Unusually, I have a couple of visuals for you this year. First off, I tracked the source of my books for the first time in 2018. I loosely do this on Goodreads all the time, but this year it ended up in my master spreadsheet. I'm pretty satisfied with the breakdown. Almost half of the books I read came from the library, and almost three quarters were free (if "Ebook" seems like a weird category, it's because I should probably change that to "Free Ebook from Project Gutenberg" because that's where all of them came from).
Second, here's a stack of the books I read this year that are still in my possession as of the time of posting. Everything else has been returned.
Top 100I averaged one Top 100 book per month in 2018, which is something like double what I expected. The slow and steady, read X number of pages per day approach really seems to be working for me lately. The downside to this is that I've gotten way behind on actually posting the reviews for any of this stuff, so I can't offer a single link yet. Oops?
- A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, 265 pages
- Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, 499 pages
- The Golden Bowl by Henry James, 596 pages
- Animal Farm by George Orwell, 95 pages
- The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford, 239 pages
- Studs Lonigan: Young Lonigan by James T. Farrell, 176 pages
- Studs Lonigan: The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell, 369 pages
- Studs Lonigan: Judgment Day by James T. Farrell, 414 pages
- Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 313 pages
- The Ambassadors by Henry James, 639 pages
- The Wings of the Dove by Henry James, 487 pages
- Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, 303 pages
Random/RomanceAfter reviewing exclusively Random novels in 2017, I tossed five Romance novels into the mix in 2018. This was partly inadvertent due to some book club selections, but also several of these selections were deliberate.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, 406 pages
- If on a winter's night a traveller by Italo Calvino, 260 pages
- Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, 332 pages
- The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, 375 pages
- The Sheik by E.M. Hull, 279 pages
- Hot Ice by Nora Roberts, 312 pages
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, 581 pages
- The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, 296 pages
- Credo by Melvyn Bragg, 757 pages
- Bear by Marian Engel, 122 pages
- The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, 763 pages
- The Last Hours by Minette Walters, 549 pages
- Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, 323 pages
Other NovelsOnce again, I did a lot of recreational reading that didn't get formally reviewed. I revisited some old favourites, continued some series, and read a few things at the prompting of other people.
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, 420 pagesI've written a bit (but not enough) before about how the text of Little Women is basically inscribed on my heart, but Little Men is a very special book to me as well. I don't know when I read this book for the first time, but I must've been under 13 years old. It's the direct sequel to Little Women, in which Jo and her husband have opened up a school for boys at Aunt March's home, Plumfield. This book is almost too sweet, and has more God Stuff, but in rereading it, I also recognized it as the wellspring of most of what I find romantic to this day.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, 434 pagesI read Oryx and Crake such a long time ago that I had forgotten most of it, I discovered when, late in this sequel, I decided to go and read the plot summary. The Year of the Flood doesn't so much build on the first book as it dovetails with it, introducing new characters in the majority of the book, who eventually meet up with the familiar ones. Despite forgetting everything from the first book, I really enjoyed this one.
Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett, 47 pagesI have a print on my wall with lines from this book on it (i.e. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.") and I wanted to actually read the book that was the source of the quote. This was not necessarily a mistake, but it's a good thing the book is so short because it sailed right over my head. This is supposedly one of several very short "novels" that Beckett produced at the end of his life, but I couldn't tell you what it's about.
The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs, 179 pagesI wrote a full review of this book here. I picked up this children's novel because I'd heard great things and because of the movie adaptation that was released in October (which I still haven't seen, of course). It's a story about a boy named Lewis whose parents die, so he has to go live with his uncle Jonathan, a magician. Lewis's uncle's house keeps ticking, and Lewis goes along for the ride as Jonathan and his friend Mrs. Zimmermann do battle against an evil force. I enjoyed the book, but I think I would have liked it better if I'd read it as a much younger person.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, 709 pagesDanielewski posted a pilot script for a tv adaptation of this book online this summer. I instantly read it, got goosebumps, and knew that it was finally time to revisit this book. I'd been nervous to do so. Ostensibly about a house that's bigger on the inside than the outside, this book has a lot going on, and many people will tell you that it's just gimmicky. I've loved the book for years despite its love it/hate it reputation, and I was nervous that as an older reader I wouldn't love it as much. (I must've been in my early twenties or maybe even younger when I first read it.) So, good news: I still love it. The sections involving Johnny Truant, supposed compiler of the papers left behind referring to a documentary made about the house (I wish I could shorten that somehow) were a lot more tedious this time than they were the first time around. But I still loved everything else.
Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy, 252 pagesThis book posits a world in which there are some people with "numerate" abilities, i.e. they can control numbers. The main character, Dom, is one of them, and he stumbles into a situation which causes him to be chased by an even more powerful numerate. I had hoped to really enjoy this book, but unfortunately the worldbuilding wasn't quite up to par. Throughout the book, I never had a good grasp of what Dom's abilities were, how many numerates there were, and what the villain's motivations were. I will say that there are a few characters in this book based on real people from history, and the way one of them is described made me want to learn pretty much everything about that person, so this was by no means a total miss. It also features a scene in Drumheller, which I loved (Murphy is a western Canadian author).
Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik, 399 pagesThe second book in Novik's Temeraire series concerns a trip that her two heroes (Temeraire and Captain William Laurence) must take to China, which is where Temeraire's egg came from. I love a good road novel, and this is a sea novel (see also the next book on this list), so needless to say I enjoyed this a great deal. Again, you really need to suspend your disbelief regarding the course of history with dragons thrown in, but other than that this is a ton of fun. Novik has done her homework with her semi-historical settings, and she does great character work.
Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian, 481 pagesAs soon as I started reading this, the second in O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, I also started kicking myself for waiting so long to pick it up. Unlike Novik, who's working with fantasy history, O'Brian is working with actual history, and he does such an unbelievable job when it comes to getting inside his characters' heads. These are not the typical modern people stuck in the YYth century that you find in many historical novels, these are people who have the values and morals of their times. In this book, Royal Navy man Jack Aubrey is on land for a while (long enough to meet several women who will seriously complicate his life hereafter) until his ... uh... accountant (?) runs off with all his money, making him persona non grata. You better believe that hijinks ensue. Naval battles included, never fear.
Woman of God by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, 396 pagesMy first time reading anything with Patterson's name on it brought this novel, which is the story of a woman's life marred by dare I say an implausible amount of grief, until the point that she eventually almost becomes the first female Catholic pope. It's very hard to explain. I kind of hoped that this would be more fun and fast-paced. Alas for me.
The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
- Titus Groan, 367 pages
- Gormenghast, 384 pages
- Titus Alone, 200 pages
The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, 435 pagesA book in which the town executioner is the hero of the story shouldn't be able to go wrong, but unfortunately this one doesn't quite deliver. Bavaria, 1659, Jakob Kuisl is an executioner (from a long line of executioners). After a child is found drowned and stabbed, the villagers accuse the local midwife of the crime, and of the further crime of witchcraft. Jakob, his daughter, and the town doctor's son need to solve the mystery before Jakob has to execute the midwife. This is a fun story and I learned some things that I hadn't known before but either the prose or the translator were really rough. I suspect that Pötzsch develops the characters and setting further in the future books (looks like there are a total of seven in this series to date) but I won't be continuing anytime soon.
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett, 285 pagesMy full review of this book is here. It's interesting to go back to the very first book of the Discworld series after my comment on The Hangman's Daughter. If I'd read The Colour of Magic without knowing anything about what came after it, I probably would've quit Discworld after the first book, too. This is straight up fantasy parody, with just a little bit of the truly biting satire that would get into the series in later books. It's not dire or unreadable or anything, and it's funny, but the story of Rincewind and Twoflower, the Disc's first tourist, is just ok.
The System of the World by Neal Stephenson, 892 pagesHere we are at the end of all things, or at least at the end of Stephenson's enormous Baroque Cycle and to be honest I'm still not sure if I think the whole journey was worth it. Stephenson did such a great job evoking the time, the places, and the people of the Enlightenment but after 2000+ pages I had entirely lost the thread of the overarching plot. I think each of these books took me about three months to read. If I were going to do it again, I'd read all three one after another. That would probably help.
Havoc by Chris Wooding, 396 pagesThe sequel to Malice, about an evil comic book: Malice is a world where Tall Jake brings his victims, and it's also a comic book depicting what happens to kids there. The book has both comic and prose sections, and the art was way better and easier to follow in the sequel than in the original book. The ending takes an interesting turn. This is another one that I think I would've enjoyed more if I was the target audience's age.
