Dec 28, 2013

2013: The Year in Review

Silhouette holding an hourglass

How can it possibly be time for one of these posts again? Somehow yet another year has flown by. This is my seventh time doing a Year in Review post on this blog, and it never ceases to surprise me how much my perception of the reading year that has passed differs from what the numbers show me once I sit down and run them. I also tend to forget, or at the very least to underestimate, just how much fun I had with my reading in a given year. The goals I failed to meet loom large in my memory, whereas the enjoyment and the small serendipitous discoveries tend to be cast aside. That, if nothing else, is a good reason to keep making lists and running stats.

Here they go: in no particular order, my favourite reads of 2013. As per usual, this list includes books I read in 2013 and not necessarily just 2013 releases.


Fiction


  • The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner: Reading this whole series back to back was the best reading decision I made in 2013. I’m forever in awe of Megan Whalen Turner’s subtlety; of her mastery of subtext; of her absolute trust in her reader’s intelligence. Add to that a group of characters you can’t help but fall in love with and of course I was won over.

  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: Speaking of characters you can’t help but fall in love with, is there anyone better at characterisation than Rainbow Rowell? Her books brought me immense joy this year, and although Eleanor and Park is my favourite, Fangirl isn’t that far behind. In Eleanor and Park, Rowell managed to combine a wonderful love story with a smart and perceptive analysis of her two protagonists’ complex social world.

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie: If Adichie wasn’t already one of my favourite writers, Americanah would have sealed the deal. Here she combines humour, excellent storytelling, social and political insight, and an incisive look at the possible consequences of imposing American racial narratives on the rest of the world.

  • Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge: The sequel to Fly By Night just might be even better than its predecessor, and believe me, that’s saying a lot. An incredibly smart political novel and an engrossing children’s fantasy all in one — what’s not to love?

  • Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff: A quiet, reflective sort of novel that combines a father-daughter roadtrip and an incredibly moving look at the ways in which even the most well-meaning parents can fail their children as they try to protect them.


  • Binny for Short by Hilary McKay: The brilliant Hilary McKay has done it again. Binny for Short is a bittersweet and slightly melancholy but nevertheless hilarious novel about a girl and her family, who are dealing with the aftermath of tragedy to the best of their ability and learning to be happy again in small and unexpected ways.

  • Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: The companion to Code Name Verity takes us to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp, and invites us to think about the different ways one can survive and cope with the unimaginable. As I said back when I reviewed this novel, “There will never be an ultimate survival narrative — there will only be individual voices, individual attempts to grapple with the insurmountable. The more stories we tell, the closer we’ll get to recognising them all for the valid human experiences that they are.”

  • More Than This by Patrick Ness: Mysterious, ambiguous, impossible to put down, and most of all incredibly human: this is a novel I won’t soon forget.

  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: Neil Gaiman has a penchant for stories about stories, which is exactly one of the reasons why I’m so drawn his work. His latest novel approaches themes his readers will be familiar with from new angles, and delivers a wistful, bittersweet and intimate story about one young boy who develops a constant longing for stories and the infinitive worlds they allow you to enter.

  • My Education by Susan Choi: A campus novel, a coming-of-age story, a passionate love affair between two women, and a look at the dehumanising potential of erotic obsession.


  • All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry: Orpheus and Eurydice, rock and roll music, strong emotional ties between girls, an unapologetic portrayal of female desire, and gorgeous, gorgeous prose.

  • The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp by Eva Rice: As above, more or less. Tara Jupp’s adventures in 1960s London are about music, sexuality, friendship, and a young woman claiming her right to be creative on her own terms.

  • The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: I know I’m kind of cheating here, but I read these back to back and they have kind of merged in my mind; and besides, I loved them both for the same reasons. This series is about old myths, the reasons why we’re drawn to them, the complexity of interpersonal relationships, and the way they’re complicated by factors such as gender and class. I adore the set of characters Stiefvater introduces us to in this series, and I can’t wait to find out where she’ll take them next.

