Scattered Thoughts on Finishing 100 Books in a Year

reading in a hammockOkay, so I’ve now had three days away from 10-10-12, and I thought I would wrap things up with some thoughts about the reading challenge and some 2013 reading highlights. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this blog moving forward as I have little desire to post 100 reviews this year. However, I do think that I will keep posting reviews of books that I like/love/hate to keep myself in the habit of writing. Let me just say that 10-10-12 is a fantastic experience. It really is mind-boggling to think that I read 100 books last year. I’m still not quite sure how that all happened. But it did. However, I would not recommend undertaking this challenge if you don’t have the time for it. You will need to finish 2 novels a week (give or take), so you’ll need probably between 6 – 15 hours of spare time to finish those books depending on your reading speed and the length of the books you choose.

The Joy of Reading
I think the most important thing I’ve realized/re-discovered doing this thing is that reading can be fun. A lot of fun. So much so that I’ll stay up til the early hours of morning while finishing a great book. Despite doing a dissertation in literature, I found myself in a place where reading was no longer fun. It had become work, and not work in the invigorating and exhilarating sense that it can be. But work in the sense that I no longer took any pleasure in reading. It became a mechanical thing I did, often finding myself finishing a book with no emotional reaction beyond “Yeah, I’m done.” Anyways, a good book that you don’t have to analyze for work is a great thing to read. So cheers to finding the joy of reading again.

The Chore of Reading
Okay, I now I just effused about how great reading can be, but I still had moments of feeling overloaded/overfull. Reading 100 books is a lot of reading, and, let’s be honest, not all of those books are going to be great. Inevitably, I came across books I didn’t love – I’m looking at you Amsterdam – and it wasn’t easy to finish them. I also had a number of books that I had to rush though because of time constraints, and in those cases reading became a chore – I’m looking at you Moby Dick and you Last of the Mohicans. Which makes me wonder what it must be like for a professional book reviewer. Seriously, how do you keep yourself motivated? No wonder so many reviews cut books to shreds.

Mystery/Crime Fiction Isn’t For Me
I’m still not sure why I put this genre on my list. And this is a hugely popular genre of books that encapsulates a huge range of subgenres and styles. People read these books with passionate fervor. All I could muster was a bemused and detached mindset. Oh well, I guess I can’t love everything.

Prize Winners Smell Fishy
I “knew” this going in, but still was surprised for most of the 10 books in this category. Literary merit seems to have little do with prize winning. Now, this is not always the case, but it sure seemed like it. Amsterdam, The Conservationist, A Visit From the Goon Squad, and The Bone People all failed to really get me excited. And I have a sinking suspicion that these are far from the first prize-winners that leave something to be desired. Sure, Beloved, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay, and The Life and Times of Michael K were amazing, but I also feel like these were exceptions to the rule

I Still Have a Place for Poetry 
Some people saw my inclusion of poetry in this challenge as a cop-out, a way to fit in smaller books so I had less reading to do. And sure, that was part of my reasoning. But I think the bigger reason for me to include it was to see if we still had a relationship. We were near the point of breaking up, but Mary Oliver and Don McKay reminded me why I keep coming back to poetry. I love the enchanting ability of language to startle us and cause us to see things anew.

Finding an Old Friend in Science Fiction
I used to read science fiction in elementary and high school. I devoured the entire Star Wars section of our local library. Seriously, I think I read every one of those books and they were 400 page beasts filled with the wild imaginings of nerdy fan-boys like me. For some reason, I stopped reading science fiction when I entered university. 9 years later I’ve come back to it and I’m delighted to find an old friend again. Science fiction is a lot of fun and I love the big ideas and earnest grappling with the human condition. Even though I did not love Dune, I have no regrets about any of the books in that genre. In fact, they were often the reward for getting through a more literary work …

YA Literature Largely a Bust
So this is probably an unfair assessment given that some of my choices were children’s lit and you can hardly say that my selections were comprehensive or even representative. But YA lit was a bust for me. I found it full of bad writing and uninteresting plots (with the exception of The True Meaning of Smekday). Now, this may be a function of YA lit itself as it is aimed at a younger audience and I no longer fit into that category. Also, I am nearly done a PhD in Canadian literature, so I  have a pretty clear sense of what I like and think is valuable in a book. But all in all, I was disappointed with this genre.

The Importance of Always Carrying a Book
My wife will/does make fun of me for this, but carrying a book at all times was really enjoyable. Seriously, reading a book at an airport, at the bus stop, on a random bench, in a food court, wherever I could find space was a good experience. It helped to get me out of the house but it also changed my experience of reading a book. I did a bunch of reading in the green spaces of Hamilton, sitting on public benches or beneath a tree, and these are some of my favorite memories of the year. I’m looking forward to the day when I can put a hammock in the backyard and kick my feet up. Now you maybe shouldn’t carry a book at all times, but some of my favorite moments came about because I happened to have a book handy.

Favorite Reads for the Year
These were my favorite and most memorable reads of 2013 in no particular order:

Gun, with Occasional Music – Jonathan Lethem
Drown – Junot Diaz
Jesus’ Son – Denis Johnson
The Inconvenient Indian – Thomas King
The Round House – Louise Erdrich
Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
The Golden Spruce – John Valiant
Eating Dirt – Charlotte Gill
The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
Fast Food Nation – Eric Schlosser

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