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25th January
2012
written by Steph
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

Admit it: it's pretty cool I've been tracking this stuff for 4 years now... right?

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

December was balls

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.

Beyoncé was right: girls run my world!

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!

This is one passport I'm disappointed by...

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. The Winners 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. The Losers 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!

17 Comments

  1. 01/25/2012

    Honestly, I’m hoping to be closer to 50-60 books this year.I WANT my book counts to dive. I want to spend more time with each book. After going through major slumpage for most of 2010 and the first half of 2011, I finally got to where i started enjoying my books again. I’ve unofficially made this year the year I refuse to read any book that’s not working for me. I don’t care if I’m 75% done with it when I abandon it. Unless it’s a must-read (like for my book club), I dont’ want to read anything unless I’m really, really loving it. So far, that’s worked out well for me. All five books I’ve read in January have been 4+ stars. I hope it stays that way!

    I hope your reading slump comes to an end soon, but don’t push yourself. If you don’t feel like reading, just don’t. It’s okay. Sometimes we need breaks, and the slump will end much faster if don’t force it. I was stupid and forced myself to read anyway, and my slump lasted about 18 months!!

  2. 01/25/2012

    I’d say working on your dissertation is a great excuse for burning out on reading. Your reading mojo will come back in time!

  3. 01/25/2012

    A dissertation seems like a reasonable and understandable reason for a reading slump. And I think generally it’s far better to read when you feel like reading and not push to read more than you feel like.

  4. 01/25/2012

    Who cares about a reading slump when we’ll all be calling you Doc Steph! And if you don’t have books to post about, post about trip planning. I want to live vicariously through your travels.

  5. 01/27/2012

    @ Amanda: Thanks for the advice! I really don’t want an 18 month reading slump… two months has seemed interminable as it is. Generally I don’t force myself to read when I’m not feeling it, but it’s so weird to only read one book a month or so. I feel like I’m craving a really good book, I just can’t seem to find it! I keep trying things to see if something will stick, but so far nothing has held my interest so I’ve abandoned most books after a few pages.
     
    @ Kathleen: Yes, my dissertation is a good excuse for reading burn out, but it still sucks! I don’t want it to suck all the joy from my life! 😀
     
    @ Teresa: The end is definitely in sight with respect to my dissertation so I am hoping if I can just hold out for a few more months I’ll finally be able to break free and start enjoying my old pastimes once again!
     
    @ softdrink: Way to keep things in perspective! 😉 And I think that’s a great idea about posting more about trip planning! I had always intend to write more about travel once we actually started on our trip, but there’s no reason I can’t start early!
     
    @ Jackie: I have been bummed out by my Coupland reads of late, but if I had to trade him in for Scarlett Thomas, I think I’d find that a fair trade! I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read of her thus far, so I’m really excited to delve into her back catalog! I really need to find a copy of Pop Co.
     
    @ zibilee: What is in the water?!? All of us bloggers seem to have struggled with reading this year… surely it’s reaching pandemic proportions at this point!
     
    @ Aarti: You’re right that my low numbers just mean more good books to look forward to in 2012! I just need my reading mojo back and I can only imagine the riches I’ll discover.
     
    @ JoV: I normally really love doing these stat posts because I love making figures and being surprised at how things turn out, so I think it’s a real testament to how bad my slump is that I just haven’t wanted to write even with shiny figures offered as bait! But I definitely like your interpretation of things: I don’t have time to read because I have too many other good things going on. 🙂

  6. I think I read about 5 books in my final year of uni, so I’m amazed at how many you’ve got through this year.

    I share your Coupland dilemma, but I’m sure he has more amazing ones out there – I’ll try and find one or two for you later this year. 🙂

    I’m really pleased you’ve fallen for Scarlett Thomas. She’s got a lot more waiting to discover in her back catalogue too.

    I hope you have a wonderful 2012!

  7. 01/26/2012

    Considering all that you have going on in your life, and what you are preparing for, it’s actually not that bad! You read a lot of books you enjoyed, and got a chance to read more female authors as well. I can understand your frustration with not having satisfying numbers, and for some reason, 2011 will go down as the year of the reading slump to me, because several other readers have said their reading plummeted this year as well. Don’t feel bad about it, just know that you are in very good company! I love all your charts and graphs by the way, and wish that I was capable of being so analytical about my reading!

  8. 01/26/2012

    43 is pretty impressive for such a busy year! And really, that just means that if you were below your target number, you have more awesome books to read in the future 🙂

  9. JoV
    01/27/2012

    It’s wonderful when you let your stats surprises you! because we may believe in one thing but the figures tell us another. I can understand the reading slump you are experiencing and I don’t think it is a bad thing, it just means you do many more other interesting things in life.

    Here’s to another wonderful year to you! I enjoy reading this post.

  10. kay
    01/27/2012

    I’m loving the graphics and your thoughts on your reading habits. I hope you get a bit of your reading joy back this year, but with a doctorate in the work it’s not surprising you have so little reading motivation left. I wish you luck in all aspects for 2012 Steph, you deserve the best 🙂

  11. 01/28/2012

    I also read The Surgeon last year and found it to be highly forgettable.

  12. Lu
    01/29/2012

    I read A Confederacy of Dunces this year and really didn’t enjoy it! Oh well, you win some, you lose some. 🙂 My reading this year was ok (though less than usual), but my blogging was just a sad affair. I’m really hoping to read and review more this year, rather than just read! I too love your graphs. I’m sorry December was balls! I think my worst reading month was probably September or October. Oh well! It happens. Here’s to a better 2012!

  13. Very interesting and honest post. It’s interesting that you went towards female authors without planning to (too bad it also coincided with a reading slump + slight decrease in rating average. Hummm…).

    I also plan to read more books from outside the US and UK so I’ve signed up for the Africa Reading Challenge (one of my only two challenges of the year, the other is all about Southern Lit). Also plan to read more in languages (French, Portuguese and Spanish). I know you speak French, do you ever read in it?

    What countries are you planning to visit? Will you be somewhere in Europe? Paris is just 1 1/2 away 🙂

    PS: Middlemarch?! She should write a guest-post about why that book in particular, now I’m curious.

  14. 01/31/2012

    “Right now, I really just want to rediscover the joy of reading”

    This is what reading should be about. I hope school work lets you find that joy again, and best of luck in your travel plans etc for 2012!

  15. 02/01/2012

    Aw, it’s frustrating when reading plans and life plans don’t align more seamlessly; I hope 2012 has a balance that you’re pleased with more often than not.

    I had fun with Coupland’s jPod (but I enjoy workplace novels and the idea of a workplace novel about game design did tickle) but in many cases I appreciate what he is doing but don’t connect with it emotionally.

    I somehow overlooked this Massey lecture of his (I did enjoy Adam Gopnik’s Winter from this past season of Massey’s), and got it confused for a moment with Ready Player One which I’ve been meaning to read; I’m glad they’re two different books so I can continue to anticipate Cline’s novel with the same zest.

    Good reading to you!

  16. Love the charts and book tracking. I am trying to do better with that this year… keeping track of page numbers, male and female authors, etc…. I am enjoying the tracking.

  17. OK…. LOL – just seen the pic above and thought – who is that?

    My son…. I was signed into his account. Good grief….

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