  • Doll Bones by Holly Black: A middle grade ghost story where the scariest elements is not the ghost of a dead girl that may or may not haunt a Victorian bone china doll, but the dreary reality of enforced gender roles.

  • Homeland by Cory Doctorow: Like its predecessor, the follow-up to Little Brother is simultaneously terrifying and hopeful, and it manages the latter without ever becoming politically naive.

  • Ha’Penny and Half a Crown by Jo Walton: Yes, I’m kind of cheating again, but I just can’t help it. Although Farthing is probably my favourite, the remaining of the Small Change trilogy is nearly as satisfying. A perceptive look at political inertia in the face of the unthinkable, at the complicated reasons that made people accept an alternative Britain’s slide into fascism, and at the way out of such a political nighmare.


    Honourable Mentions (the first three of which are only down here due to my “no more than one book per author unless it’s a series” guideline, because believe me, I loved them like whoa): Fangirl, A Face Like Glass (an absolutely brilliant book I still hope to blog about), Pirate Cinema, A Dog So Small, The Borrowers, Boxers and Saints, The Snow Child, A Natural History of Dragons, Midnight Never Came, The Song of Achilles, Before & Afterlives, Black Ships (another one I hope to blog about in January).

    Non-Fiction


  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed: Words can’t do justice to what Strayed's “Dear Sugar” columns meant to me this year. Read them and perhaps you’ll understand. This is a gorgeously written and compassionate book that brought me comfort in ways only the very best writing can.

  • Economix by Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr: A smart, politically engaged look at “how and why our economy works (and doesn’t work)” in comics format.

  • Let’s Talk About Love by Carl Wilson: Oh, this book ♥. Who knew a book about Céline Dion would actually be a fascinating examination of the sociological meaning of taste and of the role of criticism?

  • Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk: I love a good debunking of pseudoscience, and Zuk delivers one in often funny and always engaging prose. She addresses the myth that humans were once perfectly adapted to our environment and that the way we live now is at odds with how we’re “supposed” to live and calls for a more nuanced understanding of what our evolutionary heritage says about our past and our present.

  • Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre: An eye-opening look at the many issues that plague the pharmaceutical industry that emphasises systematic and institutional problems and solutions rather than pointing fingers at specific individuals.

    Honourable Mentions: The Truth About Stories, Silences, Unmastered, Wild, The End of Night



    Statistics

    I’ll begin as usual: those of you who have been reading these posts for a few years are probably tired of my disclaimers, but I do think they’re worth repeating every time. I find reading statistics interesting because they allow us to track trends in our own reading; and also to compare our perception against solid numbers, which is often eye-opening and surprising. I’m interested in stats for comparative purposes, but only with my past and future selves. I’m not interested, however, in treating reading like a competitive sport. Being congratulated for reading x amount of books always makes me uncomfortable, as does being told that reading so many books is a sure sign I need to go out more. I absolutely don’t buy into the idea that numbers say anything at all about how committed a reader you are, or about your other hobbies or status of your social life. If you enjoy reading, you’re a reader. There’s no secret club you’re initiated into once you cross a certain numeric threshold, and there’s no magic balance that makes your reading healthy as opposed to dangerously reclusive. All this to say: numbers are fun, but only if we don’t take them more seriously than they merit.

    Also, there’s some overlap between the categories that follow, which is why they don’t always add up to 100%. With that out of the way, here are my stats for 2013:

