It’s been a good year for books. I read far more than I’ve ever read in a single year – before 2009, I thought 100 books in a year was nearly impossible – and a great deal of them were really good. I did get a little tired out reading at that pace, and I worry I won’t remember some of my books, so I’m making it a goal for 2010 to read at about half that rate. I’d like to still hit 100 books, but not much more than 100.
Also, before I move on to the wrap-up, I suppose I should mention I do have some reading goals for 2010.
- I want to make sure that 20-25% of my books are either written by GLBT authors or are GLBT-themed.
- I want at least 50% of my books to come from my shelves. They have to be on my shelves as of today in order to count for this. New acquisitions don’t count. The ones I’ve already ordered but haven’t come to me yet do count.
- I want to read two books per month off my Fill in the Gaps list.
But that’s all. I’m trying to take things real easy in 2010. Now, to move on to the summary for the year. Here is my wrap-up:
Total books: 184
Subcategories (on finished reads only):
First-time reads: 167
Graphic Novels: 23
In translation: 23 (from 11 different languages, French being the most common by far)
Chunksters (500+ pages): 15
New to me authors: 109
By men: 72
By women: 111
Anonymous author: 1
Biggest reading month: June – 21
Smallest reading month: November – 8
Best reading month: February, with 9 books that I liked (several making my top reads of the year), 6 neutrals, and only 1 I disliked
Worst reading month: June, with 6 books I disliked, only 5 (of 21) that I liked, and 10 I was neutral about.
Challenges participated in: 25
Best Book-Related Discoveries:
First – graphic novels. I’d never read any graphic novels before this year and when I began, I wasn’t sure I was going to like them. I read a couple I was lukewarm about before I got to the ones I loved. I’m still not sure I really understand them entirely (and I’m terrible at reviewing them), but I definitely want to read more and I’m glad this world was opened up to me.
Second – YA. I hated the YA that existed when I was a teen. Babysitter’s Club. RL Stine. Sweet Valley High. Ugh. It was because of those books that I decided I didn’t like books for a long time. Last year, I began reading some award-winning middle grade fiction (I’d previously only read classic lit), and then in December I read Airman by Eoin Colfer. It was my first modern YA book and I loved it. I’ve read so many this year – it’s completely dominated my reading list. I’ve read enough to know which types of YA that I dislike and which I like, and to differentiate between various genres within. No, YA is NOT a genre!! It is an age group, with multiple subgenres within it, just like adult or children’s fiction. So many of my favorite authors have been found here, including Scott Westerfeld and Deb Caletti. I adore both of them and have been soaking up everything they write.
Now, I present the best and worst books of 2009:
I’ll start with the worst, and get that out of the way. Before I begin, please allow this disclaimer: This is only my opinion. I’m in no way saying that these book are bad – I just didn’t like them. I know some of these books are on other peoples’ favorites lists, and I’m sorry. They just didn’t work for me.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here are my top 5 Worst Reads of 2009. These will not include abandoned books (otherwise Tobacco Road would be near the top of the list). Though I’m only presenting the top 5 worst books of the year, I will first mention several runner-ups: Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble, The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger, Kampung Boy by Lat, Wings by Aprilynne Pike, Atonement by Ian McEwan, and In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke.
Of the top 5, these are in approximately descending order, with the least bad on top and the worst at the bottom.
- Tithe by Holly Black – Vapid and badly written, plus it rubbed on a bunch of my pet peeves and had horrible role-model characters.
- The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks – A complete groaner. This was my first – and last – Sparks novel. The last line of the book clenched that.
- New Moon by Stephenie Meyer – I didn’t mind Twilight, but I hated New Moon. Everything about it either sickened me or made me roll my eyes.
- Austenland by Shannon Hale – When this one wasn’t just vapid chick-lit, it turned into offensive stereotyping. Ugh.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – This is hands down the worst book I’ve read this year, possibly the worst book I’ve ever read in my life. I know, I know – I’m going to get pummeled under the collective weight of Book Bloggers crying “heresy!” but I really, really hated this book. I tried so hard to love it. I even gave it a kind review, trying to see the positive. I’m sorry, but I don’t see any romance or love in this book at all. I see lots of gratuitous p*rn, about 250 pages of unnecessary description of things like food and clothing details, gratuitous alcoholism, gratuitous drug use, gratuitous vomiting, gratuitous repetition of the same things over and over again (like this clause), pedophilia, wooden characters that weren’t at all realistic, stilted writing, unbelievable dialog, and unpunished criminal violence. To me, there was nothing redeeming about the plot, the characters, or the writing. I’m sorry. I know it’s heresy, but I just hate this book with a passion and as time passes, I keep hating it worse. Every year I seem to have one book that I loathe and that grates on my memory until something worse takes its place. This is my 2009 Worst Book. I wish it wasn’t, but it is.
