Monday, December 25, 2017

2017 on Goodreads

2017 on Goodreads2017 on Goodreads by Various

I shattered my goal of reading 17 books in '17, but that's mostly because I did not read Proust's Swann's Way as I thought I would. I wanted to read one "large" or "monumental" work a year, and this year was going to be Proust's Opus. However, Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus took the largest chunk of my reading attention throughout the year. I took from February 24th through November 14th to read it. The thought of reading both this and Proust was just too much. Not that I didn't enjoy Mann's book. I did, a great deal, but there are books that are a delightful sprint and those that are more of a contemplative ambulation, and Doctor Faustus was the latter. I'm glad I made that journey.

I must admit to having discovered my "groove". I enjoy a great variety of books, but there is a certain subset that I love: quiet tales of strangeness, sometimes venturing into the realms of horror, always deep in the fields of weirdness and awestruck wonder. I think I've actually bought more books than in any previous year and spent a great deal more money on many of them than in the past (getting a raise at work helped). In fact, I'm finding that I have rather expensive taste in books. Thankfully, I was paid well for some of my own writing and editing, and used some of those funds towards my expensive book addiction.

The first of the expensive books I bought and read this year was A Twist in the Eye, an handsome volume of excellent short stories by Charles Wilkinson published by the wonderful Egaeus Press. It was a great way to start the reading year!

But not all the volumes I picked up were expensive. Reggie Oliver's The Complete Symphonies of Adolf Hitler was acquired in an affordable paperback edition from the notable Tartarus Press (notable partially because of their expensive, but oh-so-worth-it hardcover editions). I loved it and have now ordered several more volumes from Tartarus (including one of those expensive and incredibly lovely hardcover editions).

Some books I got for free - at the library! Heaven's people, given the current political climate, I urge you to go use your public library and give them your support. I think I might join our local Friends of the Library in 2018. I did so years ago, in another state, and greatly enjoyed it. I think, with the kids mostly moved out of the house now, I might have time to do that again. I might not have read Atlas Obscura, I Contain Multitudes, or The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (which really did lead me to make some changes for the better) if it weren't for my local library. Librarians ROCK! Give them your support!

As most of you know, when I'm not reading or writing, I'm usually filling my leisure time with tabletop roleplaying games. This year I went head first into the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game and bought and read, cover too cover, the Call of Cthulhu Keeper rulebook and the outstanding guide to gently borrowing and morphing ideas from Lovecraft, Stealing Cthulhu. And now, I am writing a Call of Cthulhu adventure. See how that happens? Read, write, repeat.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite read of the year, Jon Padgett's amazing short story collection The Secret of Ventriloquism. My thesaurus has run out of superlatives for this book. It is really something a step beyond your typical short story collection. I'll let my review speak for itself.

And you'll notice, of course, that star-heavy leaning of the books I've read this year. Lots of four and five-star reads. There's a reason for this: Last year, I vowed to cut my To Be Read list dramatically. I think at one point I had over 200 books on that list. I decided that rather than dreaming and about all the books I wasn't reading that I sort of wanted to and fretting about all the books that I think I ought to be reading, I was going to cut my list like a lumberjack on crystal meth. At first, I vowed to cut it to 100. This was difficult, but still left some books that were of some interest, but maybe not a burning interest, to me. I needed focus. So I cut it in half again.

This was a painful exercise. But, as I learned from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I didn't need the emotional clutter that came with all these unfulfilled desires, nor did I need to feel obligated to read certain books because that is what is expected of someone with my level of education (Master's degree in African History, if you must know) who reads as much as I do and hobnobs with lots of people who are very well read.

After that cut, which, again, hurt . . . I felt much better. Then I started focusing on acquiring and reading the books that were left on my list. Whenever I wanted to add a book, I had to take a look at my list and think "Okay, which one of these great books do I want to CUT from my list to keep it under fifty"? This forced me to really assess the books on my list and really question why, exactly, I wanted to read such-and-such a book. I read reviews, both on Goodreads and elsewhere, I asked myself "is it really worth spending my hard-earned money on this book", I did some self-exploration to discover what it is I REALLY love to read. Yes, there were some misses, some books that I read that didn't scratch the itch I thought they would. And I'm certain there are a hundred, maybe hundreds, of other books that I would just love that I missed. But for now, I have a method of focus and discipline that is really upping my enjoyment of reading. I feel that I've really been able to hone my ability to assess my probable reaction to a book from the outside, before I've bought it. It's not perfect, but it seems to be working pretty well, given how much I've enjoyed the books I've read this year. And maybe it's just a psychological trick. Maybe I just think I like these books better.

But if it is just a trick, so what?!? I'm really enjoying myself!

The list is currently at 41 books. I think I'll read it down to 40 and go from there. I actually have 26 of the 41 on my shelf right now, and that's about a year's worth of books or more as it is (especially considering that Proust is still hiding in that pile, waiting to pounce). So here's to a fun, fantastic year of reading in 2018, both with my chosen few and, I am certain, a few surprises around the corner.

Happy New Year!

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