Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Year in Books

Happy New Year Readers! How was your year in books? In this self-interview, I will tell you about mine.....

How was your year.... as a reader?

It was a great year in books. I read about 77 books this year. That doesn't include all the other kinds of reading I do: reading on-line, excerpts and chapters from books, essays, textbooks, curriculum materials, etc. I spend a significant percentage of my time reading. (Note to self: wouldn't it be interesting to keep track of just how much time that really is?).

What were the best books you read in 2014?

I think the best book I read in 2014 was Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. Men We Reaped in non-fiction, a memoir of loss--specifically the loss of five young men in Ward's life. Ward traces the effects of racism and poverty on her community, her own life, and the lives of young black men. This is a deeply compassionate, profound book that everyone should read.

Other non-fiction books that left a deep impression in 2014:
How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America essays by Kiese Laymon
Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White a memoir in graphic novel format by Lila Quintero Weaver
Waking Up White by Debby Irving
Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau (I got a bit Thoreau-crazed this year. I now own three editions of Walden, my favorite being the Norton Critical Edition edited by William Rossi)
Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick--a slender volume that argues for Moby Dick as the great American novel

In contemporary fiction, I especially loved:
The Enchanted by Rene Denfield
Trans Atlantic by Colum McCann
Casebook by Mona Simpson
Fallout by Sadie Jones
Hue and Cry by James Alan McPherson
Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson
We'll Go to Coney Island by Barbara Scheiber
The Conditions of Love by Dale Kushner
What is Found, What is Lost by Anne Leigh Parrish

That's a pretty good list, but what about the classics?

I didn't read as many classics as I would have like this year. But the ones I did read didn't disappoint. (Wait, no, I lied. I hated Hard Times. A Charles Dickens novel that is both short and boring. Didn't know it could happen). But these classics I loved:

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (a reread)
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison ***** Amazing book
Another Country by James Baldwin  ***** Amazing book
Antigone by Sophocles (a reread)
Walden by Henry David Thoreau

How does being a teacher affect your reading habits?

I find myself reading more Young Adult books, and reading certain books as background or research for my classes. I also spend enormous amounts of time reading in my field of secondary English education. That means books and articles about curriculum and theory, and books or essays about education and teaching. Here are a few Young Adult books I read and loved:

 Fangirl by Rainnbow Rowell
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Paper Towns by John Green
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

What else can you tell us about being a reader and a teacher?

Only that the two are deeply intertwined. Being a reader (a voracious reader) informs everything I do in the classroom. My class and my room are constructed around the idea of creating lifelong readers. I read every day in my classroom, and so do my students. I have conversations about books in the classroom, in the hallways, and in the library. Basically I am a full-time proseletyzer.

I don't see any fantasy or speculative fiction on your list. Did you read any?

Oh yes, this was the year that I decided I really do like fantasy and speculative fiction. I plan to read much more widely in this genre next year. Here are a few of my favorites:

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

What is the last book you will read in 2014?

That would be Hand of Fire by Judith Starkston. It is a story about a young woman, Briseis, whio falls in love with the warrior Achilles during the Trojan War. So far I'm really enjoying it.

What are the biggest insights that have resulted from your year in reading?

That reading isn't a race. The past few years I've really focused on the number of books I've read, but I'm coming to see this as unimportant. I'd like to give myself permission to read slowly, and to really focus on authors whose books I've gotten the most from. Read deeply and slowly if I can.

The other insight I've had is the importance of rereading for me. I found a quote from Walter Mosely that sums it up nicely: 
Stories, essays, novels, and memoirs all deserve to be, indeed have to be read multiple times. Every writer worth his or her salt knows that writing is rewriting. Every reader should know the same thing about understanding text: that is, real reading is rereading.

         Walter Mosely in the Introduction to The Best American Non-Required Reading, edited by Dave Eggers

Any last thoughts?

Yes: it is a great privilege to be a reader. I have almost unlimited access to books and texts of all kinds, from all cultures, in all languages and in translation. The hardest thing for a reader today is to discern what is of value, and I think that's very personal. I think that comes down to the reader.

Oh, and Happy New Year!


Iliana said...

Oh I'm so happy to see Casebook on your list - it was one of my favorites for 2014 too!

Congrats on a great reading year and Happy New Year!

bibliophiliac said...

@Iliana-I saw mixed reviews on Casebook, but I really loved it. Plus, it made me cry... Happy New Year to you too!

Amy said...

I too loved The Enchanted and it's going to be on my best books of 2014 list tomorrow. I think it's underrated. Have you read the YA book We Were Liars by E. Lockhart? Stunning

bibliophiliac said...

@Amy-I've had We Were Liars checked out from our school library for a looong time! Better get to that! The Enchanted was phenomenal, a really beautiful book.

bermudaonion said...

I worked a lot in the last month and it really affected my reading. I don't know how you teach and read so much!

bibliophiliac said...

@bermudaonion-I find a way! What is harder is finding time to write reviews and posts. But if there were a job where the duties were "read all day," that would be awesome!

Bybee said...

I have Elbow Room on my TBR, but the Pulitzer collection must be packed up and sent stateside. I'll have to read it when I get resettled.

bibliophiliac said...

@Susan Bybee-Packing up books must be hard. I know as soon as the books were in boxes I'd be wanting to read some title that I had packed up. Hope your transition goes smoothly.

Lisa said...

"Reading isn't a race." So true! I've cut my "goal" for 2015 down to 50 books and only picked a number at all as an incentive never to let a reading slump last too long. I'll almost certainly read more than that but I want to make sure I allow myself to read big books which often doesn't happen when you're looking at trying to read a lot of books. You had a good year!

bibliophiliac said...

@Lisa-I love big books! Setting unrealistic reading goals doesn't work for me. Reading an 800 page book takes time.

Anonymous said...

I reread Invisible Man in 2012 via an unabridged audiobook. I loved it!

I'm a high school English teacher, too, and the harder our district turns toward data collection (mainly through common assessments), the more I want to do away with grades entirely. I see you take the same outrageous position that I do. I just had my students read four essays -- two in favor of grading and two in favor of abolishing grades -- to help us learn how to write in the argumentative mode.

bibliophiliac said...

@Peter-Data collection and common assessments. Oh, yes. Here too.

The assignment you describe sounds like something I'd like to try with my students. Great idea.

Invisible Man is on my list to reread this year, along with Another Country. Two great works of literature.

Katie - Extraordinary Extras said...

Would you be reading the classics if you weren't a teacher? Do you have your class read them?

High school and college was basically when I didn't because we were reading the classics, and most of them bored me (except The Great Gatsby). It wasn't until I had time to choose my own books again that I really got back into reading.