2015 in reading

Continuing my goal of last year to diversify my reading, I’ve boosted the goals for reading women writers and non-white writers. My statistics improved in both categories, with women accounting for 51.4% of my reading (compared to 39.6% last year and a target of 50%) and non-white authors accounting for 14.8% of my writing (compared to 13.5% last year and a goal of 15%). I did find myself choosing my next book to boost my diversity numbers 37.5% of the time (compared to just 10.8% last time). Dead white men were responsible for 10.7% of my reading up from 9.9% last year and non-US authors were 41.9% of my reading up from 30.1% last year. The total number of books read was 88, down from 101 last year.

In other categories, 11.4% of my reading was in translation, 1.1% in Spanish, 1.45% were by authors I’ve met (finishing my MFA program pulled this number down quite a bit), 3.7% were re-reads and 76.9% were by authors new to me. Fiction was a smaller fraction of my reading this year at only 53.4% as was poetry down to just 3.9% from 5.9% last year.

With the statistics out of the way, my favorite reads of 2015 were (in alphabetical order by author):

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich 

Narratology by Mieke Bal 

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball 

The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus by Michael F. Bird 

Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son by Peter Manseau

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami 

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov 

Living with Saints by Mary O’Connell 

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock 

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine 

No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch 

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2015 in rejections (and acceptances)

2015 rejection graph

My submissions in 2015 dipped somewhat as did the favorable-ish rate which dropped from 27% last year to 24% this year with just one acceptance which was a hangover from my 2014 submissions. I’m closing the year with 20 pending submissions with the oldest having gone out on 5 May.

I also, per my goals for 2015 completed work on the novel and started querying which has, so far, served as a reminder of just how much I suck: nothing but form rejections thusfar (10 as of this writing).

2015 shall be a year of revision and submission. My goal is 200 rejections for the year and maybe even an acceptance or two.

Dewey Decimal Project: 202.11 WAU God: The Biography


It was the name on the spine that caught my attention. I discovered the writing of Waugh’s grandfather, Evelyn Waugh when I was in college after encountering a mention of him in Graham Greene’s Ways of Escape.

The elder Waugh, like Greene, was notable as an author who had converted to Catholicism and who had brought a great deal of religious sensibility to his work. The faith, however, did not continue long in the family with Waugh’s son Auberon growing detached from the church and Alexander appears to be even further estranged from the faith.

The resulting book is irreverent, although its attempts at humor often miss the mark with Waugh taking aim at the simple apparent contradictions of the Bible, choosing his citations in a way to emphasize the absurdity of God. From the blurbs on the book, I had expected something more nuanced and compelling, but instead it came across as being something at the level of a clever college student writing on the topic. Perhaps Waugh should have taken the offer his father made to pay him the amount of the advance to not write the book.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 198.9 KIE Parables of Kierkegaard


I first learned of the parables of Kierkegaard from a reading a short story a friend asked my to critique. I was intrigued enough that when I spotted this slender volume among the 190s, I picked it up to add to my project.

The parables are drawn from throughout Kierkegaard’s writing. In context, they were used to illustrate various points he was making in his philosophical writing, but many of them make for delightful reading on their own, shining light on Kierkegaard’s warm Christian humanism. 

I do, however, wonder whether having pulled the parables out of their context in Kierkegaard’s writing whether some violence may have been done to their meaning.I suppose this means that I’ll have to read deeper into Kierkegaard to know for certain.


Dewey Decimal Project: 181.11 LAI An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy

I went into this book knowing little more about Chinese philosophy than a handful oNewImagef “old Confucious say…” jokes. Reading this book expanded my horizons a great deal although my lack of knowledge of Chinese history impeded me somewhat in my understanding. 

Overall, one of the more enlightening things was the whole question of whether philosophy is inherently a Western endeavor and was it imposing an alien framework on Chinese philosophy to even call it such. It reminded me a bit of reading God Is not One which made a similar point about Eastern religions and how the whole question of what religion was about was a different matter between East and West. There are a handful of primary sources that I’d like to dig deeper into on this. Perhaps once the Dewey Decimal project has come to an end, I’ll do just that.


Dewey Decimal Project: 174 SAN What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

I’m not a strong believer in the absolute value of capitalism. It is a good generator of wealth, but that assumes that wealth is an end worth pursuing for its own sake. It also has the problem of not necessarily distributing the generated wealth in a fair or equitable way. In this book, Sandel offers another critique of market-based capitalism: the market mindset can be inherently corrupting. For example, he points out:

The corrosive effect of market relations is sometimes strong enough to override the price effect: offering a financial incentive to accept a hazardous facility, or go door-to-door collecting charity, or show up on time reduced rather than increased people’s willingness to do so.

While he relies a bit too much on some of his examples, over-repeating the case, he does provide a good argument for the corrupting nature of market relations as a means of organizing human behavior.

Another, damning critique Sandel provides is that the basis of market-based thinking is centered on the concept of scarcity, but that concept does not necessarily apply to all spheres:

“If we economists do [our] business well,” Robertson concludes, “we can, I believe, contribute mightily to the economizing… of that scarce resource Love,” the “most precious thing in the world.”

To those not steeped in economics, this way of thinking about the generous virtues is strange, even far-fetched. It ignores the possibility that our capacity for love and benevolence is not depleted with use,but enlarged with practice.

Overall, I found this to be a satisfying critique of how market thinking has influenced and sullied culture, especially American culture. As we enter eras in which scarcity becomes a non-concern in other less ephemeral areas (the effective marginal cost of zero to duplicate data being a key example), this critique grows in importance making this a critical read for anyone thinking about economic and social policy.


And draft twelve is done

Finally, I think I have the novel in a good enough state to start querying. 


The chart above is one of those things that comes from obsessively tracking my writing. I can see my word count through each of the revisions. All the jagged lines that start from the bottom of the page are the result of my starting with a new blank document and retyping the whole thing from scratch. For some of the revision drafts, I have a separate blue line that shows where I was in the revision process, although in some cases, I did a lot of jumping around in the document. The final revision doesn’t reflect the time I spent rereading the whole manuscript slowly and making copious notes so that I could then turn around and in about a week, do all the typing to make the final draft a reality. It’s nice to be able to put this thing behind me for a while now.

The Big Countdown

Continuing my tradition of checking my life expectancy every year on the day before my birthday, today I’ve been told I can expect to live to the age of 88. This is up from last year, but down from two years ago. Either way, I’m in the final half of my life, a somewhat sobering thought and a reminder not to waste the time I have left.

Dewey Decimal Project: 160 BEN Logic Made Easy: How to Know when Language Deceives You

When I used to teach math, students fell into two categories when it came to logic. There were those who got it almost immediately and those who seemed to struggle with some of the ways in which logic seemed, well, illogical. For example, given the statements

If today is Tuesday, Dawn is in trouble.


Dawn is in trouble.

what can be determined? 

Over half the students would assume that we could conclude that today is Tuesday, but implication does not work that way. In this book Bennett looks at this and a number of other logical premises and points out that in many cases, it’s experience and language that can override our understanding of the underlying logic. A logical sequence with nonsense terms is more easily correctly interpreted than the same sequence with words that run counter to experience or intuition. Overall, an excellent book and one that, were I still teaching the math for liberal arts majors I once taught, I would use as one of the textbooks.


Beautiful sentences

I think hope is the worst thing in the world. I really do. It makes a fool of you while it lasts. And then when it’s gone, it’s like there’s nothing left of you at all.

Marilynne Robinson, Home.