2016: My Year in Reading

A photo of books and a one-eyed daruma figure. The books are Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero.
How I’m starting 2017

It’s great to be safely on the other side of the new year. It’s been too long since I last posted, and that’s because 2016 turned out to be a personal lesson in resilience. Ideas that I had for the fall were waylaid due to some difficult personal issues; my mental health took a dive and my creativity went with it.

In looking at my 2016 reading goals, I came in just short of achieving them fully. As you might recall from my post on My Best Books of 2015, I didn’t set particularly difficult goals because I wanted to keep them achievable. I was trying to reduce some of the pressure I put on myself so that reading would continue to be an enjoyable pastime for me. The goals were to keep using Goodreads to track my reading; chase books that interested me instead of worrying about reading a certain number of books; and to read at least 10 of the books sitting on the shelf in my small apartment.

I did continue using Goodreads, often using the mobile app to update when I finished something en route to work. I really love their personalized infographic about your year in books (you can click here to see my 2016 Goodreads infographic). I only wish there was the option to save it as an image that could be shared elsewhere online.

But despite my intention otherwise, I started to concentrate on how much pleasure I took watching my list of finished books grow. And when pressures in my personal life increased and I realized that I might not be able to match the number of books I read in 2015, I started feeling upset about it and picked up the pace. In the end, I fell just short of 30 books, finishing the thirtieth in the second day of the new year.

To my credit, I read slightly longer books on average than the year before. The time I had for reading also decreased. I was commuting to work by public transit less often as the weather got colder, and that is usually prime time for me to submerge myself into whatever I’m reading. Instead, I was driving, and I didn’t switch over to audiobooks.

I read through 6 books that had been sitting on my shelf for a few years, acquired through publishing events and bookstores. All but Bryson were real food for thought, and 3 are creepy tales that I savoured during October. I’m happy that I made the time to chew on them all before I send them off to new homes.

Photo of 6 books: Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet, Head Full of Mountains by Brent Hayward, and Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu.
Six books off my shelves by authors Caitlin Sweet, Margaret Atwood, Brent Hayward, Alexandra Grigorescu, Yann Martel, and Bill Bryson (clockwise from top).

So, this past year of reading hasn’t been quite as I’d envisioned. But I still found several ways to explore books and engage with other readers in ways that really enriched my reading life:

  • I re-read a beloved high fantasy novel from my teenage years with a friend, and learned that it didn’t hold up to my critical, adult eye.
  • I bought books at publishing events and bookstores in addition to relying on the library.
  • I read important, entertaining and interesting books by First Nations/Indigenous/Métis authors (specifically Thomas King, Cherie Dimaline and a comics anthology edited by Hope Nicholson).
  • I tried out a book subscription box (specifically Book Riot’s September box) with mixed results.
  • I added bookish elements to a trip to Tokyo.

These are the kinds of experiences I plan to carry into 2017, and I hope to be able to share more of them on this blog. In particular, I want to explore my personal reading habits in relation to all the ways modern readers can connect with books. I might try an audiobook or an eReader, or join a different book community through a new app. I also hope to write about how I’ve incorporated literary tourism into my travels. Admittedly, it still takes me a long time to write posts, but I’m determined to post here once a month.

And despite the problematic nature of a numbered reading goal — the point of reading is not competition — I’m going to embrace a 30-book reading challenge this year. Avoiding a reading number last year did allow me to relax somewhat, but in reality my number was in the back of my mind all year. I figure it’s better to be honest with myself about my goals, whether consciously made or otherwise.

Photo of books to read to 2017: Very Sensible Stories for Grown Persons by Jason Taniguchi, This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti, Eutopia by David Nickle, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Sarah Barmak's Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality.
Some of my planned 2017 reads by authors Jason Taniguchi, Zarqa Nawaz, Junot Diaz, Sheryl Sandberg, Jen Sincero, Sheila Heti, David Nickle, Marjane Satrapi and Sarah Barmak (left to right).

Of course, I already have a pile of unread books from my shelves that I’m excited to start. I set some personal goals for 2017, so this month I’m trying to channel inner strength and positivity to prepare myself going forward. To do this, I’m reading some self-help and personal growth books I’ve had on my TBR for a while. I’m halfway through Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, and I’m pairing it with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I’m aware of the backlash Sandberg’s book has received, but I’m curious to see if I find any useful advice there (or if I end up putting it down early).

Let me know if you have any reading goals this year. What are you reading this month?

My Best Books of 2015

In 2015, I made some changes to my reading habits.

First, I started tracking the books I read on Goodreads instead of scribbling them in the back pages of my journal, as I’ve done most years. I even downloaded the app on my phone for easy updates in case I finished a book on the bus or in a café. This meant I wasn’t opening my journal as often (which I wish to correct this year), but otherwise I enjoyed logging each finished book and seeing their colourful covers accumulate in my profile. It’s also been useful for tracking books that I’m interested in reading next.

Second, I decided against setting a number of books to read. I already had a lot of other resolutions last year, and I wanted to somewhat ease the pressure I had put on myself. I wanted to focus on enjoying whatever I was reading, and letting my curiosity and the general flow of life effect what types of books I read.

As a result, I completed 30 books from a wide variety of genres: classic lit, police procedural fiction, business nonfiction, horror fiction, essays, short stories, self-help, and memoir. The authors on my list are a variety of genders, ethnic backgrounds, and sexualities; two-thirds of them are women, a good number are also Canadian. If you’re curious, you can check out my full list of 2015 reads here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2015/8062603

I’m happy to say that I read hardly any duds this year, and thus it was tricky to narrow down a shortlist of absolute favourites. But here they are, the 7 best books I read in 2015:

 hopkinson_coverFalling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson

(Tachyon Publications)

This anthology of sci-fi and fantasy stories gave me the chance to cavort inside the imagination of a writer who is unbound by the common tropes of each genre. Wyrms and dryads, Trinidadian douens and orchid-rat hybrids, even Garuda and Vishnu intermingle with human characters who are often people of colour and/or queer in narratives of transformation, magic, epidemics, time travel, genetic modification, and haunting. Brief introductions contextualize Hopkinson’s inspiration for each story, but I couldn’t always follow her line of thinking. That’s the thing about this anthology: you’ll never know quite where Hopkinson will lead you, but you’ll be pleased and fascinated by what she’s concocted. My personal favourite? “Message In a Bottle.”

Continue reading “My Best Books of 2015”