Dec 30, 2012

2012: The Year in Review


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It’s funny: just a few weeks ago I was complaining about 2012 not having been a great reading year for me, but when I sat down to write this post I actually surprised myself. Not only did I do better than I’d realised numbers-wise, but there were far more memorable reads than I could remember off the top of my head. 2012 was still my slowest reading year since 2007, the year when I started blogging, but overall I’m actually pretty happy with where my reading took me. Of course, I enjoy stats and retrospect posts exactly because they allow us to measure our gut perceptions against the facts. It’s funny how you can be wrong even about something as personal as your own reading life.

The following are my favourite reads of 2012. As usual, I’m listing books that I read over the course of this year and not just 2012 releases.

Fiction


  • The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan — As I said back when I read it: “I love books like this exactly because they don’t focus on individual “strength”, on a single woman’s ability to turn her back on all these unreasonable demands and to build her own happiness. I admire women who do this; I’m interested in their stories and in the exciting possibilities they raise. It goes without saying that I want to see defiant, empowered, happy and successful women represented in fiction. But making it all about individuals overcoming society’s sexism can draw attention away from the fact that the system needs to change. This is why I also want scarred Misskaellas and passive sea-wives in my feminist fiction: they’re the ones who didn’t quite manage to walk away, and I don’t for a moment believe that this means they deserved what they got.”

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green — There are many good reasons to love this novel; mine are mostly what it says about the role stories play in our lives and its unapologetic celebration of intellectual engagement through its two smart teen protagonists.

  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein — All these months later I’m still in awe of Wein’s brilliant narrative structure. Also, as Amy so well put it, I love how the novel presents “a strong relationship that wasn’t romantic but still deeply meaningful” (not that queer readings aren’t also possible, of course). More stories like this, please.


  • The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher — My only Persephone of the year was a firm favourite, which just goes to show that I should read them more often. This 1924 novel about a family whose circumstances force them to try a reversal of traditional gender roles is more contemporary than it ought to be.

  • Farthing by Jo Walton — A country house mystery, an alternate history, and an absolutely chilling political thriller. Aarti and I are reviewing this together in early January, so expect much more gushing then.

  • The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker — I’m so glad I finally got around to reading Barker’s classic WW1 novels. A brilliant analysis of how the war disrupted people’s understanding of gender and class, as well as of the social and psychological upheavals of the period.
  • Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky — A beautifully written, detailed, sometimes satirical but still very humane look at life in France during the Nazi occupation.

  • Railsea by China Miéville — Giant moles! Trains! Adventures! Metafiction! Intertextuality in spades! This novel was an absolute joy to read, and amidst all the fun it made me think about the compelling power of metaphors, the dogmas we don’t realise we hold, and the many roles narratives play in our lives.

  • At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson — Johnson has been one of my favourite authors for some years, and it was a pleasure to see that her first full-length short story collection was every bit as gorgeous as I expected.

  • The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson — Of course there had to be something by Ibbotson on this list. I started the year with The Morning Gift and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. This love story set at the beginning of WW2 remains my favourite of her novels to date.

  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman — Fabulous worldbuilding, wonderful characterisation, and an impressive combination of fantasy and mystery elements.

  • Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers — A moving account of a friendship between an elderly writer and a teenage boy, and one of the best descriptions of what it’s like to want to be close to another person that I’ve encountered in recent times.

  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta — Yes, you were all right: this is a stunning novel. At its heart this is a story about trust, and Marchetta does a brilliant job of subtly changing the way her world is presented as her protagonist, Taylor, becomes less frightened and more trustful.

  • The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy — Much like in The Changeover, Mahy writes about a young girl’s desires and fantasies without once shaming her. The family dynamics are also brilliant.
Non-Fiction

 

  • The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol Tavris — The line “But the point is to direct our attention to the straitjacket, not its dutiful wearer”, which I found in this book, was probably more helpful to me than anything else I read this year. As I said in my review, “reading it really helped me make sense of why the victim-blaming language people often use to discuss women (or fictional characters) they perceive as “spineless” bothers me so much.” Tavris makes several other useful points about the risk and gendered implications of defining our problems in strictly individual rather than political terms. I couldn’t recommend this book more highly.

  • Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus — Marcus’ history of the Riot Grrrl revolution is not only a brilliant piece of music journalism, but also a book I found useful when it comes to making sense of my own intellectual growth and of my history with feminism. Reading about how these girls used zines in a way that allowed them to “claim the space to be wrong” helped me understand my own goals when it comes to blogging and lead directly to this post.

  • The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone — Gladstone’s non-fiction comic about the media was another book I found extremely useful as a blogger, even though on the surface it’s not about blogging. But I suspect that anyone who has ever made the decision to put their words out there in the world will find much of use here.

  • Dotter of her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot — Mary Talbot intermingles an account of her early life with a biography of Lucia Joyce, James Joyces’ daughter. The result is a brilliant piece of social history, and an intelligent account of how gendered expectations affected the lives of two women so many decades apart.

  • Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You by Agustín Fuentes — Fuentes dismantles three pervasive myths about human nature in clear and accessible terms: the belief that race is a biological category rather than a cultural construct; the idea that the veneer of civilisation hides the beast within all of us, especially in men; and the usual Mars vs Venus gender shenanigans. How could I possibly fail to love this book?

  • Straight by Hanne Blank — “The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality” is just that. Blank disrupts categories that we take for granted by putting them into historical context and drawing attention to the fact that our current social organisation is not in any way inevitable.
Honourable mentions: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Reflections on the Magic of Writing, Birds and Birthdays, Revolution, Beyond Human Nature, Redemption in Indigo, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Fire Spell, When You Reach Me, Wandering Son, More Baths Less Talking, The Woman Reader, Armadale

 

Statistics

 

First of all, the usual disclaimer: I know I say this every year, but there’s no telling who’ll be reading one of these Year in Review posts for the first time, and it really matters to me that people know that I don’t believe that how much you read in a year says anything about you as a reader other than, well, how much you happen to have managed to read that particular year. I share my reading stats because I find them interesting and hope that others might too, but I definitely don’t expect to be congratulated for reading x amount of books, and I most definitely don’t want to encourage the idea that reading should be seen as some sort of competitive sport. As far as I’m concerned, you get to call yourself a reader if you enjoy reading, and that remains true whether you read a book a month or a book a day.

Oh, and the other usual disclaimer: there’s some overlap between categories, which is why not all these percentages add up to one hundred.

Total books read: 164 (6% down from last year, which is actually a smaller decrease than I expected.)
Novels: 106 (65%)
Short Story Collections and Anthologies: 5 (3% — sigh.)
Comics aka Graphic Novels: 34 (20% — about half of these were Buffy and Angel comics.)
Non-Fiction: 38 (29.3%)
Poetry: 4 (2.4%, which is still more than last year. Baby steps?)
Plays: 0 (I seem completely unable to get back into the habit of reading drama without classes to offer me structure and encouragement. My Irish Studies professor would be sad.)
In translation: 10 (6.1%.)
Classics: 24 (14.6% — about the same as last year.)
By Women: 103 (63% — Yes, I read more women this year, but I refuse to worry about the lack of a perfect 50/50 split in my reading as long as the reviewing landscape out there looks like this.)
By Men: 53 (32%)
By Men and Women: 8 (5%)
By People of Colour: 24 (15% )
lgbtq: 13 (8% — I had an unofficial goal of reading 50 books by POC and 25 books by lgbtq authors this year, but as you can see I fell short. I still did better than last year when it comes to authors of colour, but not as well on the lgbtq authors front.)
Re-reads: 3 (2%)
By new to me authors: 37 (35% — I changed how I calculate this percentage this year, which is why the number is a bit different. What I did was stop including non-fiction, since I seem to pick it based on subject matter far more than on the author. One of my goals for this year was to read more from the back catalogues of authors I already know I enjoy instead of going after the new and the shiny, and I seem to have done reasonably well.)
From my TBR pile: 41 (25% — New category which shall henceforth be known as The Number of Shame. This basically excludes library books, e-books, review copies, and books I purchase and read immediately after. Apparently these make for ¾ of my reading :S)
E-books: 61 (37% — Also a new category, and it’s interesting to see how having an e-reader has affected my reading life. It seems that it makes it much too easy to go after shiny new books from Project Gutenberg or NetGalley, and my TBR pile suffered as a result.)
Favourite authors discovered this year: Elizabeth Wein, Pat Barker, Irène Némirovsky
Least favourite book of the year: The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter
Best reading month: January (23 books, or 14% of my annual reading. What is it about January? Maybe the prospect of turning a new leaf gives my reading life an energy boost?)
Worst reading month: September (5 books, or 3% of my annual reading. Moving month! On a side note, this is the third year in a row that September is my worst reading month. This always seems to be a time of life changes for me for some reason.)

