2016: My Year in Reading

All of the data that follows was collected by me throughout the year using a combination of Google Sheets and Google Calendar. All seasonal and monthly calculations are based on the date each title was completed. Average days to read titles are based on the number of days actually spent reading each title, and not necessarily the full span from begun date to completed date.

A complete list of all the books I read in 2016 is at the bottom of this post.


I read 70 books in 2016. This year I overwhelmingly read fiction:

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My Least Favorite Books of 2016

In advance of my annual “Year in Reading” summary, I thought I’d post a list of the books I read this year that I liked least. Or, more accurately—the books that disappointed me the most. Because reading isn’t just about what you like—it’s about what you don’t like, too.

Inclusion on this list doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad. There are titles here which are very good—they just weren’t my thing. Some titles make this list because I had hoped for more from them. Other titles are on this list because I genuinely believe they’re poor work.

This is not a definitive ranking. Titles are listed in alphabetical order by author.

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The Genres that Scare Me

I spend a fair amount of time talking about the importance of diversity in our stories and reading culture. I fully support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. I’ve made a commitment to increase the diversity of my own reading, both in terms of authors and characters.

I read two posts over the past couple of weeks which spin the idea of diverse reading in a slightly different direction:

I Can’t Even with Librarians Who Don’t Read Diversely by Molly Wetta (posted on Bookriot, August 12, 2016)

Call to Action: Get Out There and Read Something You Are “Afraid” Of by Becky Spratford (posted on RA for All, August 22, 2016)

Normally, we talk about diverse books in terms of the ethnicity and cultures of characters, authors, and story traditions. What speaks to me about the two articles linked above is the call to increase the diversity of the genres I read. The call to “read outside [my] own taste and interest” (from Bookriot), to read things I dislike or that scare me to try (as per the RA for All post).

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Childhood Memory: Found

The Trigan Empire by Mike Butterworth & Don Lawrence
The Trigan Empire written by Mike Butterworth & artwork by Don Lawrence
Chartwell Publishers, 1978
(inside title page)

Without further ado, I present my long lost childhood memory:

The Trigan Empire, written by Mike Butterworth with artwork by Don Lawrence.

This is definitely the book my siblings and I read as kids. As fragmentary as my memories of it are, I was shocked at how familiar it felt to read through it again as an adult. I found that I remembered almost every page as it was revealed to me. And I was delighted to discover that the copy I received via ILL came from a public library in my home state. Seems appropriate.

The Trigan Empire was a comic that ran from 1965 to 1982, published in Britain by Fleetway, with Butterworth and Lawrence as the primary writer and artist. It ran as a serial installment in an educational magazine focused on science. The hardbound novel-length book my siblings and I read was an omnibus collection of the earliest stories from the comic, published in the United States in 1978 by Chartwell.

What’s it about?

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Searching for a Childhood Memory

When my siblings and I were in early grade school at the beginning of the 1980s, we discovered a strange book in the children’s section of our local public library. It was a heftier tome than we’d ever seen on the shelves, oversized and thick—close to 200 pages. Barring encyclopedias, we’d only seen books this big in the adult section or on our parents’ bookshelves at home.

But the best part was that this strange book was a comic book!

Today we’d call it a graphic novel but we hadn’t heard that term back then. We checked it out, brought it home, and each read through it a couple of times.

My memories of reading this book are difficult to properly describe: fragmentary, dissociative, surreal, and dreamlike all come close. I recall that my in-the-moment experience of reading it as a little kid was similar: surreal, dreamlike, dissociative, fragmentary. I had a difficult time keeping the narrative strung together as a cohesive whole in my head.

It was the most challenging thing I’d read up to that point in my life.

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Shakespeare’s Language

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the Folger Shakespeare Library is sending 18 original copies of the First Folio on a tour of the United States. First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare will exhibit the Folio in each of the 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.

The Kansas City Public Library—my library—is the host for Shakespeare’s First Folio during its Missouri showing in June. We’ve planned a year’s worth of activities and programming around it.

So it’s pretty much all Shakespeare, all the time around here. Being a library, we like to emphasize the influence that Shakespeare’s writing had on the course of literature and language in the English-speaking world.

One fact that lots of people love to cite is that Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words and phrases in the English language. This fact tends to be presented as though he sat down and made them up out of whole cloth (a la Lewis Carroll).

I find this scenario unlikely. I consider it far more likely that Shakespeare was merely the first (or the first that we know of) to write down many words and phrases that were already being used in his era.

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I’m Reviewing for Booklist Online Now

I’ve been rather silent on this blog lately. That happens sometimes. In this case, I’ve been worn out from working on projects around my house. Totally worth it, though, because I now have (among other things) a whole floor-to-ceiling wall of built-in bookshelves!

Bookshelves
Pardon the wonky persepctive—I swear these shelves are actually straight & true. These are hand-built from a design that (as far as I know) was created by my dad. I grew up in a house with shelves just like them and I’ve always wanted to build my own. They’re a bit over 9 feet long and close to 8 feet tall. My wife & I used to have around a third more books than this, but I got rid of a significant portion of my collection when we moved from Chicago to Kansas City. Movers charge by weight, after all.

I’m also excited to announce that I’m now reviewing for Booklist Online. My primary focus for them will be adult SF with an occasional nonfiction title thrown in. So… not all that different from the kind of books I review here.

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In Praise of Formulaic Genre Fiction

A friend of mine posted this article on Twitter a couple days ago (via the New York Public Library):

What Makes Great Detective Fiction, According to T. S. Eliot
by Paul Grimstad (posted by The New Yorker, February 2, 2016)

I love knowing that no less a luminary than T. S. Eliot was a passionate advocate of early detective fiction. But more illuminating is this glimpse into historic perceptions of genre fiction:

Namely, critics have always dismissed genre fiction as low-brow and formulaic, as intrinsically non-literary, and therefore less worthy.

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When People Ask Me about My Favorite Authors

In my continuing quest to find my way into and through the world of Readers’ Advisory…

Sometimes people will ask me how to get started on a particular author. They haven’t read anything by this author, but they know I have and they want to give ’em a try. They ask me which of the author’s books is my favorite, or which they should read first.

My initial impulse is to tell them which book is my personal favorite by the author. But I also know that what appeals to me might not be what appeals to them, and so my favorite might not be theirs. Learning which is my personal favorite might tell them something about me, but it might not be their best entrée into the author’s body of work.

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