So. Interesting pattern. Two are fantasy-fluff YA books (plus two more in the runner-ups) and three are modern adult fiction (plus three more in the runner-ups). In fact, of the 5 worst and 6 runner-ups, only one book didn’t fit into one of those two categories, and five of six of those modern adult fiction books are American. Yeah. That’s not surprising, is it?
Anyway, I hope no one hates me now…
On a happier note, here are the top 20 books that I read in 2009. Except for the first three, these are in no particular order. The first three are the best of the best.
- Between Mom and Jo by Julie Anne Peters – It was a tough choice, but I’m naming Between Mom and Jo as my top book of 2009. You guys have heard me rave about this one enough, so I won’t go on about it.
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Is this any surprise? No? I didn’t think so. Any book that I can read three times in 4 months, crying each time, deserves to be up this high on the list. For the better part of the year, I didn’t think anything would beat this book into my top slot.
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – This is also no surprise. This book was surprisingly wonderful. I can’t believe it took me so long to get to it. The richness of the prose and beauty of atmosphere are perfect.
- The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa – I’m all about the richness, I guess. The prose was so beautiful in this book, even in translation. I loved the characters and the way math turned into poetry.
- Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – I didn’t expect this quirky dystopia to stick with me the way it has, but the longer I’m away from it, the more I want to reread it. It’s excellently done. The author had some real talent, and though at first glance, the book may seem shallow, it has a deep current that runs underneath. I loved the message.
- Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli – It’s not usual for a nonfiction book to end up in my favorite reads for a year, but this one was so much fun to read for a huge Potter fan like me.
- The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck – Once more, beautiful, rich prose, perfect atmosphere, well developed characters – this gets me every time.
- The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti – This was a surprise, because I wasn’t sure I even liked the book for the first half. It blossomed into something I loved, and less than a year later, I’ve already reread it. When I thought of making a top books list, this one automatically came to mind.
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – Another surprise. I was really neutral about it when I read it. In fact, the review still rates it as 3 stars. However, this book has stuck in my mind more than almost any other, and it has really grown into something I loved. It’s the sort of book whose impact wasn’t immediately felt, but definitely built a web in me. I really want to reread it now.
- After by Amy Efaw – This book is so marvelously written and researched, and Efaw made a monster of a narrator completely sympathetic. That took incredible talent.
- Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin – This was one of the best feel-good books I read this year. It was all about very heavy subjects (primarily, the genocide in Rwanda) without being descriptive in a way that I can’t stomach. I really appreciated that, and I loved the narrator, Angel, to death.
- Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld – It was really hard to choose which Westerfeld books to pick for this list, since I really loved a lot of them – I could really fill up this list with Westerfeld. Leviathan was particularly good, despite my original trepidation. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it – it’s not my normal type of book – but I really enjoyed it.
- The Arrival by Shaun Tan – Oh so beautiful. Beautiful art, beautiful story, exquisite atmosphere. I had no idea someone could say so much without a word. Must get more Shaun Tan.
- Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton – This is another of my favorite feel-good books of the year. The story is nothing special – it’s just a romance – but it’s so realistic and the characters were so human! Plus, their long-distance relationship held a special place in my heart, as that’s how Jason and I got to know each other, too.
- Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel – This book was so different from anything I’ve ever read and I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one to everyone, plus it was just so much fun reading and reviewing it with Jason.
- Wild Roses by Deb Caletti – This one affected me so strongly that I blocked most of it out afterwards. It earned its place here because at the time I was shaking and crazy for a couple days, and considered it the best book I’d read in years. I need to go back and reread it to regain a feel for it.
- The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – This was my first taste of Collins and it was fabulous! Such a well put together mystery.
- Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton – This was a beautifully written book about South Africa that opened up a whole world of culture and history to me.
- The Trial by Franz Kafka (illustrated classics, Montellier and Mairowitz) – While The Trial itself was not one of my favorite classics this year, the GN version was brilliant. Somehow the people who adapted this managed to cut out all the clutter from Kafka’s unfinished novella and really bring out the surreal, Kafkaesque tone in the art.
- the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, which includes Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras – Okay, that’s sort of cheating, but I couldn’t pick just one! I think it’s because the books feel like one cohesive piece for me and it’s difficult for me to separate them. How can I say which is better? So I’m honoring the whole series here.
So, in the end, it turns out 7 YA titles made my list (counting the Uglies series as 1), 4 classics, 1 nonfiction book, 2 graphic novels, and 6 modern adult novels. The large number of modern adult books is actually a huge surprise for me…but I guess 5 of them are non-US books, which is less surprising. Three of my top books are in translation, 1 is a GLBT book, 7 are by/about POC, and 10 are by non-US authors. Eight of the books on my mid-year top 10 list made it to the top 20 now. I read 10 of these books in the first half of the year, and 10 in the second half.
For the most part, it was a wonderful year of books this year. Here’s to a great 2010!