How about you? What were your favourite reads of the year? What was your reading year like in general? Any bookish plans for the new year? Usually I do a post with reading goals at around this time, but this year I decided not to. Less structure and more following my whims will be my motto for 2013.

31 comments:

C.B. James said...

I real life I read more than anyone I know. On the internet I'm such a slacker. I'm very impressed.

eveningreader said...

I *could* leave the exact same comment as C.B. :) That said, what a great year you had! I have Code Name Verity and The Regeneration Trilogy on my wishlist. As far as the latter, I am not ashamed to say that Downton Abbey has renewed my interest in books about WWI.

Debi said...

Oh my gosh, I loved every single second I spent reading this post! It also brought a dose of "Oh shit" with it though, as I realize how many of those top reads of the year I have yet to acquire. Because YES, I always have to acquire the books you love, as I can pretty much guarantee that I will love them, too. (That is, the ones that aren't over-my-head. Sorry, hope your toes are okay--I was smart enough to put on shin guards before saying that. :P )
You've also made me really want to try to keep track of statistics this year, because they're just so darn fun to read. Every year I've tried, I've somehow managed to mess them up though--you know, forgetting to record books, not knowing if an author is a person of color, etc. Still, maybe this will be the year that I don't screw it up, right?
Hope your 2013 reading is your best yet!!! And that goes for all other aspects of life as well!!!

Amy said...

Yay that we share some beloved books in common! And lol aw that 5 books is a low month for you, I feel like nowadays that would be a pretty good month for me.

Thanks for your sharing your yearly reads, I always love reading about the books you love. If only I had more time to read more of them!

Susan said...

LOL I think CB James is speaking for a lot of us, though as you say, it was a low total for you, and so you must know you and the others who read over 100 books a year are our heroines/heroes! lol goals to aim for :-)

I enjoyed how you did your review this year. I'm delighted you enjoyed Suite Francaise so much as well as Farthing, both of which made my top 10 when I read them. I have yet to read The Regeneration Trilogy, though your reviews made me start looking for them actively now :-) And of course, Seraphina - that will be on my top 10 list which I am posting tomorrow.

You read such a wide variety of books and it's fun to see what you enjoyed of the science/non-fiction group also. Some day I will read more nonfiction. I really struggle with it, and I don't know why.

I'm really happy that you ended up satisfied with your year of reading, Ana. Here's to 2013, and plenty of reading time ahead of you :-) Happy 2013!

Alex in Leeds said...

It's interesting to see the change that the e-reader has made this year! I think the biggest change for me this year was the number of new-to-me authors/contemporary fiction titles I read. It did make my year a bit more hit and miss but it was fun to see what works for me and what doesn't. :)

I never read as much in January as I hope - October tends to be my super reading month, every year, which I put down to it being the month that makes me restless/change my life.

Eves_Alexandria said...

I am very excited about so many of the books on your list - nearly all the non fiction and lots of the fiction! Seraphina and Code Name Verity seem to be the books that everyone is choosing for their end of year lists and so I absolutely have to read those soon.

The Regeneration trilogy are amongst my favourite books of all time. There are moments in the first and third books that I return to again and again. But strangely I haven't got on with her other books.

Carl V. said...

Haven't read that Jo Walton but given my affection for her from Among Others and from all her great articles/columns on the Tor dot com website I can't help but smile to see one of her books on your list.

I too like seeing readers' stats so am glad you included them. Fun to see how the mix of what is read shakes out. I did mine this year but ended up not posting them as my post went on waaaay too long. Maybe next year I'll plan better and do a couple of different year end reading posts.

Hope your 2013 is an even more satisfying reading year Ana! :)

JoAnn said...

I agree with James ;-)

Excellent lists, Ana. I haven't read any of the nonfiction titles, but loved The Home-Maker and Suite Francaise. The Fault in Our Stars in loaded on my iPod, and I plan to listen soon.

Happy New Year!

bermudaonion said...

I felt the same way about 2012 until I examined the numbers. Things slowed down for me at the end of the year making it seem like I read a lot less.

Melwyk said...

