Sunday, January 9, 2022

My Year In Books (2021 Edition)

 

my year in books 2021
That's a large graphic

Apparently I didn't find the time/energy to post anything to this blog last year except the book review. That's a shame, because last year was actually full of a lot of really interesting and eventful stuff. Maybe I'll get back to it at some point, but I think I'd rather look forward in general. Having said that, let's IMMEDIATELY disobey that directive and look at how last year went in books!

I deliberately set NO GOAL for reading this year. In fact, I didn't formally participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, because I didn't want that to inform any of my leisure actions. As it turns out, I'm very goal-oriented; once I've got the task in mind, I'm pretty irritable of anything that distracts from it until it's accomplished.

Despite not having a set goal, I read a respectable 29 books this year, with a total of approximately 10,400 pages. This was down from last year's totals of 40 and 12,800 respectively.

Top 5

Let's start with the five best books in the list. For reference, 11 of the 29 books I read got a 5-star rating this year, so the following list isn't comprehensive of the great content I consumed. I didn't review any of these on Goodreads, because other folks managed that more eloquently that I would have done.

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, by Nikole Hannah-Jones
The version of American history I was taught in high school in small town Texas was woefully narrowly-scoped. As it turns out, the same is true of my parents as well, as my mother (one of the smartest people I know) and I were completely unaware of things such as the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. (Note: I first learned of the massacre via the excellent HBO series "Watchmen", and referenced again in "Lovecraft Country".) If you grew up in a privileged bubble similar to mine, quite a bit of the content surfaced here will be surprising. Everyone should read this, and it should be taught in schools.

My heart grew at least two sizes when I met my spouse. One spot in there is now reserved for Russian literature; I was never really exposed to it outside of "War and Peace." This book gives the reader a fantastic glimpse of some of the genius that's hidden in a dramatically different culture from the one I grew up studying. I listened to this on Audible, and the translations of the short stories are read by the likes of Glenn Close, Phylicia Rashad, Nick Offerman, and Rainn Wilson among others, with the analysis read by the author. If you love literature, either consuming or producing it, and have wondered a little about why that is, you would do well to read this book.

Just Above My Head, by James Baldwin
There is a special pain that comes with being marginalized that, as you might've guessed from the first entry on this list, I've never really experienced. This book beautifully illustrates that pain as the main protagonist is black and gay in an era where neither were well accepted. This is a fictional account, but the trials and tribulations expressed inside are certainly inspired by real-life, personal events from the author. James Baldwin was a magnificent writer, and I'm once again amazed at the lack of exposure I've had to his work after studying American literature in high school. As with the first book on this list, everyone should read it, and it should be taught in schools.

A Perfect Spy, By John le Carré
John le CarrĂ© passed away in 2021. I was unfamiliar with his work, aside from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"; I'd seen the movie, but not read the book. Jeff VanderMeer recommended his work highly, so after a bit of research, I read this one. I wound up enjoying the book very much, although the author's treatment of women was something I had to fight through. If you've ever thought you'd be interested in reading a spy novel that's more than a 007-brute-force offering, you would be well served to have a look at this one or others by this author.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker
I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I'd never actually read Dracula prior to this year. In fact, the only classic horror I'd read cover-to-cover was "Frankenstein". The narrative is progressed as a series of journal entries by different protagonists, and I loved the distinctness of their voices. The most disappointing part of the novel was actually the climax: I found it extremely unsatisfying, given the characterizations offered at the beginning of the novel. With that said, the book is definitely worth 5 stars, and as with other entries on this list, everyone should read it. (Aside: if you have to choose between this one and Frankenstein, favor Frankenstein, but try to get them both in if possible...)

Facts and Figures

Now the part you're REALLY here for: the GRAPHICS! Or at least, some HTML TABLES! First off: the standard metrics are offered. Most notable is the dramatic increase in average book length. This might contribute to the smaller completed count as well.

YearLongestShortestAverage
2021123280371
2020960100320
20191015131322

Then comes the number of pages and books consumed per month.

Data in THREE DIMENSIONS!

As usual, I finished a few more books in the first two-thirds of the year compared to the end. What's slightly surprising is that I didn't finish any books in January. I suspect that's because "Rhythm of War" was very long, and I started it the first week of January. The end of the year still had plenty of pages read. This is, overall, a pretty steady pace for me, I think.

Next, the question of whether or not I've abandoned audiobooks is answered. Spoiler Alert! The answer is "no."

Pie chart. Remind me to do a blog post on baking at some point...

Another year where the number of books I read was higher than the number to which I listened. Only four physical books, but still a respectable number given our technological proliferations...

How about a breakdown by genre? 

Pie chart, or donut chart?

Sci-Fi/Fantasy squeaks out the win again, but there are several genres in here that could be classified as Sci-Fi/Fantasy as well (Horror and Graphic, mainly), so it wasn't quite as close as it appears. Still, plenty of diversity here, although I'm slightly surprised not to see any Poetry here. That's the first time in several years that it hasn't appeared on the list.

Other Notes

Book Club

The boys and I started doing a book club this year, and we made it through several titles, including:
We also started Dune, by Frank Herbert, but haven't finished it yet. The first two were aimed at "adulting," while the third is about helping the boys become better software developers. The fourth... well, that's just for fun. That, and with the movie releasing at the end of 2021, it seemed appropriate. :-)

Authors

Of the 29 books, there were 27 different authors. The only duplicates from this year's list were:
Both are pretty prolific authors and write stuff that's in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre in general. I recommend essentially everything of theirs that I've read.

Ratings

My ratings breakdowns:

StarsCount
511
411
35
21
11

If you were wondering, the single 1-star rating is for The Dark Crystal, by A.C.H. Smith. It's one of the few for which I actually left a review. I'll quote it here.

DNF.

This is the second or third time I've pick this book up and had to put it down. I was slightly less than halfway through this time when I punted. I'm not exactly sure I can pinpoint my challenges with the book. A large part of it must be the juxtaposition of it and the movie -- the movie being wonderfully dark and important in my memory, and the book clinically reciting the story to me. Combine that with the fact that I purchased the book via the Kindle store without paying close attention to the fact that the book was a .pdf, so I couldn't adjust the color, font, etc. In addition, the book would, on occasion, start losing half pages on the kindle app on iOS, forcing me to close and reopen the app. Unfortunately, I can't recommend it to other folks. If you have the inclination and opportunity, watch the movie instead.

On that cheery note, I'll wrap up the first of what I'm sure will be MANY blog entries this year. Or maybe the only one. I actually have other year-end stuff to write about, namely, the year in music. Maybe I'll manage to get that one done, if someone out there requests it... ;)