So, I’ve been dragging my feet something fierce when it comes to finally wrapping up 2011 with charts and graphs and whatnot. Not to get all spoiler-y on you, but as we will see, the end of 2011 was marked by a dramatic plummet in my reading–I think the technical term for it is “reading slump”–which also accompanied a blogging slump. Alas, a new calendar year has not managed to allay my reading burnout (I’ve only read two books thus far, and those were both in an official reviewing capacity. If not for that, I would probably have nothing really read by now.), so perhaps that’s why I’ve been in no rush to write this post. Once it’s done, I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkus. A few years back, a friend of mine was finishing up her dissertation and she would often lament about how the whole process sapped her of all her reading mojo and pretty much the only thing she could read for months was Middlemarch. No, that isn’t a typo, and no I don’t understand it. Slowly but surely I am dragging myself to the finish line of my own doctorate degree so who knows what bemoth will be my salvation through this all. Moby Dick? A Suitable Boy? Shataram? I suppose only time will tell… Tony is actually out of town the next few days so perhaps without my favorite distraction close at hand I’ll finally remember what it is to look at words on a page again. Fingers crossed.
Anyway, let us finally tour the wreckage that was my reading in 2011, shall we?
The Big Picture
Overall, I read 43 books in 2011… That’s a big drop from last year (it’s just under 50% of what I read in 2010!). And actually, this is the fewest number of books I’ve read since I started logging my reading. An all time low! I didn’t really make any vows about trying to hit a certain number of books in 2011, so I can’t really say that I’m disappointed and given my recent reading malaise, I’m not really all that surprised either. I would like to try to read a book a week, but as we will see, there were quite a few months where that plainly did not happen (and so far, I am not on track to meet that goal in 2012 either!).
I’ve said before that I’m more interested in reading books that I like than reading lots of books just for the sake of having impressive numbers; that’s not the kind of trade-off I’m interested in. Last year I read a lot of books, but I was very mindful of my choices and actually had an overall mean rating of 3.75, which is really not bad at all. This year, my mean rating for the books I read was 3.70… so, a bit of a dip, but actually not too terrible! I do still dream of the day when I am reading tons of 4 and 5 star books and hardly any mediocre books, but the one gratifying thing about keeping logs like this is that I can see that over time I do seem to be actively picking books that I enjoy and find worthwhile. I am always happy to see that I’m learning about who I am as a reader, and so while not every book I picked in 2011 was a winner, I’m clearly continuing my trend of generally picking books that really speak to me. Last year I only had 2 books that I read a significant portion of before I gave up on them due to intense antipathy, which I think is a great sign. I am continuing to work on not forcing myself to read books that aren’t working for me or that I can tell early on are going to disappoint me. (Note: I am sure that I actually picked up and put down far more than two books last year, but if I did that with the understanding that I would revisit the book in the future, I didn’t consider it a DNF.)
The Nitty Gritty
If we look at my reading trends over the course of the year, we can see that the year started off really strong and then tapered out in a rather pathetic way. My best reading month was January, when I read 7 books, but in December I only managed to read 1 book! There is a clear downward trajectory over the course of the year, so clearly 2011 gradually wore me down such that by the end, I was barely able to crack a book. Not sure why my brain has been so cobwebby of late, but I am betting I am wearing it out during the day at school while toiling on my dissertation. Both my mood and enthusiasm for school dipped really low in December, so I do think I spent a lot of time I would normally spend reading stressing out on other things. Or sleeping. I could not sleep enough in December.
2011 was a year where gender-imbalances in the publishing world continued to get a lot of air time on blogs and other media, and my reading certainly reflects that… but not in the way you’d think! This year 2/3 of the books I read were written by female authors. This is really interesting to me because I definitely think I used to be a reader who gravitated towards male authors. Last year I had a pretty even split between male & female writers, but this year I was all about the authoresses, I guess. I should point out that I did not intentionally attempt to skew my reading stats this way by actively seeking out female authors. I legitimately just picked up books that looked good to me, regardless of author gender. I am genuinely curious to see whether this trend of women writers rocking my world continues in 2012 and perhaps even intensifies!