    Total books read: 182 (11% increase from last year.)
    Novels: 90 (49%)
    Short Story Collections and Anthologies: 3 (1.7%)
    Comics aka Graphic Novels: 46 (25%)
    Non-Fiction: 28 (15%)
    Poetry: 4 (2.2%)
    Kid Lit I read for work: 42 ( 23% — includes very short chapter books and picture books.)
    Classics: 21 (11.5%.)
    By Women: 98 (54% — I have a lot of feelings about these numbers but they’re perhaps best saved for another time.)
    By Men: 70 (38%)
    By Men and Women: 14 (8%)
    By People of Colour: 14 (8%)
    lgbtq: 14 (8%)
    By new to me authors (fiction only): 21 (11.5% — This number is lower than in previous year, which has to do with my loose goal of spending more time exploring the back catalogues of authors I already know I love. Then again, some of my absolute favourite reads of the year were by new to me authors, so I suppose it’s all about balance.)
    From my TBR pile (aka The Number of Shame): 32 (17.5% — Hahahahaha.)
    E-books: 20 (11% — A huge decrease from last year, which mostly has to do with my decision to stay away from NetGalley and review copies in general.)
    Library Books: 99 (54% — New category, but I thought it was worth calculating because I suspected the number would be this high. I guess working at the place will do that to you. But I’m perfectly comfortable with more than half my reading material coming from the library, so that’s okay.)
    Favourite authors discovered this year: Rainbow Rowell, Megan Whalen Turner, Maggie Stiefvater, Marie Brennan.
    Least favourite book of the year: You know what, I actually can’t pick. There were some books that didn’t do much for me this year, but certainly nothing on the level of, say, The Very Thought of You. Thank goodness for that.
    Best reading month: November (21 books, or 11.5% of my annual reading. I read a lot of comics and was off work for a long time.)
    Worst reading month: May (7 books, or 4% of my annual reading. I have no idea what happened here.)

    So that was 2013 for me. What was your year like, and where do you hope your reading will take you in 2014?

    Usually I like to post my goals for the new reading year around this time too, but this year I only hope I’ll be able to keep reading and blogging without being defeated by burnout or exhaustion, and without any major life crises causing interruptions. A simple enough wish — fingers crossed that the future will grant it.
  • 29 comments:

    1. Yep. There are books on here I am going to have to get at some point. No surprise there... I have to recover from my Christmas shopping spree, though... And, you think 7 books is bad? There was at least one month where I never finished anything. 2013 was a weird reading year for me...

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    2. Such a wonderful, broad array of books you've read. Somehow, I'm never as taken with Neil Gaiman as everyone else is, I know: blasphemy! But, I do have My Education which has popped up on quite a few "best of" lists so I'm thinking I should read it.

      Your stats intrigue me. I never want to turn my reading into arithmetic so I've ceased keeping number on what I've read. But, it makes for quite an interesting analysis.

      Happy New Year, almost, and we're off o another great year of reading. xo

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    3. Congrats on reading so many books. I barely hit the 100 mark, though I wish I had time to read all the other books I have on my list.

      Have a good reading 2014!

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    4. I'm so glad you had a good reading year and your reading volume always impresses me! Like 7 books in a month is two months for me basically. I want to read so many of these and I will always and forever love the way you write about books!

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    5. I love lists and statistics. I've only read one of the books on your list - Eleanor & Park - and it made my list of favorites too. I'm making note of several of the other books on your list.

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    6. Yeah, your favourites-of-the-year looks an awful lot like my TBR, wonder why that is?! :)

      I am always surprised by my numbers, too, and like you, I keep track of them entirely for myself. Competitive reading... ugh. But I think looking at my own reading habits and preferences is a really useful thing, especially for those of us in the business of encouraging reading in others.

      Also, I really should keep track of where my books come from. I like that you added a "Library Books" category. Possibly might be copying that for next year, if you don't mind...

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    7. So glad to see you enjoyed Megan Whalen Turner! I adore her books, most especially The King of Attolia, because every time I re-read it I find some new small detail-the way a character looks at another character, or what they are wearing, or drinking, and even in such small details there are new A ha! moments.

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    8. I too liked the Jo Walton books - there is another one here in this series. So many other books I am making a note from your list. Happy reading in 2014.

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    9. I always look at your list as the target, you know? You have such great taste in books. I believe we will be seeing a lot of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl mentions this year...what absolutely DELIGHTFUL novels. I also loved Rose Under Fire. That woman can write!

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    10. I too love reading other people's lists and stats! I am a little disappointed in my totals this year, but then again, it's also good I think to take one's time reading and savoring a book. But on the third hand [sic], there is so much to read and life is so short, comparatively!