I also felt like I read less, and found fewer great books this year. But your list inspires me to pick up a few of your bests ~ you do remind us all of some fantastic titles. I'm doing my stats gathering now and also find it fascinating, and a good reminder of the reading year.

Renay said...

As per usual I want to put your entire nonfiction section directly into my brain.

I am also stealing this post format! Huzzah!

Tasha B. said...

November was my worse reading month, because of NaNo. And December hasn't moved much, either! Too many distractions inside.

Elizabeth said...

Looks like a GREAT year to me. AWESOME list...thanks for sharing.

Happy New Year.

My list of Favorites is in the link below.

Elizabeth
Silver's Reviews
My Favorite Books of 2012

Chris Howard said...

I totally missed your review of The Home-Maker!! That sounds so good!! I need to get it. You know I STILL haven't read a Persephone despite owning a few now!! And I'm DYING to read Dying to Know You too! Great year Ana :)

Mrs. B. said...

Sounds like it's been a great reading year for you too! The Fault in Our Stars made it to my list. I'm now dying to read Code Name Verity and Seraphina. Downloading samples now! Oh, and I'm watching My So-Called Life from the beginning because of your reviews. I've seen a few episodes years ago but never saw it in its entirety. Loving it even though I'm far from being a teenager :)

Care said...

Happy New Year Ana! #luvana and Happy Reading in 2013. Great stats; I'm trying to work on my post right now and I keep getting distracted by other blogs and bloggers I want to wish all the best for in the coming year. :D

stefanie said...

Wow, you did have a good year! I can say too that you added several books to my TBR pile!

Clare said...

I can't wait for your thoughts on Farthing; it's so good. I can't believe I only have one more book to go in that series. I want it to last forever.

But the point is to direct our attention to the straitjacket, not its dutiful wearer.

Word. Fight the system, not individuals.

And I've been eying Hanne Blank's Virgin at my local indie used bookstore; I've got some credit there, but I don't know if I want to buy it. But the strength of Straight is making me rethink that…

jessicabookworm said...

As always I'm amazed at how diverse your reading is. I think I am making good progress with diversifying my reading too in 2012. Next year I'm hoping to make more time for re-reads of beloved favourites.

stujallen said...

wow another impressive year reading Ana ,wish had time to read up to 160 books but not ,great round up ,all the best stu

Gavin said...

Great list, Ana, and as usual I've added several to my TBR list. Best wishes for the new year.

Melanie said...

Great, i just added Railsea to my "to get" list. Have you read Embassytown? It says a lot about language that you might enjoy. I also want to read all your non-fiction, except the Hornby, because I've read that! He is great. Happy 2013!

Melody said...

Last year was considered a 'bad' year for me when reading is concerned. Only 19 books read - so pathetic. I hope I'd be able to read more books this year... and the most difficult thing of all? Trying NOT to buy books when Mt. TBR is not getting any lower, haha.

alitareads said...

The Fault in our Stars, Code Name Verity, and Jellicoe Road are all in my top list, too. They're all so good. Although, I'm starting to think my husband might be on to something every time he asks "why do you like so many books that make you cry?"

Vishy said...

Wonderful list, Ana! I read 'The Home-Maker' after you recommended it and I loved it! Thanks for recommending it! I want to read 'The Fault in Our Stars' and 'Suite Francaise'. Hope you have a wonderful reading year in 2013! Happy reading!

samantha.1020 said...

It sounds like you had a really amazing year of reading!! I haven't read any of these but there are bunch on my TBR list including Code Name Verity which I've been hearing so much about! I hope that 2013 is another great year of reading for you!!

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

Seraphina was one of the best of the year for me as well and I'm looking forward to Code Name Verity and know what the fuss is about!

I'm with you on the "moving month" - that was December for me. Are all your books in their right place already?

Kiirstin Maki said...

Your favourite reads lists are just hell on my TBR. Luckily I think I'd already put most of those on my TBR from your original posts.

I like the idea of keeping track of new-to-me-authors and books-from-the-TBR. Perhaps I'll add those categories to my list of stats next year. I do so love the numberses.

Rebecca H. said...

I'm glad you had an even better reading year than you expected! That's fun. Looking over your list, I definitely want to read the John Green, and there are many others that look appealing as well. I wish you a wonderful 2013!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I have got to read Code Name Verity. Everyone with reading taste I trust (including you) has just loved it! Congrats on a great reading year!

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