It is the dawn of a new year and it is time to take stock of the old year – in my case to think back on books and reading. 2012 was an interesting reading year for me. I wanted to read 70 books. I read around 71 books. (I think I missed out on counting a few books). This is the highest number of books that I have read in any year. Numbers don’t mean much in terms of reading but it still made me happy to read what I had planned.
The breakup of my reading was as follows :
Abridged Classics – 1
Children’s literature – 1
Contemporary Fiction – 2
Classics – 6
Comics – 6
Drama – 2
Fairytales – 1
Fantasy – 2
Gothic Fiction – 1
Historical Fiction – 1
Literary Fiction – 26
Love Story (Literary) – 2
Love Story (Romance) – 1
Popular Classic – 1
Science Fiction – 2
Short Story Collections – 2
Thrillers / Crime Fiction – 6
Young Adult – 3
Books on books / literature – 2
Cinema – 1
Memoir – 1
Sport – 1
I seem to have read a lot of literary fiction this year and some classics, comics, thrillers and nonfiction.
I read 55 books written by male authors, 15 books written by women authors and 1 book jointly written by a male and a woman author. The number of books by women authors that I read has dropped drastically. I should try to redress this in the New Year.
I read 40 books written in English, 8 books written in Tamil and 23 which were translations (Arabic 1, French 6, German 12, Italian 2, Norwegian 2). I think this is the first ever time I have read an Arabic novel. Out of the six French books, five were comics And they were all Belgian And they were all L2 translations – books which were originally published in French and then translated into English and from English into Tamil. One of the Italian books I read was also a comic – it was a western and was one of my childhood favourites starring Tex Willer. I also think that I read a Norwegian novel for the first time.
My fiction-nonfiction breakup was 66-5 – not good for the nonfiction part of the equation. I should work on that part this year.
I read 63 of my own books, 1 book which I borrowed from my friend, 4 books which I borrowed from the library, and 3 books which were gifts.
I also read 37 books recommended by friends and fellow book bloggers which is nearly half of the books that I read. It looks like I am very receptive to recommendations
As a reader, for most of the year, I stuck to the Aristotlean Golden Mean – reading mostly books of 300 pages or less. I read 8 novellas (books of around a 100 pages or less) and 6 comics and so that is 14 easy reads. I read one chunkster (‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ by Ann Radcliffe) and one mid-level chunkster (‘Hannibal : Pride of Carthage’ by David Anthony Durham). I think I should move out of my comfort zone and read bigger books in the New Year – making a plan to read ‘War and Peace’ or ‘In Search of Lost Time’ will definitely help.
During the course of my reading I (armchair) travelled to different countries – America, Denmark, Egypt, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland. I also travelled back in time to Carthage. That is 13 countries. Last year I did 17 – so there is room for improvement here. I should look more closely at Latin America, Africa and East Asia this year.
Out of the 71 books I read, I didn’t review 29 books. That is a very high number for me. I normally try to review every book that I read. It looks like I missed that by a wide margin.
I participated in six reading events with fellow bloggers – three readalongs (Prodigal Summer, The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Christmas Carol), Antonio Tabucchi Week, Dickens in December and German Literature Month. Those were a lot of reading events and read-alongs for me. I normally try to do one in a year, because when I am under pressure, my reading goes south. But luckily this year, that didn’t happen and the read-alongs and challenges inspired me to read more as I discovered new wonderful authors and books. I loved participating in these events and I would like to thank my fellow book bloggers who organized these wonderful events.
I also read four books for book club. I also did a Science Fiction and Fantasy course in Coursera and read four books for that. I discovered the wonderful ‘Herland’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman through this course.
I liked most of the books that I read. I am one of those readers who likes all the books he reads – the way children like all sweets. There was one exception, however. I was disappointed by ‘The Weekend’ by Bernhard Schlink. I loved my previous two Schlink novels and so I thought I will give this also a try. Unfortunately, it was a disaster. I hope that Schlink has had his one bad book to ward off bad luck and will be back to his normal game in the others.
Which were my favourite books of the year? It is difficult question, when you like most of the books you read. When I looked at the list of books that I read and made some hard decisions and tried to whittle down the list to a list of favourites, the following books came out.
(1) Unformed Landscape by Peter Stamm – Peter Stamm’s beautiful story of a young woman who goes on a quest to discover herself stole my heart and refused to let it go.
(2) The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller – Herta Muller’s powerful poetic imagery and lush prose had me riveted to this book though it was about a very serious topic – life in Communist Romania.
(3) The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – I had kept away from this book for so long. I finally got a chance to read it for book club. It was my first novel by Barnes, hopefully the first of many to come. The plot is not much – it is about a man who looks back at his past – but the rest is awesome.
(4) Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes – The second Barnes novel that I read. A love letter to the great Gustave Flaubert. Very infectious, endlessly fascinating and a literature lover’s delight.
(5) Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson – Probably my first Norwegian novel. Brings the cold Norwegian landscape to magical life through beautiful prose and atmospheric descriptions.
(6) Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – My first Kingsolver book. It is the story of three women and their lives and loves. And a fourth – nature. Her love of nature and wild life is very infectious and I hope to read more of her works.
(7) Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – My first Hardy novel. The ending was tragic, and in my opinion not that great (one of my friends suggested that if you want a happy ending in a Hardy novel, you have to read from the last page to the first), but an exceptional novel otherwise. I don’t understand why he doesn’t occupy the hallowed space in the English literary landscape that is currently occupied by Dickens and Austen. Because he is that good.