Graphic ThingiesAfter several years of really trying to get into comics and graphic novels, I took a break in 2018, and only read a couple of them. This was detrimental to the overall quantity of books I read, but otherwise they weren't too seriously missed.
Here by Richard McGuire, 298 pagesAfter saying I didn't much miss comics/graphic novels, I now need to say that Here was one of the best things I read all year. It's a book that focuses on the corner of a room across a period of eons; many millions of years into the past and future, but mostly over a period of about two hundred years or so around the present time. Sometimes there is no room at all, obviously. There's very little actual writing in this, and it's a beautiful meditation on the nature of space and home.
Rat Queens, Vol. 3: Demons by Kurtis J. Wiebe and others, 160 pagesIt seems that the production of Rat Queens can be described as troubled at best, and the behind the scenes trouble has been detrimental to the overall quality of the comic, which is too bad. I did like Volume 3 better than Volume 2, but things are just too scattered and confusing to pursue.
Non-FictionI also read far less non-fiction last year than I have in several previous years, primarily in the interest of making progress on The List, and I really missed it. The list of non-fiction books I want to read just keeps getting longer!
The Perfect Gentleman by Imran Ahmad, 333 pagesThis is about half of a memoir written by a man who was born in Pakistan then immigrated to the United Kingdom as a young boy with his parents. I didn't get along well with the narrative voice of this book, although I did occasionally find some of it funny. Rather than using the benefit of his hindsight to elucidate some of the events of the book, the author remains firmly stuck in a sort of self-deprecating jokey tone, and it drove me crazy. The book also ends very abruptly.
Sisters in the Wilderness by Charlotte Gray, 350 pagesThis is a book that I wanted to read along with my CANADA150 books last year, but didn't get around to it. It's a biography of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill, British immigrants to Canada with their husbands before Canada was even a thing yet (i.e. in the 1830s). They were both writers and their books on the settler experience in Ontario are still known today. What I liked best about this book was the relationship between the two sisters: the contrast between their marriages and family lives, the support they gave each other, etc. The book does have a gap, in that it really glosses over the sisters' relationship with the indigenous people they shared the land with (it was published in 1999, and I'm sure that if it were published today, that gap would be filled in).
Firewater by Harold R. Johnson, 162 pagesA book by a local author about alcohol, its deleterious effects on society and indigenous society in particular, and what might be done about it. While I often agreed with Johnson, I found a lot of the content in the book to be quite simplistic. On the other hand, Treaty 6 is included as an appendix, which is what finally got me to read it. Here it is online. I promise it isn't very long. If you live on treaty territory like I do, Treaty 6 and/or whichever one covers the ground you sit/stand/whatever on are worth a read.
Flotsam and JetsamAs with graphic novels and non-fiction, this miscellaneous category is far smaller than usual. I read what's now my annual summer Shakespeare play, as well as a short story collection in French. Other than that, nothing!
Jolis deuils by Roch Carrier, 163 pagesMy sister got me this collection of very short stories for Christmas in 2017, and it was an excellent present. Roch Carrier may be familiar to the discerning Canadian thanks to "The Hockey Sweater." This collection is full of surreal stories a few pages long, often dealing with some sort of inexorable force that spreads across the world. The title of the book translates to something like "Sweet Grief," which is very much the tone of everything in it. I don't think it's ever been published in English, but if you, like me, want to practice your French skills, this is a great place to start.
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, 200 pages(That page count is approximate, by the way.) In August, I had hoped to go see a puppet performance of Titus Andronicus, possibly Shakespeare's bloodiest tragedy. I was really excited, but unfortunately the day that I was supposed to attend the play was the hottest of the summer, so hot that the venue had to shut down. In any case, I had read the play to prepare, and come to the conclusion that this is Shakespeare at his most trashy. It's like he wrote a slasher movie. Titus Andronicus is a Roman general locked in a revenge cycle with Tamora, Queen of the Goths, who is his prisoner at the beginning of the play. You do not want to be one of his kids and you especially do not want to be his daughter.
Number of books read: 48
Total pages in 2018: 17,692
Total pages per day: 49 (47 excluding graphic thingies)
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