This year GR points to 317 books and 82,619 pages. (Fortunately it doesn’t point to the unfortunate amount of grime on the ceiling fans and behind the radiators. Or how, sometimes, I forget birthdays and anniversaries.)
In any case, these numbers are more comforting than numbers like the number of books on my TBR list: 8,557 books.
In a “good” year, I add the same number of books to my TBR that I read in that year: holding even is a victory in my bookish world.
Last year, I was planning to write more than I was planning to read. And I did write more than in any previous year.
But because a lot of that writing was directly related to reading, essays and reviews, my reading log was comparable in the end.
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2018 = 338 books
It took me half a year to finish one of these titles last year, but it was worth it: I’ve read through half of these “must-read” novels so far.
Beginning with Mavis Gallant’s earliest short stories, with plans to read all 123 of her published tales, I’ve read 101 of her stories since 2017.
Shortest = 32
Longest = 1,146
33 Countries visited
19 Indigenous authors read
56 Off my own shelves
32 Illustrated volumes
40 Translated works
25 Short story collections
Busiest Reading Months: March and May
Quietest Reading Month: November and December
This makes no sense! In 2018, March and May were actually my quietest reading months. When I was a younger reader, the number of books that I read ebbed and flowed according to a predictable schedule (in summer, I read more, in general, and more fresh reads in particular). Later, when I was old enough to have the responsibility of care-giving for others with that reading pattern (school-induced, as you will have guessed), I read less in the summer, in general, but more comics and readalouds in particular). Now, I read more when I can and I read less when I can’t.
57% Authors who identify as female
22% Non-fiction reading
27% Writers of colour
39% Literary fiction
34% Canadian authors
Three reading experiences stood out for me throughout 2019. Partly because on most days in this reading year, I finished at least one book (sometimes more), but not these three books: I was reading them for days and days. The newest one I reread as soon as I finished reading it the first time, and the other two I was reading for months, in a series of nibbles, letting their stories rest on my tongue like a hard candy, that I knew would wear down to a sliver soon enough.
Amy Waldman’s A Door in the Earth (2019)
Reading this novel also sent me back to her debut, The Submission. It, too, is an immersive reading experience with an ensemble of characters, who each possess a different outlook on a complex matter.
With Door, Waldman was inspired by a real-life court case in the United States, in which a man was charged with terrorism-related offenses some years ago and, this past summer, those charges were vacated by the same judge. At least one character in the novel has experiences which result in a complete turn-about of their understanding and readers have a front-row seat to the change and development, of both character and story.
The book sent me scurrying to research topics that I didn’t even know could be so interesting (Waldman herself has a long-standing interest in the Middle East and Western Asia, having reported on the region for The New York Times for many years) and truly left me with a different perspective. All while being wholly entertained and engaged, so I didn’t even realize how much I was thinking and learning.
“To be female here was to grasp at scraps of information and sew them into the shape you imagined reality to be. Into fictions, patterned on distortions and inventions.”
Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms (1995)
This novel has been on my shelf since I read, and loved, her coming-of-age story, Power (1998). In the intervening years, I’ve often wondered whether I would find Power such an affecting story now: having spent so much time with Solar Storms over the past reading year, I have no doubt. There is something about Hogan’s way of seeing that makes me want to spend more time with her words. Not just to see them on the page, but to allow the way that she frames a narrative to affect the way that I see the world.
There are many remarkable women in this novel. Readers who have appreciated that energy in Toni Morrison’s and Louise Erdrich’s novels will want to add Linda Hogan to their reading list too. How we greet challenging times, how we nourish and negotiate significant relationships, how we act in the face of fear: there is much in this story that is relevant, so much more than could be relayed by a plot description. Anyway, Hogan’s writing is not so much about what happens as it is about unearthing meaning.
For months I carried this book with me, partly to read, partly for company. Often reading only a page or two in a sitting. Sometimes it felt as though it took me the same amount of time to read those two pages as it took to read an entire book by another author. Often I found myself stopping at a paragraph, retreading the same narrative path repeatedly: I would hover over that passage with a sticky note but ultimately would decide against marking it. It was so beautiful in the story that I didn’t want to isolate it by typing it into a file: I wanted to know that it existed in the book, there for me to discover it again, another time. Sometimes, though, I did flag a passage – like this one:
“Decisions are made in a person’s life by small moments of knowing, each moment opening until, like pieces of a quilt, one day everything comes together in a precise, clear knowing. It enters the present, as if it had come all of a piece. It was in this way that I began to understand who I was. Every piece of myself was together anew, a shifted pattern.”
Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx (1989)
This reading experience stands out for different reasons, not so much for the story itself, but for the way of relating to it. This is a book which I’ve had on my shelves for a couple of decades unread. That’s not unusual: what’s unusual is how many times I’ve begun to read it. On two of those occasions I read more than a couple hundred pages (once almost five hundred) before I lost track of the story and set it aside (never consciously, but time passed and other books claimed that reading time).
In every instance of my stalling, I had been enjoying the story. Which feels a little like Bleak House meets Great Expectations on the Dickens side of things and The Woman in White meets Armadale on the Collins side. Neither author is a special favourite of mine, but the intrigue and lush wordiness of Palliser’s narrative appealed all the same. Until it didn’t. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say, until other narratives appealed more. Because I never really stopped enjoying it. I just stopped reading it.
This year I didn’t read it any differently. It’s an oversized and extraordinarily heavy paperback. Once it occupied a long bookcase which ran beneath a window and a rainstorm permanently marked one portion of the binding which protruded from the shelf below, the warp prominent enough that you can’t help but trace the ripples with your fingertip. It’s such an awkward volume that I never even carried it outside in finer weather, not even to sit on the porch and read, not even to a bench in the park next door.
Nevertheless, this year I simply kept reading. And although I still don’t properly understand the details of the plot (a complex inheritance, with countless betrayals), I was content to read to the end and I was reminded that it is possible to finish reading a book that once seemed impossible to finish. Simply by reading every day. I was reminded that reading, the act of reading, itself, can be a pattern which gives meaning. That showing up in your chair can battle confusion.
“That was the idea to hold onto. Only justice gave the world back a pattern and therefore a meaning, for without it there was nothing but incoherence and confusion.”
Toggle in each category to reveal titles…
Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers Trilogy
Manjushree Thapa’s All of Us in Our Own Lives (2019)
Amy Waldman’s A Door in the Earth (2019)
IG Publishing’s Bookmarked series, beginning with Aaron Burch’s 2016 musings on Stephen King’s The Body
Gabrielle Moss Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of ’80s and ’90s Teen Fiction (2018)
Jane Mount’s Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany (2018)
Louise Fitzhugh’s Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change (1974)
William Steig’s The Amazing Bone (1978)
Gabrielle Vincent’s Merry Christmas, Ernest and Celestine (1983)
Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist (2019)
Kim McLarin’s Womanish: A Grown Black Woman Speaks on Love and Life (2019)
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Works