My “look back list” for 2010

I’ve been keeping both a reading journal and a spreadsheet of reading records for five years now, which is finally long enough to begin to see some of my reading habits and patterns.  For example, I’ve discovered that whether I’m working full-time or part-time or from home or at the office, regardless of how long the various books are (thin YA volumes or door-stopper histories), and regardless of how often I blog about my reading, I fairly consistently average about one book a week.  Not bad, especially considering all the home remodeling and gardening I added to an already full schedule, though I’d certainly love to up the average, given the length of my TBR list.

I made decent progress this year on my deep reading projects (where I’m reading all the titles by certain authors that I absolutely love), including:
4 titles by Kazuo Ishiguro (A Pale View of Hills, Remains of the Day, An Artist of the Floating World, and Nocturnes: Tales of Music and Nightfall);
1 title by Iris Murdoch (Nuns and Soldiers);
0 titles by Shirley Hazzard (I’ll have to rectify that this year);
and I added a new author:  A.S. Byatt (after reading A Whistling Woman; to-date I’m halfway through Possession)

I participated in no reading or blogging challenges in 2010, and I think this trend is likely to continue.  I just have so many books I want to read, in whatever order I acquire them, and at whatever pace I can maintain, and engaging in a themed challenge feels too restrictive for me.  General challenges that focus on books already in the stack might still catch my attention, but the more specific they are, the less likely it is that I’ll be participating.

In looking over my records for this last year, I found myself noting favorites.  Here are just a few (in no particular order; links are to my review where available):

Favorite YA novel: The Year the Swallows Came Early, Kathryn Fitzmaurice.  A great story, and I just found the child narrator’s voice very consistent and believable.

Favorite history: 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, James Shapiro.  He does a great job of rooting Shakespeare’s themes in then-current events, and spends a lot of time on the details of Hamlet, which is my first and still favorite of his plays.

Favorite debut novel: Safe from the Sea, Peter Geye.  A son reconciles with his dying father in this tender but not at all sappy homecoming.  Review to come.

Most inventive novel: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, Jerome Charyn.  Wherein the author paints one possible dreamscape of ED’s inner life.  Reviewed here.

Favorite translated novel:  The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery.  Philosophy for the rest of us, in a smart and surprising novel.  Reviewed here.

Favorite epic novel:  The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell.  An encyclopedia of early nineteenth-century Asian trade and maritime history, featuring an honorable Dutch officer of the often-dishonorable Dutch East India Company surviving on the closed Japanese coast.

Favorite story collection:  Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance, Matthew Kneale.  Provocative little stories that leave a mark. Reviewed here.

Favorite follow-up to a strong debut:  The Singer’s Gun, Emily St. John Mandel.  Intriguing story, and I love her characterization and plot pacing. Reviewed here.

Most haunting novel:  Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel.  Grim and dislocating, which was the point, and another example of his sharp writing and expansive imagination.  Reviewed here.

Favorite novel in an ongoing series:  The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs), Jacqueline Winspeare.  Just plain fun, with a strong female lead in the endlessly-interesting Britain between the world wars.

Best theological discussion:  Theology in the Context of Science, John Polkinghorne.  Theology is always done in a context; here are well-argued parameters for doing it with rather than anti the context of modern science.

Best poetry volume:  Rilke’s Book of Hours. Questions instead of answers, by one of our greatest poets.

Worst book I bothered to finish
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,
Stieg Larsson.  Laughably bad, as this New Yorker article explains; I don’t want to waste any more time on it by writing a bad review.

Do you share any of my favorites from the year?  I’m looking forward to browsing your “look back lists” too – leave a link if I haven’t already commented on yours.

05. January 2011 by Mindy
Categories: On reading, Your turn | 6 comments

Comments (6)

  1. Now that you have a complete list, I’m going to print them up and either request from the library or put on my Amazon wishlist! Thanks for all of the great book ideas! It’s hard for me to find new books to read on my own sometimes — I don’t always know where to look and am usually picky about my novels!

  2. I added your list to my list of lists at Semicolon here:

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Sary, you’re welcome. I could give you other titles that I enjoyed this year as well, but this should keep you for a few days anyway!

    Sherry, thanks for adding me to your list. I’m on my way over to check it out.

  4. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: January 1, 2011 » Semicolon

  5. Just discovered your blog from Semicolon’s reviews today, and am enjoying it. (I’m reading The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson now … loving this one! We have, it seems, very similar tastes in books.)

    Looking forward to reading more of your blog this year.

  6. Thanks for introducing yourself, Melissa. Glad to find another Secret Life fan! It really is an unusual one that leaves an impression long after the reading is done isn’t it? I’m looking forward to checking out your site, too, and learning what else you’ve been reading.