Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Year in Review - Part One

And so, the increasingly difficult task of evaluating quantitatively the novels I read comes around. This year, I am going to do something slightly different. Because I manage to read a few novels published in 2011 itself, I am going to rank them in a separate list, but still allow them to contend in the year's best overall list.

The 2011 List

6 The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
5 The Adults by Alison Espach
4 Palo Alto by James Franco
3 Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel by Jonathan Morris
2 The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
1 The King of the Badgers by Phillip Hensher

However, I did not finish Reamde by Neal Stephenson, even though I'm halfway through, and it would have no doubt replaced Franco's short story collection on this list.

The Best
10 A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
9 Star Trek: Destiny by David Mack*
8 The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John LeCarre
7 Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn
6 The Vivisector by Patrick White
5 Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
4 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre
3 The Death and Life of Bobby Z by Don Winslow
2 The King of the Badgers by Phillip Hensher
1 Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

* ie the entire trilogy

What an amazing year for books. One can track my interests throughout the year just like last year. When I decided to read classics, I did so for a month, and then switched to sci-fi for a couple months. I read a month of novels like Model Home and The Adults, books distinctly in the Franzen subgenre of social realism. Near the end of the year, I slowed down considerably and didn't read as much. Not just due to school but due to exhaustion. I was just tired of reading, I suppose.

This year I definitely took a bigger interests in my stats than last year. I started on Goodreads back in 2009, but it wasn't until the halfway point of 2010 where I started using it obsessively. When 2011 started, I had Goodreads down to a science, learning to quantitatively and qualitatively track everything I read. Goodreads also holds a challenge every year, where you estimate the amount of books you'd like to read, and then you attempt to defeat that number. At the outset of 2011, I set it at 85 books, hoping to tackle some larger books, such as Infinite Jest. I called this, in the blog, the 2011 Challenge, which I will get to in a second.

I hit 85 books back in September. Yes, back in September. Now it's December and I've read over 125 books, some of which were really short and some of which were long, such as Matterhorn.

Here is the distribution of scores in a handy chart.

As one can see, there are a lot of 4 stars books. In fact, they made up 48% of all the novels I read in 2011. That's huge! That means I chose wisely in my reading. Less than 7% of my reading was two stars or less, which I think counts as a huge success. I read more sub-average books in 2010, but in 2011, I handed out five stars like they were candy. I award 5 stars to 20% of the 125 books, whereas in 2010, I only gave 17 out of 94 novels that score. That's a 47% increase in five stars from 2010 to 2011. As you can see, I love stats. According to Goodreads, I read 39,620 pages. Now bear in mind that this site sometimes has incorrect pagination or different editions, even though I try for maximum fidelity. Still, even with a margin of error, we're still talking upwards of 30,000 pages. That's staggering.

Frankly it's amazing that I read so much considering that I was in school or in the gym or out with friends. I had a hugely social year in 2011, and despite that, I manage to obliterate last year's record. There's no way I am going to beat that in 2012.

Okay, so the 2011 Challenge was a bit of a failure. Every time I set out goals, such as "I'm going to read this specific list" I end up failing. It's the same when I set out goals of writing. I have to allow for organic change and whatnot. Here are the books from the 2011 Challenge that I managed to finish:

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane
A Division of the Spoils by Paul Scott

Pretty dismal showing considering that I set out to read 12 books. That's only 25 percent. That's a failure. Despite this small problem, I feel very good about my reading in 2011. For 2012, I don't plan on setting any reading goals, not even a number. I think 125 is anomalous and will never be repeated for the rest of my life, or at least until I retire. 2011 was a perfect storm of circumstance: no cable, no girlfriend, no responsibility and a desire to get back into school. For goals not related to reading, you'll have to wait for part two of my Year in Review.

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