In Which I Finally Wrap This Thing Up

Hello, faithful reader.

Over a year after posting my final review of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and about a dozen years after my first post on this blog, I'm finally here to post some thoughts on my whole Two Hectobooks Experience.

First, we need to go all the way back to the spring of 2009. I'd just finished my engineering degree, and I didn't have a job. Now, engineering school, for me, was a long slog of lots of homework and very little else, including reading and writing for pleasure. At the end of university I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands, a ton of self-discipline and time management skills, and no idea what to do with any of those things. I was reading a lot of blogs and online comics, and I naively decided that I, too, could play the online content game.

I have no memory of my initial discovery of the Modern Library Top 100 Books of the Twentieth Century List (aka The List). In retrospect I could've picked some other list, one that included books in translation, or books from other centuries, or books from the genre I'd gravitated to most throughout my life up to that point, i.e. science fiction. But I think the narrow focus of The List had its own appeal, plus it allowed me my hook, which is to say that I wanted to explore classic literary fiction as not just a layperson, but someone trained in STEM.

Somehow I thought I'd be able to read a book and post a review every single week, with the added twist of snarkily reviewing 100 Harlequin category romance novels in the mix. This was a bold, ambitious project to take on, and I had no idea what I was signing up for.

My romance snark soon got me in hot water, and I did some soul-searching and rejigged that half of the project. It also wasn't long before I encountered some Top 100 books that I didn't like, and/or that I simply couldn't finish within a week. Because the most important thing happened, which is that I found a full time job. My mission became a sort of homework project once I started working. I hadn't expected this, for whatever reason, and I admit I'd hoped that I'd have an audience following and encouraging me after some time had gone by.

Anyway, I'm not going to cover the entire blog experience exhaustively. I read books from The List, and I wrote reviews for about 11 years. When I started, I was an early-20s unemployed engineering graduate, upon today's posting I'm a mid-30s non-practising engineer with an uncertain career trajectory. I had zero inkling, back when I started, that the project would take so much time, or that things would end up as they have. I had no doubt that I'd eventually have a dedicated following for this blog and my writing. I had no doubt that I'd get my P. Eng. as soon as I had enough work experience.

And let me also say that I had no idea what kinds of books I'd end up reading, and how my feelings about them would evolve, and the kinds of tastes and preferences that I'd discover for myself. Wallace Stegner! E.M. Forster! Edith Wharton! Willa Cather! W.S. Maugham! There were some high highs, that I'm certain I never would've come across if not for The List. There were also some low lows, the lowest of which being of course Finnegans Wake.

The List has a lot of flaws that I've written about more or less extensively over the years. The most obvious is its heavy favouring of male authors, with 112 books being written by men (including some trilogies and series) and nine books being written by women. Another thing that I don't think I ever complained about quite as much, but which has nevertheless always bugged me, is how heavily The List favours books written in the first half of the 20th century. The average publication year is approximately 1939, with only two books being published in the 1980s, and none in the 1990s. And finally, at least for today, there is the English and American dominance of The List. I can think of at least a couple of Canadian novels that could easily hold their own against some of the duller American ones. Or, like, Nostromo.

I'll also admit that it's not possible to create a list of only 100 great 20th century novels without any gaps at all.

So all that being said, was my decade plus long self-imposed homework assignment worth it?

The answer, with about a year's worth of perspective later, is a qualified yes. I'm glad I started it, and I'm glad I saw it all the way through to the end. I'm glad that I didn't abandon a commitment I made to myself, even when it occasionally felt annoying or too time consuming or useless. There is, however, a small but, which is that I wish I hadn't committed to finishing every book.

However, in taking a closer look at that "but," I think the fact is that learning the lesson of quitting a book is something that wouldn't've happened without doing the project exactly the way I did, and so that's valuable, too.

