I know you have all been on pins and needles waiting nine months for me to write another post! Fear not, I have returned, if only to expand what was going to be a long facebook status. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and while I am in the middle of a book, I don’t think there are enough hours left in 2015 for me to finish it. Therefore, I’m going to call it and give the results of my reading goals.
The only real goal I set for myself was to read 35 books this year. According to Goodreads, I’ve read 45 books, a total of 14,942 pages! Before you get all impressed with me though, a good number of those were audiobooks. Insomnia is the real winner here.
Beyond that, I wanted to just follow my interests and see, without forcing it, how many books I could check off a reading challenge I found online. I’m pretty proud to say, out of 50 categories, I read all but 8! I didn’t find a book by an author with my initials, set during Christmas or the future. I didn’t read a (full) trilogy, a book written the year I was born, a book my mom loves or a book with a one word title. But still, go me, right?
One of my continuing interests has been The Middle Ages. I’m still pretty new to this era; I’m working on just placing it in my mind. Eleanor of Aquitaine and the founding of universities are probably the most interesting facets to me. This year, I read these Middle Age themed books:
- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco — I greatly enjoyed this book and I’m anxiously awaiting Ryan finishing it (he calls it a Middle Ages Sherlock Holmes book) so we can watch the Sean Connery movie. This was the first time Eco has come across my radar. I’ve added more of his books to my eternal to-read list.
- The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett — I wasn’t super crazy about it. I liked the Abbot character and I liked getting a setting of the Middle Ages in my head. But as for the story and the majority of characters? Meh.
- Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot — Ryan is a devout Eliot fan. When I said I wanted to read this play, he excitedly offered to read it aloud to me. Both the play and the experience were delightful.
- A Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden — Yes, so this is a short textbook. It is dense and it moves fast. I took notes, but ultimately decided just to read it and get what I could out of it. It was easy to follow and I’m glad to have read it. I feel like I have a firmer grasp on what the Crusades were and the men who lead them.
- Four Queens: Four Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone — If you’ve been paying close attention, it should come as no surprise that I like this book by Nancy Goldstone. It is not a historical fiction, but it almost reads like it. She does a great job shaping each “character” so that you feel you know them and understand their motives throughout their history.
To balance out the seriousness of history, I also read a number of “fun books.” These are books which are quick, easy reads without many deep emotions. This is now my new favorite shelf on my goodreads.
- The Big Year: A Tale of a Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik — Who would have thought the world of competitive bird watching could be so darn interesting?? But it is and it is funny.
- As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes — As fun and entertaining as you’d expect. It helps if you’re a fan of the movie, but you don’t have to be. This isn’t a tell-all book, just fun tales from behind the scenes with a lot of name dropping.
- The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam (and Paris, and Las Vegas, and Berlin and Venice) by Chris Ewan — If I’ve talked to you in person this year, I’ve probably told you to read these books. They aren’t crass, but they aren’t simple either. Just fun heist stories with likable characters.
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan — Y’all. The book jacket glows in the dark! The story is a bit far-fetched, but if you just relax a but and go for it, it’s a fun ride.
- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley — I liked this twist on the typical British comfy mystery, but I don’t suspect I’ll read any more in the series. Something about the 11 year old main character just didn’t work well in my mind.
As always, I have a list of “I really should read that” books. Classics for various reasons, these are those books that you get points for knowing about, but if you really want to consider yourself well read, you have to actually read them. I didn’t make great strides in this area this year, but I got a few more under my belt.
- The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins — I enjoyed this more than I did The Lady in White. It had more plot. But I think Collins will remain in my mind just one of those people you have to read, but not necessarily a favorite. To be fair, I’m not always crazy about the lackadaisical late 19th century writers.
- The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver — Kingsolver is one of my favorite story tellers. While I liked The Bean Trees, I didn’t enjoy the sequel as much. I don’t often read books set in the west or involving Native American culture so these were new and refreshing to me.
- Tales of H.P. Lovecraft — Cthulhu! I get it now! I’ve stuck a toe out into Science Fiction a few times and each time I come away with the reassurance that it’s not really for me. Lovecraft’s ghost stories, however, sent shivers down my spine just the way I like it.
- The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolken — I’m getting closer to Mordor! This was a much more enjoyable read than The Fellowship of the Ring. More action, character development, etc. You get to see a lot more of Middle Earth — it just feels less like a history lesson. And can I just say, when the Orcs are attacking and they get pushed back and turn to retreat only to find themselves facing a forest of Ents that weren’t there before?! Favorite scene yet. I am excited to finish the series soon.
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin. Can’t say I liked it more than Pride and Prejudice, but it was enjoyable. I’m up to 4 out of 7 Austin novels!
By and far my favorite book I read this year is the latest Cormoran Strike novel, Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (pen name for J.K. Rowling). This is the third book and I’ve savored them all. I was a little disappointed in the last book, The Silkworm. It felt rushed and exaggerated to me and I sincerely hoped there would be less shock-value tricks in this one. It was a bit gruesome, but not out of place, if that makes any sense at all. Reading this book, I felt as though Rowling was experimenting and playing with new ideas, and that made it very fun to read. In interviews, she has said she began the Strike series to try her hand at the detective genre. It would seem, assured by her success, Rowling is now flexing her literary muscles. Much to the enjoyment of all, of course.
There are a few books which I feel will stick with me for quite a while. This year I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi for the first time. It was also my first full length graphic novel experience. As cheesy as it may sound, it’s helped me be more sympathetic and open-minded towards issues in the middle east and especially those seeking asylum. It has helped me humanize images I see or statistics in the news.
In a similar vein, reading Deep Dark Down: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar saddened me, not only for what these men and their families went through, but for the general amnesia I have when it comes to world events. Even local and national events are likely to slip my mind once out of sight. The fact that I was only half aware when this was happening and that I forgot as soon as they were out makes me want to be a better person.
I plan again to set a reading challenge for 2016. I liked the pace and freedom of this past year. I feel like I read a greater variety than I have in the past few years. I’m halfway through another non-fiction about the Middle Ages and I’m excited to continue satisfying that curiosity. I hope to finish The Lord of the Rings in this next year. Overall though, I hope in this next year to broaden my horizons a bit more and expand my knowledge all the more.
Happy New Year!