Filed under reading

2017 in Reading

My favorite reads of the year, in alphabetical order by title. I read some damned good shit this year with one re-read in the list (Run)

The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise by Georges Perec

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler 

Cake Time by Siel Ju

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey 

Fountain of Age: Stories by Nancy Kress

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist’s Sketchbook and Process, from Pencil to Vector by Jessica Hische  

Lies of the Saints by Erin McGraw 

Night to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier 

Run by Ann Patchett 

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Sex, Class & Culture by Lillian S. Robinson 

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski 

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti 

My diversity report for the year: Women authors 50.8% (up from 48%) last year). Non-white authors were 16.3% of my reading (essentially flat from last year’s 16.4%). I chose a book different from what I might have read ordinarily to hit my diversity target 24% of the time, down slightly from last year’s 25%. Between my being careful about what gets into my to-read lists/piles and perhaps improved diversity coming from my filters, this is a continued good sign. My Dead White Men number meanwhile somehow continues to climb, up to 20.1% from 14.4% which goes to show that diversity doesn’t necessarily entail the death of the Canon. Non-US authors were 39.8% of my reading essentially flat from last year’s 39.9%. Translations were up at 14.1% compared to last year’s 10%. Books in Spanish were down to 1.3% from 3.8% courtesy of not taking a Spanish class this year and the fact that I’ve still not finished the long-ass but magnificent 2666. 

The authors I’ve met number was up a fair amount at 7.2% vs 2.5% last year to which I attribute a few friends having new books out this year. Re-reads were down to 2.8% from 5.4% (my Salinger re-read project having come to an end), authors new to me were down to 68% from 71.8% last year. Fiction and Poetry were both up slightly at 56.1% and 2.6% respectively, compared to last year’s 47.5% and 1.3%. One new stat this year: books read as research for my novel accounted for 22.7% of my reading this year. I expect that will be down next year as my research winds down, but it is up from last year’s 20% which would be higher had I started work on the novel earlier in the year.

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2016 in reading

My diversity report for the year: Women authors 48% (down from 51.4% last year). Non-white authors were 16.4% of my reading (up from 14.8% last year). I chose my book to hit diversity targets 25% of the time, down from 37.5% last year. I think part of that is that I’ve been more reluctant to let books by white men into my to-read list. My Dead White Men number, meanwhile, despite this climbed from 10.7% of my reading to 14.4%. Non-US authors declined to 39.9% from 41.9%, translations accounted for 10% down from 11.4% while books in Spanish increased to 3.8% from 1.1%.

The authors I’ve met number also climbed slightly from 2.5% from 1.45% Re-reads went up to 5.4% from 3.7%, authors new to me were 71.8% compared to 76.9% last year. Fiction and poetry both declined in my reading, at 47.5% (from 53.4%) and 1.3% (from 5.9%).

My total number of books was 81, down from 88 last year.

And now, my favorite reads of the year, in alphabetical order by title. Worth noting: Only one white man in the list, and mostly women. I think this is the first time my favorite list has included two books by the same author (Mary Rakow was a wonderful discovery this year). Franny and Zooey, was a re-read, but a wonderful re-read. I read La Fiesta del Chivo in Spanish.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

La Fiesta del Chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa

Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The Memory Room by Mary Rakow

This Is Why I Came by Mary Rakow

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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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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2014 in reading

I set out this year to make my reading a bit more diverse. I fell a tad short of my goal for women writers making only 39.6% when I was aiming for 40% but had 13.5% non-white. I ended up choosing my next book to read 10.8% of the time in pursuit of these numbers. I had 9.9% of my reading written by dead white men and 30.1% by non-US authors.

69.8% of the books I read were by authors new to me, and I’ve met 10.8% of the authors of the books I’ve read. 60.8% was fiction and 5.9% was poetry. 3.9% was in translation and 1% was in Spanish.

And now, my top books of the year:

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Great short stories by a master of the form. 

The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim
Magical realism and brutal realism in contemporary Iraq 

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford 
I read this in college 25 years ago, coming back to it, I still love it. 

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
A great account of a mystical experience. 

The Instructions by Adam Levin
A work of pure genius. Once I finished, I went back to page one to read it again. 

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
A lyrical tribute to libraries of all kind. 

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Killian Plunett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong
An alternate version of the Superman story done brilliantly. 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
A great investigation of identity and deception, 

The Year of What Now: Poems by Brian Russell
A beautiful depiction of painful experience through poetry, even more impressive in that it’s fiction!

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We got more or less diverse poets (depending on how you look at it)

In the aftermath of some of the discussion about diversity in publishing, I thought I’d check how this year’s Best American Poetry stacked up against last year’s for diversity.

There were 73 poets in the 2014 anthology compared to 76 in the 2013. In 2014, 31.5% of the poets had appeared in the three previous anthologies. This compares with 25% in the year before, which signals a bit of a retraction to the safe here (although perennials Billy Collins and Terrance Hayes didn’t make the cut this year, the latter no doubt since he was the guest editor, I’m guessing the former because he’s in the anthology so often it’s nearing cliche status).

What about gender? 41.1% of this year’s authors were female compared to 50% last year. Perhaps a consequence of the difference between having a male and female guest editor? I’m reluctant to spend the time checking more than two year’s worth of BAP so I can’t really say how strong a pattern this is.

Breakdown by race: 2014 has 2.7% Asian, 28.8% African-American, 1.4% Latino, 2.7% Native American and 63% white. 2013 had 7.9% Asian, 9.2% African-American, 1.3% Latino, 1.3% Native American and 78.9% white.

And one more category I’ve been tracking (actually my original category), what percent have creative writing graduate degrees? 68.5–75.8% in the 2014 anthology vs 68.4–71.2% in the 2013 anthology (the range is because there are a handful of poets whose graduate education I wasn’t able to determine through diligent web searches), again bringing us into “safe” territory.

On Goodreads, the average rating for 2014 is 3.42 stars compared to 2013’s 3.38 stars.

So having thrown out a large pile of raw data, what conclusions can we draw? I’m guessing that a big part of the spike in African-American authors in this year’s anthology is from Mr Hayes’s influence. Yet, there was a bit of timidity in their selection. It seemed while I was doing this that most were Cave Canem fellows and only two or at most five) lacked an MFA or other creative writing graduate degree. The choice of these poets didn’t really impact readers’ reactions to the anthology for better or for worse. I haven’t read this year’s anthology yet, but I found last year’s far less satisfying than the 2012 which was when I started reading the series (the collective opinion on Goodreads concurs having given the 2012 anthology, edited by Mark Doty, 3.52 stars. My overall impression is that we have racial diversity at the cost of being more daring with the choice of poets to appear in the anthology.

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A year of reading

So in 2013, I ended up reading a total of 114 books. Some interesting statistics along the way: 

27.2% were written by women. Asians and Latinos each made up 2.6%. Blacks were 1.8%. I find these numbers to be rather disgraceful.

40.4% were for my MFA. 

Two were in Spanish.

Eleven were translated (from French, Hungarian, German, Ukrainian, Russian and Japanese if you must know).

Fiction made up 57.9% of the year’s reading. Poetry made up 2.6%.

And my top reads of the year, alphabetically by title:

It’s interesting to note that whenever I’ve done these end of year lists, I never have a set number that I’m aiming for. Interestingly, though, I consistently end up picking about 10% of the books that I’ve read.

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