Reading all of the books (including the altered romance novel half of the project) has turned me into a different kind of reader. I'm more critical (which one could argue is both a blessing and a curse) but I'm also more conscious of theme, of character, of prose, and of the kinds of stories that I value, in comparison with what may or may not be part of the so-called canon. I've also learned how to recognize the difference between a high effort, high reward reading experience (a la Studs Lonigan or even, dare I say, Ulysses) versus a high effort, low reward reading experience (I'm looking at you, V.S. Naipaul). There's no reason to be afraid of the former, whereas the latter should be avoided at all costs.

I think the project also really emphasized that reading is the thing for me, the activity that I love most above all others, and that I need to always protect and value my reading time.

To wrap up, I have some stats. I started reading for this project on December 27, 2009, with The Magnificent Ambersons. I finished on September 20, 2020, with Pride and Prejudice. I read 76,003 pages specifically dedicated to this project, spanning over 2.08 hectobooks (not including the old reviews that I pulled out of my archives while I contemplated how to handle the romance novel side of things. This is the 677th blog post published.

And now, at last, what's going to happen next?

Well, this may be the last post.

Over the past year, my life has obviously been a lot different, and not just because of running out of List books and living through a global pandemic. I've been feeling a major need to simplify, to focus on spending more of my time on things that I really enjoy and less on things that I feel obligated to do. And blogging has felt mostly like an obligation and very little like a joy. It's been an extra step that I have on top of other things. I don't think I want to do it anymore.

I'm planning to take a one year hiatus of no posts at all. If I miss it, I'll consider coming back. If I don't, I won't.

Prior to deciding to put things on ice, sometime last year, I'd wanted to at least tie up some loose ends (my Classics Club efforts, Saskatchewan is A Thing, Board Member Bios, some other promised posts that never materialized, ...) but all that is extra, and I don't feel the need to finish it right now. Again, if I find myself longing, halfway through 2022, to wrap all that up after all, maybe I'll come back and do it.

But this is all part of what I learned from the project. Reading through The List and writing my reviews was high effort and high (personal) reward. Forcing myself to continue adding extra work to my life simply to say I left nothing undone, extraneous to the original mission? That's high effort, low reward.

If you did, somehow, start reading this 12 years ago and are still reading it today: hello, goodbye. If you're discovering it at the end, I hope you enjoy whatever else you may browse through. And to anyone and everyone who's ever taken the time to read my words in this tiny spec of internet, thank you so much for whatever time you gave me.

What I Read Last Year

My shortest ever stack of finished books! I forgot to hang on to some of my library books for this photo, oops!

I have to start by saying that 2021 was my first completely unobstructed reading year since I decided to embark on reading The List waaay back in 2009.

This summary is going to be different than it has been over the past few years. Basically I already wrote about these books in my What I'm Reading posts throughout 2021, and I'll leave you to find the individual titles if anything sounds interesting.

I picked up an entirely respectable number of 54 books in 2021, leaving seven of them unfinished, for a total of 47 books read, or almost four books per month. (For comparison, I started 69 books in 2020, and finished 65 of them!) My pages per day were down quite a bit from last year, at about 33 per day for prose alone, and 40 per day for prose and comics combined. This is also nothing to sniff at! 2021 was a major transition year for me both on the blog and off, and so I'm not surprised or disappointed that I read less than I might've otherwise.

Here are the usual charts no one asked for:

My pages read per day chart shows the average pages I read in a book per day, over the number of days that I read it, and plots the total pages per day, because I almost always have at least two books on the go. There's a downward trend over the course of the year, but I'm not sure if that's just because I read a ton in January and then quite a bit in the summer as well, and not as much as usual over Christmas.
As usual, the majority of the books that I read in 2021 were free ones! Hard copies from the library made up a full 3 out of every 4 pages that I read. The red piece of the pie below is for the "Borrowed" category. I only read one borrowed book in 2021, accounting for 2% of my reading total.
Author gender was the most equally split it's ever been, with the "B" category below representing "Both" as in books where there were co-authors or short story collections. To my knowledge, none of the authors I read last year would be considered gender non-binary.
And a new chart that I've never included before, here's a breakdown of the different categories of things I read, split up roughly along the lines of the categories below. Novels usually make up a much larger percentage!