(8) On the Holloway Road by Andrew Blackman – A road novel with only a few characters. The main character is an aspiring writer who is trying to explore the meaning of life through his writing and through his travel. A beautiful first novel which deeply resonated with me.
(9) Maryam’s Maze by Mansoura Ez Eldin – My first Arabic book. It is a slim book, but has so much packed into those pages – a brief history of modern Egypt, family life in Egypt, a young woman’s quest for the truth behind the illusory façade of reality – all these and more. One of my favourite new discoveries of the year. I can’t wait to read Mansoura Ez Eldin’s next book.
(10) The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind – This is my second Süskind book. His story of a simple, anonymous, introverted outsider who tries to get through a normal day peacefully and how everything conspires against him is very beautifully told.
(11) A Note of Madness by Tabitha Suzuma – Tabitha Suzuma’s ‘Forbidden’ is the one which has been creating waves recently, but her first book ‘A Note of Madness’ is equally good. The story of a young musician who descends into depression is very realistic and extremely scary.
(12) Vannathu Poochi Vettai (Butterfly hunt) by Sujatha – I read a few books by Sujatha this year, including ‘Yen Iniya Iyandhira’ (My Sweet Machine) and ‘Karayellam Shenbagapoo’ (Magnolias fill the bank), but this was my favourite out of them. ‘Vannathu Poochi Vettai’ is about a young woman who gets married in the traditional Indian way (her parents find her husband) and after the initial honeymoon period she discovers that her husband has secrets and a parallel life. Very scary but with a life affirming ending.
Thriller / Crime Fiction
(13) Crime by Ferdinand Von Schirach – One of my favourite discoveries of the year. This book is based on actual cases that Schirach worked on. It is an exceptional analysis of and a beautiful meditation on law and its philosophy.
(14) Essays in Love by Alain de Botton – One of my favourite love stories of alltime. It charts the course of the love life of a young man and woman from the time they meet to the time they break it off. The ending is heartbreaking in a very real way.
(15) The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson – Another of my favourite love stories and a very unique one at that. It also has one of my favourite short love stories – that of Francesco and Graziana.
(16) Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D.James – James’s masterly analysis of detective fiction since the 19th century. Though it has an Anglo-American focus, the book gives an excellent overview of the genre. Recommended reading for detective fiction fans.
(17) Nothing to be Frightened of by Julian Barnes – Barnes’s meditation on life and death is deep, poignant and has his vintage dry humour. Barnes was one of the major discoveries of the year for me. I read three of his books and loved all three. That can only mean one thing – he has zoomed up and entered my list of favourite writers.
(18) The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – I read an Oscar Wilde play finally. It was good, really good. Not good – it was excellent, exceptional. And it made me laugh throughout. I can’t wait to read more of Wilde’s plays. The other play I read this year, ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ by Oliver Goldsmith was a dud. Or should I say ‘meh’ J English literature professors may disagree, but this is what I think.
(19) Western by Jean Van Hamme, Grzegorz Rosinski – A sad, poignant story of a young boy who comes back to the town he ran away from as a kid and falls in love with the girl whose father he killed. We can guess what happens next. It all ends badly for him and his sweetheart and the ending is heartbreaking. The story is wonderful but tragic and the artwork is haunting. By my favourite comic writer Jean Van Hamme, western comic fans will love this.
I have to talk about a few honourable mentions here. I liked very much the following books too, though I haven’t included them in the above list.
(20) The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March – An ode to Meryl Streep and her movies, this book made me think of the movie nights we have with our family with bags of popcorn. Reading the book was like having a conversation with one’s family and friends.
(21) Sleeping Patterns by J.R.Crook – A slim novella, but a very inventive one, which challenges the reader and asks questions on what a novel is and what a character is and what is possible within the covers of the book. A fascinating debut by Jamie Crook.
(22) Sarah’s Window by Janice Graham – I found this in the ‘Romance’ section in the library. I loved it when I read it. It is the story of a young woman who puts aside her dreams of becoming an artist and works in a restaurant to help out her grandparents. Then she falls in love with a married man. Then we discover that she has a past. I found this a difficult book to classify. It doesn’t fit into the traditional Harlequin romance mould. It is difficult to classify it as literary fiction. I don’t know what it is. But it is good. Janice Graham’s beautiful sentences make one riveted to the book. The story is fast-paced and gripping with perfect twists in the plot and perfect surprises at the right times. I love Janice Graham. I want to read more of her works.
(23) Tell Me What You See by Zoran Drvenkar – It is the story of a young girl who is suddenly able to see strange people, her best friend who helps her and he ex-boyfriend who stalks her. The story is gripping, beautiful and atmospheric.
(24) Hannibal : Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham – I have heard of Carthage and Hannibal but haven’t read anything about it. Reading this novel was an education for me. Thanks to David Anthony Durham for that. It is also a unique book – this is probably only the second novel on Carthage after Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Salammbô’ and the only contemporary one. It deserves to be read more widely.
So what am I planning to do in 2013? I am hoping to read more. More books. More chunksters. More plays. More essay collections. More short story collections. More comics. More thrillers. More Tamil books. More women writers. One thing I don’t want to do, however, is read a book just because it is slim – it is always tempting to read a slim book and say that I have read one more book. I don’t want to do that.
How was your reading year in 2012? I hope you had a wonderful time reading wonderful books and exploring fascinating writers. I can’t wait to hear about your reading year.
Wish you a very Happy and Wonderful New Year! Hope your New Year is filled with lots of wonderful books, delightful stories and luscious prose and gorgeous poetry, and beautiful ‘aha’ reading moments Hope you had a wonderful New Year Eve and are having a wonderful first New Year day today