s an absorbing story, and at the same time it leads you to thoughts, questions, and conclusions about global economic structures without being at all didactic. She has a great way of keeping her focus on the story, but getting the reader to realize the implications of the story without spelling them out. Surely that’s not easy to do.

I also read Christopher Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder, which I liked very much — it has a satisfying structure and is the sort of book that makes you turn back to the first page after finishing it to see what you missed the first time around. It turns out to be worthwhile to take that extra look because then you understand the book as a whole so much better. It’s a book about art, specifically about being a writer, and it’s also about faith. This is where I balked a little bit, for the very personal and non-literary reason that I didn’t understand the religious conversion the main character undergoes. Hers is a kind of faith I have a hard time wrapping my mind around. I’m still undecided as to whether Sophie makes sense as a character. But in a way this is okay because the narrative purposely keeps a distance from her and she is meant to be mysterious (as the novel’s title indicates). I liked the way the novel circles around her, trying and never quite succeeding to understand what happened.

And, finally, I finished Christina Schutt’s novel Prosperous Friends, which was a dark and difficult read that I liked very much. The characters are complicated and frequently unlikeable and the prosperous friends are not always friends you actually want to have. It’s a book about relationships and marriages gone wrong and only occasionally going right. I think I’m in the mood for unlikeable characters these days, so all this was fine, but I particularly liked the writing, which was rich and poetic — not always a good thing as far as I’m concerned, but it worked well here. The writing makes you work a bit, as Schutt does not always fill in all the pieces of the narrative, but it captures the mood of the novel perfectly.

I’ll close with my latest picture, which shows me looking a little bit harried — which is only to be expected, I guess! I hope to be back soon with my year-end round-up.

35 weeks


Filed under Books, Fiction, Life, Nonfiction

Updates: Recent reading, new books, and 32 weeks

It’s time for another update post, I think, since I’d like to record at least brief thoughts about the books I’ve finished over the last month or so. Here they are:

  • First, there was Kenzaburo Oe’s novel A Personal Matter, which is a strange choice of book to read during pregnancy, since it’s about a man who discovers that his son was born mentally handicapped. He spends the rest of the novel reacting badly to this news. But I wasn’t bothered by the subject matter, and I liked the novel a lot. There’s an unsparing directness to it, a sense of strangeness and a willingness to dig deep into the main character’s disturbing, although in moments unexpectedly sympathetic, mind that I admired.
  • Then I read Tim Parks’s illness memoir Teach Us to Sit Still, which I also liked very much. He tells the story of mysterious pelvic pain that he suffered from for many years before feeling desperate enough to seek solutions in unexpected places. He turns to various forms of meditation and finds that this helps him recover and transforms him in deeper ways as well. The book is a really interesting exploration of the limits of western medicine and the surprising (to him and to many other people I’m sure) connections between the mind and the body.
  • I listened to The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker on audio, and I’m not sure why, but I didn’t respond to this with as much enthusiasm as I thought I would. Parts of the story were great, the depiction of how people responded to the totally mysterious slowing down of the earth’s rotation in particular. I liked how simply and naturally Walker describes what this was like. The integration of the sci-fi elements with a coming-of-age story was well-done as well. But the coming of age story itself seemed a little cliché. I didn’t really like the teenage romance element.
  • Then there was Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, which I thought was fabulous. I suppose this is a fairly cliché coming-of-age story as well, but the writing was very, very good, which made up for it. Mitchell has a marvelous way with a sentence. It’s a novel-in-stories, each chapter forming its own vignette in the life of the main character, a thirteen year-old boy who struggles with bullies and a stammer. Mitchell captures this character and the setting in which he lives very well.
  • For my mystery book group, I read Dorothy Hughes’s In a Lonely Place, a book I chose after having heard good things about Hughes. It turned out to be a good choice, as the group liked her, and the discussion was lively. It’s told in the first person from the perspective of the murderer, and the mood is unsettling and claustrophobic. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the extent to which the narrator is unreliable and what exactly the other characters figured out and when. I like that sort of puzzle.
  • From the library, I got a copy of Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins, a book I thought was very well done, a good, entertaining piece of literary fiction that made me feel a little dissatisfied with the state of literary fiction generally. I can’t pinpoint anything wrong with the book, but I guess I’m in the mood for books that are more innovative or do something more exciting on the sentence level. It’s a book about a family in Chicago and their struggles with a wife/mother who is seriously ill because of her weight. The descriptions of the family dynamics are good and if you’re in the mood for a family drama, you might very well like it more than I did.
  • Then Kate Zambreno’s book Heroines, which I liked with some reservations. It’s partly literary criticism, history, and biography, and partly memoir. I enjoyed the combination of these things. Zambreno focuses on the “wives of modernism,” writers such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivien Eliot, and others who were kept from writing or whose writing was dismissed and ignored because of their gender. Zambreno analyzes the language used to belittle these writers and the ideas about women and creativity that still influence us today. All this I liked. I just wished the book had a clearer organizational structure, as it felt repetitious and too long.
  • Finally, I just finished Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir about her mother’s death, The Long Goodbye. This is a book that grew on me as I read; at first it seemed to be a fairly unremarkable story about illness that I wished had more reflection rather than straightforward narrative. The reflective elements of the book became more important as it went on, however, and the second half or so has a lot of interesting insights into grief and mourning.

I thought I’d give you the list of books I bought during a spur-of-the-moment book buying spree in Manhattan last weekend; I decided that I wanted to get out and walk around the city a bit while I still easily can. I visited 192 Books for the first time, a very small but great bookstore, and also old favorites Three Lives and McNally-Jackson. Here’s what I got:

  • Jean Strouse’s Alice James A Biography
  • Andre Aciman’s Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere
  • Jo Ann Beard’s Boys of My Youth
  • Barbara Comyn’s Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead
  • Maggie Nelson’s  Jane: A Murder
  • William Gass’s On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry
  • Roland Barthes A Mourning Diary

And now for a pregnancy update: I’m a little under eight weeks away from my due date. All is going well, although I’m eagerly awaiting the end of the semester, which will get here in about two weeks, so I can stop having to lumber around campus feeling ridiculously large. My teaching is going fine, but it’s getting increasingly uncomfortable to stand in front of a class. I’m both looking forward to some time in which to linger on the couch and do nothing, and worried that I will be too uncomfortable to enjoy it and/or bored out of my mind. We shall see. Here I am at 32 weeks:

32 weeks


Filed under Books