(Skip to the bottom for a tl;dr summary)
I read a lot. Reading has always been one of the chief pleasures in my life, and anyone who has spent more than a half hour with me knows that I also rather enjoy talking about what I read.
In 2012, inspired by my friends Benny Walter & Jean-Paul Calderone, and my old mentor Martin Chance, I've tried to keep a reading journal. I've kept this journal by inflicting the books I've read on the readers of this blog. Sorry.
I've gone through my posts on this blog, and some other notes about books I haven't blogged here, and it turns out that I read sixty-five books in 2012. That is an awful lot of reading, and I think deserves a summary post.
What I'd like to do now is recommend one fiction and one non-fiction book that I've read last year, and call out a few trends in my reading.
I've read so much last year, and if I can take anything away it's that
there's so much that can be done with the written word. My most
recent reads, Rivers of London (Ben Aaronovitch) and Invisible
Cities (Italo Calvino), brought this home to me. The former is a
competently written, fun urban fantasy / police procedural set in
London, the second a series of meditations on imagined cities. They are
nothing alike, except that they are written and
made-up and brought me delight.
This makes picking one thing basically impossible. After all, some books go better with some moods. Redshirts (John Scalzi) requires little brain to enjoy, despite being an intelligent book. Peace (Gene Wolfe) on the other hand, is actively out to get you. I found Silas Marner (George Eliot) morally and spiritually challenging, while Gaudy Night (Dorothy Sayers) gave me a few warm, comfortable moments of pretending to have had the Oxford education I always wanted.
But, I want to pick just one book. At this point, it's a matter of both pride and practicality. I really will go on forever if I don't pick something.
Ready? Good. Here it is: Gawain and The Green Knight, translated by Simon Armitage.
Gawain is an old English poem by an anonymous author. Armitage's translation keeps to the alliterative structure of Saxon verse, but uses modern English. Although I'd read another translation of the poem before, I had never really "got it". Attempts to make great works more accessible can often end with the many excellences of the original being lost. Armitage does just the opposite: he opened Gawain up to me and helped me see what all the fuss is about. Also, it's a genuine pleasure to read aloud, has a fun story, and is short. What more could you possibly want?
Close runners up include David Copperfield (I figured you'd already heard of it), Flowers for Algernon (great, but a little too much the kind of book that you read in high school English classes for me to recommend it as the book), The Graveyard Book (perfect, but a children's book), and The Fifth Head of Cerberus (disqualified because it's a re-read, and because I've yammered enough about Gene Wolfe).
In contrast to picking my top novel, this one is easy. What Money Can't Buy by Michael Sandel is short, well-written, and on a matter of interest to anyone reading this blog: how the things in our society are changed by being traded in markets.
Reading the book challenged my generally positive attitude to free market capitalism and has left me with a more nuanced view. Also, in his carefully defined notion of "corruption", Sandel has given me a new tool for thinking about all sorts of things.
Close runners-up include Debt by David Graeber (fascinating explosion ideas that suffer from lack of organization) and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which would have won, save that the ideas in Thinking were more familiar to me than the ideas in What Money Can't Buy.
This year I've been applying kanban techniques to my reading. In a nutshell, I limit the number of books I read at once (max 4), and have a very limited selection of books selected to read next (max 9). The "In Progress" and "Next" books are very visible.
It means I'm always finishing books, which is a nice feeling. It also means fewer books on the go at once, which in turn means that I can focus better on the books I'm reading, and feel less guilty about the books I'm not reading.
It also means that when I get a recommendation, I don't have to put it at the bottom of a pile, but can make a decision and actually stand a chance of reading it in the next six months.
This is very much a nerdy thing to do, but that's how I roll.
Books with exercises
I've tried to do more study this year, especially on things that will help my professional development. This has meant reading books that have exercises. They have been rewarding, but they take ages to get through. The kanban system makes it really obvious.
Further, I often need to read them at a computer, in a certain state of mind and with a high chance of not being interrupted for an hour or so. That's pretty rare.
Back when I primarily read paperbacks, I would only very rarely go to a book store and by an anthology of short stories. Now that I use an eBook reader, I read many, many more short stories than I used to.
I didn't expect that, although perhaps I should have. Since I always carry around an ebook reader around, I have much more choice about what to read. I also keep at least one collection of short stories on my phone, in case I'm stuck without my Kindle.
This means that there are plenty more opportunities to read short stories, which seems to mean I read more. This in turn means I get to discover new authors.
Blogging and logging
I'm not very satisfied with dumping lists of books on my blog. I'm also unhappy with the reviews I've written, which so rarely do justice to my own opinions and feelings, let alone the books themselves.
I'd like to be able to log when I start reading a book, when I finish it, and whether I actually finished it or just gave up. I'd like to be able to look over books I've read recently and see what genres I've been reading from. I'd like to do this on something that's not a social website. (Do you think I read to be social?)
I'm blessed to be able to read and enjoy so many books. As I said earlier, 65 books is a lot, and I can't help but wonder at what I could have done if I had only read thirty books.