A Year in Books: 2015

Last year I made the goal to read 52 books. I read 29. Obviously, I completely failed to hit my goal, but I’m still claiming it a successful reading year. Here’s why:

1. I read better books

Check out my 2013 reading list on Goodreads and you’ll some truly terribly books like The Hangman’s Daughter and The Magician’s Assistant. Ugh. I have vaccuum-like tendencies when I’m reading, doesn’t matter if it’s garbage, once I’m reading a story, I don’t stop. In 2014 I prepared myself. I had books lined up on both Kindle and print so anytime I finished something I would pick up the next best thing to read.

The result of this is that my 2014 reading list is something I’m actually proud of. For example:

  • 1984: every bit as wonderful and intense at 28 as it was at 14
  • Invisible Man: the final word on the mental shift that happens as people become aware of systems of oppression
  • The Soul of the White Ant: a beautiful book written by naturalist, Eugene Marais, who spent 10 years studying termites.

2. I went deeper

Realizing that I can only read X number of books in a year gave me a lot of focus on what topics I wanted to explore. Instead of thinking as books as just the greatest way to spend a Saturday morning, I’m starting to be much more intentional about choosing books that will allow me to explore the topics I’m excited about.

I loved every page of A People’s History of the United States of America, and wanted to keep exploring the people and books that Howard Zinn mentioned. So far, I’ve read Assata (book review here). I am currently reading Emma Goldman’s, Living My Life. And just finished Johnny Got His Gun, which is a fairly short read, and one of the most excellent, disturbing, bizarre, and perfect books I have ever read.

West with the Night was my favorite book of 2013 and probably a top 10 of all time so I followed that with The Lives of Beryl Markham. While nowhere close to being the exquisite literary masterpiece that is West with the Night, I still enjoyed learning more about Beryl Markham and getting the authorship question definitively answered.

I’ve never reached the final stages of a project and haven’t wanted to rip it all out, completely, every bit of it, and start over from the very beginning. Because of this, I feel a weird affinity for D.H. Lawrence who did this not once, but THREE TIMES during the writing of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I love this book and was interested in reading Lawrence’s prior attempts that he declared unfit. His second version, John Thomas and Lady Jane, isn’t half the book of the original, but it was fun to read simply to compare what parts of the story he kept and destroyed.

3. I read new authors

There are some authors that I’ve always meant to read, but for whatever reason, I never quite go around to it. This year I made that a bigger point. Here were some highlights:

  • Margaret Atwood: I wish I could go back in time and give Margaret Atwood to 13 year old me. She would have been so in love with The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved as well in all of its dystopic, anti-feminist future. She also would have loved Cat’s Eye, present me was a bit more “meh.”
  • While I was little late in my discovery of Margaret Atwood, I picked the perfect time in my life to pick up volume 4 of the Diary of Anais Nin. A younger me would have been derailed by and infatuated with Nin’s brooding sentimentality. She is dreamy, idealistic, and often just annoying. But she’s also right, it can’t always be the time for furious debate, obsession with the daily grind, and incessant conversation about the latest indignation. Sometimes it’s time for art, music, friends, beauty, self-introspection, and conversations that last late into the night.
  • I finally read Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It lived up to every single bit of the hype.

4. I gave up on Hemingway

In another attempt to appreciate one of the “great authors of all time,” I picked up The Sun Also Rises. It’s a story about rich, self-entitled white people who drink too much, party too much, and get awkward when they realize that it’s all fun and games until someone gets killed during the running of the bulls. This causes their vacation to end on an awkward note and they all go home. This is just a boring story, I don’t care how tidy his writing is. The Beautiful and the Damned is the very best book about the disillusionment of wealth. As far as I’m concerned, that topic is exhausted and no one needs to write or read any other book on the subject of “poor rich people”.

So yeah, that was attempt number 3ish on Hemingway, and I have officially given up. Though, just to be fair, he may not be much of a storyteller, but he’s still a damn good writer.

5. I’m expanding my goals

The best thing about setting this overly-ambitious reading goal was that it made me much more intentional about what I read. Like I said at the beginning, the reminder that there is a limited number of books you can read is a powerful motivator to read books worth reading. But the same thing applies to every part of my life. There are only so many movies I can watch, places I can visit, and years I can live. So this year, I’m trying to be a little more intentional about all of these things. I’m also going to read 35 books 🙂

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