Novels dominated my 2021 reading just like they usually do. I finished 23 of them, so almost two per month. In addition to that, 12 of them were by women and 11 were by men, and I swear I didn't do that on purpose. Standouts for the year include the unexpected fun I had with the first four books of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series, Forster's gay love story in Maurice, revisiting my old favourite Dune, continuing with the Temeraire, Aubrey-Maturin, and Discworld series, starting the Trickster series, and so on. I've been enjoying being able to read any novel I want!

The Outlander by Gil Adamson, 389 pages

The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander, 175 pages

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, 276 pages

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, 247 pages

Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary, 155 pages

Maurice by E.M. Forster, 232 pages

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good, 293 pages

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, 390 pages

Dune by Frank Herbert, 535 page

Dubliners by James Joyce, 242 pages (yes, this would ordinarily fall into my "flotsam and jetsam" category but it's the only one for the year so I'm sneaking it in here)

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, 325 pages

The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill, 375 pages

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik, 405 pages

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian, 332 pages

The Black Jersey by Jorge Zepeda Patterson, 313 pages

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett, 210 pages

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn, 402 pages
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn, 422 pages
An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn, 358 pages
Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn, 370 pages

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, 444 pages

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson, 319 pages

All-of-a-kind Family by Sydney Taylor, 189 pages

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson, 360 pages

Graphic Thingies

I got back to comics in a big way this year, because they're quick to read and sometimes I wasn't reading very quick and just wanted to finish something. Uzumaki was pleasantly creepy and reminded me of the Southern Reach trilogy. Castle Waiting was sweet and heartwarming and just the right amount of odd. The Shadow Hero proves Yang is just as good when he's working with an artist vs illustrating his own comics.

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror by Ito Junji
  • Volume 1, 205 pages
  • Volume 2, 197 pages
  • Volume 3, 255 pages

The Underwater Welder
by Jeff Lemire, 224 pages

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley
  • Volume 1, 457 pages
  • Volume 2, 375 pages

I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf
by Grant Snider, 128 pages

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, 317 pages

Irredeemable by Mark Waid and Peter Krause
  • Volume 1, 104 pages
  • Volume 2, 112 pages

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, 169 pages



There's a nice symmetry to my non-fiction reading in 2021, similar to the novels, which is to say that I finished 12 non-fiction books, i.e. one per month. Nothing exactly blew my mind: there's a not insubstantial amount of "self-help" type stuff here and nothing really "hard-hitting" if you will, with the exception of Regretting Motherhood, which is absolutely harrowing. Six of the books were written by women, five were written by men, and one was written by a heterosexual couple. Again, I didn't shoot for this balance, it just happened!

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly, 120 pages
Subtitle: Nellie Bly's Experience on Blackwell's Island

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian, 275 pages
Subtitle: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Aliv

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich, 417 pages
Subtitle: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath, 224 pages

This Word Now by Owen and Jodi Egerton, 283 pages

Debt by David Graeber, 391 pages
Subtitle: The First 5000 Years

Downsizing the Family Home by Marni Jameson, 227 pages
Subtitle: What to Save, What to Let Go

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay, 287 pages
Subtitle: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify

Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton, 202 pages
Subtitle: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life

The Art of Fiction by David Lodge, 230 pages

Dark Archives by Megan Rosenbloom, 230 pages
Subtitle: A Librarian's Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin

You Bet Your Life by Paul A. Offit, 221 pages
Subtitle: From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovations


There were seven books that I didn't finish in 2021, and I feel like I'm really honing my instincts for this sort of thing. Unfortunately, several of these were simply books that I was just attempting to read at the wrong time, and may revisit later. Ada Palmer's The Will to Battle just needs to be read closer to the preceding entries in the series. I attempted some non-fiction that needed more concentration than I had to devote this year as well, specifically The Sabres of Paradise and Capital in the Twenty-First Century. But there are so many books and so little time, and I'm done with finishing anything that I feel lukewarm about.