If I have any long-term goals when it comes to reading, it’s that I would like to try to read more internationally than I generally do. Many of my natural predilections limit my reading to U.S. or U.K. authors, and I have to actively try to broaden my borders in this regard. 2011 was a huge fail on that front, which is really disappointing to me. As Tony and I have been planning our big round-the-world trip, I have thought it would be cool to sample some fiction from writers in all the countries we would like to visit in order to whet my appetite for these places. And yet, I obviously did not do that! 95% of the books I consumed were by American and British authors… and I only visited two other countries apart from those: India and Sweden. Although not super worldly of me, my patriotic bent really wishes I had managed to squeeze a Canadian author onto that list, but unfortunately the one book I attempted to read by a fellow Canuck was one of the two books I abandoned. Not good! This is definitely something I need to work to remedy in 2012.
I think it’s pretty clear that 2011 was a rollercoaster of a reading year for me: I didn’t read very many books and the ones I did read were pretty parochial in terms of the sampling of authors’ nationalities. On the other hand, the books I did read, I tended to enjoy a good deal and I did read tons of women writers. Although I didn’t read any books that completely blew my mind and that I gave a coveted 5-star rating to, I did read 22 books that I gave a rating of 4 stars or more. That means that I really enjoyed 50% of the books that I read last year, and that’s great! Of those books, it’s hard to pick a clear favorite, so I will dissemble a bit and say that probably the two most memorable that I read of that batch were The Submission by Amy Waldman (which made me cry, remember!) and Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller. I also really enjoyed my re-read of A Confederacy of Dunces (which also just happens to be the only re-read of 2011!). I continued my love affair with Scarlett Thomas and Maggie O’Farrell, and added a few new people to my “to watch ” list like Lauren Grodstein, Rebecca Makkai, Kira Henehan, Siri Hustvedt and Adam Ross. Many of these authors are fairly young and new to the publishing game, so it will be really exciting to see what they publish in the next few years.
Of course, there were some duds this year. For me, the biggest dud was Douglas Coupland’s Player One: What is to Become of Us, which I found plodding and lacking in terms of cohesion. I am on the fence with Coupland at this point, as one of his books, Generation A, is on my list of favorite reads, but since then I’ve read two other books by him that have really underwhelmed me. I think he gets one more try and if the next one isn’t a winner, things are gonna get ugly! I also really didn’t enjoy Tess Gerritsen’s The Surgeon or Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling; neither of these books were challenging and felt very uninspired and poorly written to me. Saddest of all, I also didn’t care for Jasper Fforde’s First Among Sequels, which is a shame because Mr. Fforde is on my list of ffoxy writers I find charming and whose works I normally adore.
Here’s Looking At You, 2012
Looking back at my readolutions that I made for 2011, the only thing I wanted to do was to R my TBRs… I think I kind of did that, but I know that I also bought a ton of books as well (Borders going bust did bad things to our home library). I could probably promise to do that this year and be pretty good at it since it’s very likely that Tony and I will be setting off on a worldwide trip before the year is out and I really don’t want to have 50 boxes of books to pack up and put in storage. Laziness is such a huge incentive!
But really, being in a reading slump, it’s hard to formulate reading goals, and obviously past performance has suggested that I’m not great at adhering to them anyway. Right now, I really just want to rediscover the joy of reading as it has obviously been eluding me for the past few months. I am also going to try to be mindful of reading internationally… arbitrarily I am going to say that I will read books from authors who originate from 6 of the countries I intend to visit. And then to directly counteract this, I’m also going to try to read more classics because I pretty much only read contemporary fiction these days and that’s kind of sad, no? If Tony and I stick to our plan and are traveling sometime in late August/September, you can be sure I’ll have an ereader in hand and that will be a great opportunity to fill it with public domain stuff, which, by its very nature, tends to be old. And generally by dead white people, but c’est la vie. I am nothing if not contradictory, so this should prove interesting.
So there you have it, a year of reading in a nutshell! Sorry it took so long to get here, but let’s all just be happy I’m not posting this a year from now and doing a 2011 & 2012 double-header recap!