It’s time for my annual blog post about what I read in the past year!
Buoyed up by having read 67 books in 2018—more, in fact, because I realized later there were a few that I had forgotten to count–in 2019, I joined the #95books challenge. I was way ahead for the first part of the year, but I got behind in the fall when teaching started up again, and just barely made it over the break to 95 books on Dec. 31. According to Goodreads, I read about 22,000 pages, or about 230 pages per book on average.
My original plan to concentrate on translated books in 2019 totally went out the window. Only about a quarter of the books I read were for what I’d deem “pleasure,” as in, I chose them kind of on a whim. The rest I read for work, for a specific research purpose, or for my daughter, or because I was reviewing the book.
As others have observed, doing big book challenges makes one less apt to abandon books, and I found this hard. I read more books that I didn’t like or find useful than I would have liked this year, especially towards the end when I was racing to meet my goal. I had to decide really fast, like in the first 50 pages, if the book was worth using more precious reading time on. I think the solution is to let myself “count” a book toward my goal so long as I’ve read past those 50 pages.
Here are the books I found the most memorable this year. It just so happens I picked one fiction, one non-fiction, one poetry, and one drama, but I didn’t plan it that way:
Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends. Though I was impressed with Normal People, I’m wondering now how much I was influenced by all the hype around that book, because months later, I think find myself thinking much more about her earlier book, Conversations with Friends, which I also read this year.
Miranda July, It Chooses You. This is a delightfully odd non-fiction book by the incomparable July, in which she interviews random people in LA chosen through their classified ads selling used goods. I most remember the boy who created frog habitats in his back yard, and the man who wrote dirty birthday cards for his wife. It’s about people and what you can learn if you just talk to them.
Karen Solie, The Caiplie Caves. Probably my favourite of the books I read this year. I reviewed this book in the The Globe and Mail, and I could have gone on and on about it. It’s a sideways take about what poets are to do during this time of existential crisis—only set in a medieval hermit’s cave. Solie’s work is a poetry benchmark. Unsurprisingly, the book has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.
Cliff Cardinal, Huff & Stitch, which were published together, but it’s Huff that had the big effect on me. Regret not seeing this play when it was produced here. Huff is an in-your-face whirlwind of tragedy, about intergenerational trauma and the relentless loss faced by Indigenous communities and, in particular, Indigenous youth.
In 2020, I expect to keep reading for research, work, reviewing, and my child, but my project for those “extra” books I get to choose for whatever reason? I’m going to read books I already own and are sitting on my shelves taking up space. Then I’m going to give them away unless I can justify keeping them under one of the following categories:
- favourite books I am likely to read again
- books useful for reference
- books by people I know
- small press books (overlaps greatly with the previous on)
- books I’m attached to for strong sentimental reasons (note to self: high bar required)
I just don’t have that much space, and the library exists, right? I use the library all the time. I’m not too optimistic about the number of books I’ll actually be able to give away using this method, but time will tell. See you this time next year.