The Sabres of Paradise by Lesley Blanch, after 248 pages
Subtitle: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith, after 64 pages

Whispering Rails by Gilbert A. Lathrop, after 91 pages

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, after 367 pages

The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer, after 51 pages

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, after 216 pages

Why Good Sex Matters by Nan Wise, after 46 pages
Subtitle: Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, and More Purpose-Filled Life

Number of books read: 47 (plus seven unfinished)
Total pages in 2021: 14,491
Total pages per day: 40 (33 excluding graphic thingies)
Total audiobook time in 2021: 0!

What I'm Reading: December 12-27, 2021

Well, it's certainly been a year. I'd hoped to finish Villette before the end of the year so that I could include it in this post, but no such luck. At some point I decided that it was more important for my mental health to get my house tidied up before heading back to work.

I'll make more comments on this when I post about the full year of reading, but there are relatively few standouts this year, and that's disappointing.

Here are the last four books I read in 2021, between December 12 and 27, in the order that I completed them:

The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

175 pages

My return to the Chronicles of Prydain, which I started last Decemberish. This is the third entry in the series, and we get some more insight into Eilonwy, where she comes from, and what her destiny might be. Our hero, still assistant pig keeper Taran, is still a dumb hothead, but he's learning, and he's also still brave and ready for adventure. I wish I'd encountered these books as a kid.

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

120 pages

Mid-month, I found myself waiting to pick up a library book that I knew I'd have to return without any renewals, so I wanted to be able to start it right away after picking it up. However, between library visits, I finished whatever else I was reading, so I needed something short. Enter Ten Days in a Mad-House, which I've had on my radar for a long time for some reason. I read Project Gutenberg's free ebook version on my phone (reading on phone: not ideal but will do in a pinch).

So, in 1887, Nellie Bly, girl reporter for the New York World pretended to be crazy in order to gain admittance into the public insane asylum for women. Her expose wasn't quite as shocking as I'd been led to believe, but she does describe pretty miserable conditions for the inmates. Her language is far from what would be considered politically correct when she's referring to the patients she shares the space with, but this is one of those cases where beggars can't be choosers: her writing did result in actual reforms at the institution in question.

Not essential reading but an interesting peek into a different time.

You Bet Your Life by Paul A. Offit

221 pages

The book I mentioned needing to return to the library without renewing. This book just came out this year, and it's about medical innovation, the costs, the missteps, the rewards (it's subtitled "From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovations"). Offit doesn't really explore coronavirus specifically all that much in this book. He's concentrating on actual medical risks that have been and gone. The points he's making are that in order to make progress, risks are taken and that these risks are usually calculated ones.

The book is interesting on its own for sure, and I'll be reading more of Offit's work. But I'd hoped that this book would provide more insight into exactly how doctors, medical researchers, etc. do the risk calculation.

Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath

224 pages

Not exactly ending the year on a happy note, I realize! Due to some developments in my family and personal life this year, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have children (to keep things sufficiently vague). There is a huge social resistance to the concept that a mother could possibly regret being a mother, and I wanted to find some books exploring that. Donath did a study involving interviews with a couple of dozen Israeli women (the author herself is also Israeli) who regret becoming mothers. The women range from young to old, including a few who are grandmothers, and fall on various parts of the social, economic, etc. spectrum. In this book, Donath summarizes and comments on the phenomenon of regret and motherhood. It's a bit academic but really interesting. The interview excerpts included are really touching and occasionally harrowing. Recommended for non-parents, fencesitters, and regretful parents, but probably not anyone who is about to become a parent for the first time.