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    11. Yay for a great reading year in 2013 even if not all other parts of life were wonderful. Here's hoping for many more buddy reads and fantastic discussion in 2014 :-)

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    12. What I love about end of the year book lists and stats is that I am reminded yet again of the many, many books in the world. I haven't read one on your list and have heard of only a couple, and I think that's great. There is so much choice, so many different kinds of books and subjects that there really is something for everyone.

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    13. Hahah, reading this post made me excited all over again about you loving Megan Whalen Turner as much as I thought you would.

      Anyway, it looks like a great reading year! So many wonderful authors had new books out, which, hooray! Americanah was one of my favorites of the year in particular, and I'm regretting now not asking for it for Christmas.

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    14. You have a really interesting, wide-ranging list of favourite reads this year! Quite a few that I haven't read, though there are also a few that have been on my own TBR for a while now... I'm always interested in stats as well, but I love how you put it -- that stats are for our own use, not for "competitive reading". So true! I don't want to be made uncomfortable about the fact that I read really quickly, and I certainly don't want to make others uncomfortable about their reading either. I'm going to repeat your phrase: if you enjoy reading you're a reader.

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    15. Wonderful picks! Here's to more marvelous reads in 2014.

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    16. The Queen of Anatolia is one of my favorite books of all time. Love that series.

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    17. Love seeing your stats! I really must get on the Rowell train this coming year.

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    18. SQUEEEEE...I love this post so much!!! For so many reasons!!! Not the least of which is that it reminded me of the numerous awesome books out there that I haven't yet read! I just said this to Chris, and it is most definitely the case with you, my dear, any book you love that much--well, it's a no-brainer that I'm going to love it too! And sheesh, I think I've only read of those books so far.

      Wishing you overwhelming happiness and multitudes of special moments this coming year, dear friend!!!! And lots of awesome reading!

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    19. What a great year of reading! I wish you a 2014 filled with all sorts of good things :)

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    20. I love reading these end of year posts mainly because it's such a great way to add more books to my wishlist :)

      I love to tally up all of my books read too and see how my reading year compared to last. Makes me wonder what was going on, etc. Did I reach out for more comfort reads compared to other years, did I read more across borders, you know how that is. Anyway thank you for sharing these and here's to a great reading year in 2014!

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    21. I am catching up on all your 2013 review posts and enjoying the diversity of your reading choices (as I do every year!) and the way you really think about what you've been reading. It's always a pleasure and I look forward to more next year. And I do hope that next year you'll find a happy balance between working, reading and blogging. Happy new year Ana!

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    22. You have so many books on this list that have gone straight onto my wishlist - I hope I get to at least a few of them this year. The Raven Boys is a certainty as it's already on the towering TBR! I also love seeing others' reading statistics, so thank you for sharing yours.

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    23. I'm really loving The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp, and it might have made my end of year top ten if, ahem, I'd actually finished reading it. Oops.

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    24. Happy New Year! I love your end of the year posts, they give me ideas for starting off another year of reading! :)

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    25. A lovely selection of books - lots of reminders in there of ones in my TBR I should read (Rowell, Gaiman etc).

      I love your stats too - I'm a stats fan. I may add 'new to me' authors to my own stats this year! :)

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    26. I always love your best of lists. You make everything sound so very, very wonderful! I was already looking forward to reading ELEANOR & PARK this month, but now I'm even more eager to dive in.

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    27. Loved your favourites list, Ana! I also enjoyed reading 'Eleanor and Park' and 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane'. Loved reading your reading stats too.

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    28. Such a diverse list - I'm convinced that I should read Eleanor and Park now, as so many bloggers whose judgement I trust have enjoyed it.

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    29. I love your year-end report, how many books got to you in 2013. (I've been terrible with the whole blogging business, so hadn't really been able to pop in and give a squee whenever you talked about Cheryl Strayed or Rainbow Rowell, and that's one of the things I regret about my internet laziness.) I read my first Patrick Ness this year–A Monster Calls—and I did so knowing how much you liked his work; and I'm so excited for the Susan Choi, more so when you sent me a thumbs-up about it over on Twitter, haha. All that is to say: Thanks for sharing your reading, as always. Here's to 2014, Ana!

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.