When I was sixteen, I set a goal to read 50 books in a year. They had to be books that I wasn’t reading anyway for a class assignment, books I’d never read before, and books that I would be proud to show to my favorite English teacher. I kept a list all year and I recently came across it again – my mom saved it and slipped it into the back of my baby book, which she gave to me along with a blank one to fill in when Peanut was born. Looking back over the list, it appears that I was on a major Agatha Christie kick that year. But I also fit in Jane Eyre, Emma, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Walden, Wuthering Heights and Anna Karenina and a handful of Eugene O’Neill plays. I had a major “thing” for Eugene O’Neill in high school. Oh, and sixteen-year-old Jac also found time to read a book on college applications and a bio of my favorite band, R.E.M. (Some things really haven’t changed.) Looking back at my 1998 book list, I remembered what fun it was to go over my reading at the end of the year. In fact, I think I’ve done something of the sort most years since.
This year I’ve managed to squeeze in plenty of reading time, even with some busy times at work, not to mention pregnancy and a NICU journey and a newborn. Reading has always been my escape and my leisure. So here’s 2012, by the numbers.
In 2012, I read 98 books (82 fiction and 16 non-fiction), and a total of 31,491 pages.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown:
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper reading wrap-up post if I didn’t tell you my favorites, would it? Here, in no particular order, are my top ten favorite books read in 2012:
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel – I loved this 2009 Man Booker winner, which focused on the trials and tribulations of Thomas Cromwell as he bends the law to allow Henry VIII to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Fascinating story (even though I knew how things ended, for Henry and Katherine and Anne, it was still interesting to read a version with Cromwell as the main character) and gorgeous prose.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain – As someone who has always tried to overcome my introverted tendencies (berating myself for being boring when I wanted to stay home with a book instead of go out and party, and always, always trying too hard to be bubbly and chatty) I loved reading about “mah people.” Susan Cain explains how American society came to embrace an “extrovert ideal” and how introverts can capitalize on their own personalities to succeed professionally. Fascinating mix of social science and cheerleading for those of us who’d rather recharge with some alone time than in a crowd.
Freddy and Fredericka, by Mark Helprin – I laughed my way through this royal farce. A spoof Charles and Di are sent to re-conquer the United States for Great Britain. Traveling incognito across America, they learn to love one another. Silly, sweet, and just what I wanted to read after long days in the NICU.
Shine Shine Shine, by Lydia Netzer – I was captivated by this tale of a marriage of two outsiders. Sunny and Maxon bonded over being different. But when Sunny became pregnant, she decided she didn’t want to be different anymore. Now Maxon, an astronaut, is stranded on a broken-down rocket and Sunny must decide if she wants to abandon her quest for conformity and save her marriage. But will she be too late? Loved the writing and I was glued to the story.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien – I’d been meaning to get around to this one for quite some time, and I finally did. I loved the sweet, fun story of Bilbo Baggins and how he goes from being a stay-at-home hobbit to an adventurer. One of these days I might even get out to see the movie, although I doubt it will bring me quite as much joy as the book did.
A Good American, by Alex George – Oh, my goodness. I can’t stop gushing about this gorgeous book. The story of an immigrant family over several generations (and about a century), it has become my gold standard by which I measure all future family sagas. I laughed and I cried and I tweeted the author to tell him how much I enjoyed his work (and he tweeted me back!).
The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey – I love when I read a book for the characters and get swept away by gorgeous prose. The Snow Child was everything a book should be – as crystal clear and evocative as a photograph, emotional, gripping, and beautiful. Just a stunning, stunning book all around.
11/22/63, by Stephen King – My first Stephen King novel was so much fun. I couldn’t put it down; I loved the descriptions of life in the 1950s as Jake/George learned to navigate a new decade and love again after his divorce. And time travel novels are my weakness, so I knew I’d be a fan.
The Mapping of Love and Death, by Jacqueline Winspear – I read all the Maisie Dobbs mysteries this year, and this one was my favorite. Maisie is a lovable, if sometimes exasperating, heroine, and her cases are always fraught with emotion and danger. The Mapping of Love and Death was, in my opinion, the best book out of a really remarkable series.
Bring Up The Bodies, by Hilary Mantel – It’s not cheating to name two books from a trilogy to my top-ten-bests, because Bring Up The Bodies ALSO won a Man Booker. So if the Man Booker awards committee can double up on the Hilary Mantel, so can I, amirite? In this installment, Cromwell finds himself undoing all his previous work (in a sense) – after spending all of Wolf Hall trying to install Anne Boleyn on the throne, he spends all of Bring Up The Bodies trying to dislodge her and sub in Jane Seymour. Again, I knew how it would turn out, but loved seeing how the events unfolded from Cromwell’s perspective.
All in all, I’m happy – but not thrilled – with my reading in 2012. I’d like to have read more classics (I counted the Fairacre books as classics – since I think they are – and they inflated my totals) and more literary fiction, and a little less general fiction. I got very swept up in hyped new releases this year (explaining my excesses at the library) and I wish I had spent more time reading through my TBR and the books I already had on my shelves. Had I done that, there’d have been more classics on the list, for sure, and more literary fiction too. But I enjoyed my reading immensely in 2012, and I think that qualifies as a success.
How was your 2012 reading? What are your goals for 2013 reading? (I’ll be sharing mine next week.)