2018: An overview of my year in reading
It is almost time to see the back of 2018 and the end cannot come too soon. If only I could have faith that 2019 will be better, but at long as it’s not worse I suppose we’re ahead of the game. Maybe.
The political year may have been full of not-great things, but my reading year was very rewarding. I read more books than I have in a very long time and I enjoyed a lot of them.
I completed all my set challenges: PopSugar, Bookriot’s Read Harder, and Mt. TBR at the 24-book level. I enjoyed them for the most part. I was surprised at how few TBR books I read organically, since the only social media I participate in now for book talk is Goodreads, and I’m not nearly as active there as I used to be on blogs and Twitter. But I guess even a little bit of social reading is enough to get me to pick up plenty of shiny new books. On the plus side, that participation made fulfilling the non-TBR challenges easier. I had them both basically done by August.
I did a ton of longlist and shortlist reading this year, more than ever before. I read a number of books off the Tournament of Books longlist and shortlist in the winter. Then, in the summer I tackled the Booker Prize longlist, reading 12 of 13 despite having to order some of them from overseas. I really enjoyed reading them one after the other; unlike previous years I didn’t find it a burden as I went along. By the time the shortlist came out I only had a couple of them to go, which meant that the beginning of the school year didn’t derail me the way it often does.
I also read all the books on the Goldsmiths shortlist. That continues to be my favorite award and the one where I am most likely to find novels that are personally rewarding. There are also always new-to-me authors, and this year I discovered and loved Gabriel Josipovici and Will Eaves.
I read a handful of the Giller Prize longlist, with some of the books making it to the shortlist. As usual, I found a buried treasure: Our Homesick Songs, which didn’t make the shortlist but which was a lovely story about a fading culture in eastern Canada and how its inhabitants cope with the changes. I still have a couple of books in the TBR and look forward to reading them in 2019.
I read a number of the National Book Award short- and longlisted novels, including a handful from the re-established Translated Fiction category. The latter were uniformly good and there were some excellent nominees in the regular fiction list as well. I didn’t love everything I read but it was interesting to read them together and get a sense of the judges’ approach and interests.
I also just read books! Some I heard about on Goodreads, others through reviews and comment threads at the Guardian Books site, others through the mainstream US and UK book review outlets like the NYT, NYRB, LRB, etc. In addition to all the literary fiction, I’m still reading romance, mysteries, and the occasional SFF novel. I didn’t read many newly released books in genre apart from some translated ones and my dwindling set of autobuy authors. But given the size of my TBR, I still had plenty to choose from. And I had a great buddy read with Sirius, where we read and talked about The Master and Margarita. We spread the reading and conversation over several posts at Dear Author, and it was a terrific way to appreciate it.
All in all I’ve read 118 books as of this writing and will probably add one or two more before 2018 is finally done with us. I can attribute a lot of that productivity to my decreased time on the internet, especially social media, as well as to long plane flights and other types of unplugging time. I’m still debating whether it’s too many books for a year. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think raw volume tells me much about value. I did have a lot of 4- and 5-star reads, because I usually knew what to expect going in. There were disappointments (The Overstory, I’m looking at you) but not many and there was almost nothing that I wished I hadn’t read.
Looking ahead to 2019
I doubt I’ll vary my reading approach much next year, but one thing I’ve decided on: no more category-based challenges. I’ve done one or another of them for four years now and while some of the categories are fun, others are just dumb or annoying to me at this point. And some, like “someone with your first or last name” are a PITA if you’re mostly reading in English and have a non-Anglo or non-standard name. And at least in 2019 I won’t have to dig through celebrity book club lists or find a celebrity memoir I’m willing to spend my time on.
My main plan, with two count-only TBR challenges to make it interesting, is to read a lot more from my TBR and to keep using the library. I did very well on the latter and not well on the former this year. And part of keeping to that plan is to avoid snapping up “it” books because everyone is talking about them. That has been fun in that it lets me join readalongs and various conversations, but it is the mostly likely way for me to read books that turn out to be pretty meh.
I’m not doing a “Best of 2018” list, since there are plenty of those running around and I’ve blogged about a lot of the books I loved over the year, but I may follow up with some numbers breaking down what I’ve read into various categories. In the meantime, enjoy what’s left of the holidays and I’ll see you in the virtual stacks.