My Book Talk Master List, which is always linked in my sidebar, contains links to all the posts where I have reviewed books, and has been updated for 2008 year-to-date.
Strictly from a number-crunching perspective, 35 books works out to about 1.5 weeks per book or 0.6 books per week, which is probably not bad generally, but for someone who counts herself as a member of the book-blogging community, it’s just sad. If I were a resolution-making person, I’d definitely resolve to do better next year. (Not a chance I could do this, though – 400 books in one year!)
This was the first year that a significant portion of my reading didn’t come straight from my own shelves via one bookstore or another. Here’s the breakdown:
11 out of 35 books were offered or requested for review via author or publicist
3 out of 35 books were read for my off-line book club (which went into hibernation this fall)
2 out of 35 books were Advance Reader Copies (ARC) received through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program
I read 18 of the 35 books this year just because I felt like it, and that’s actually more than I had thought; there were times when it felt like all I was reading were review books from one source or another, but I’m glad it’s really much closer to half-and-half. (Just to clarify: I “review” nearly every book I read no matter how I obtain it, but a “review book” is one that was sent to me for that specific purpose.)
In February, I received the first book I was ever “pitched” by a publicist and invited to review; as I’ve said before, I had been blogging for months before I even realized that book bloggers were frequently sought out and offered free books! Well, they aren’t entirely “free” – I do feel that if I accept a book through a publicist, and even more when it comes directly from the author, that I have a responsibility to read and review it in a reasonably timely manner, and I try to comply. Having said that, there are several “review books” currently waiting in a stack in my living room. If it’s not for a blog tour, online book club, or something similar with a specific deadline for posting my review, I’ve begun letting authors and publicists know it could be weeks before I get to their books, and that they should tell me if that’s a problem; so far, no one has said it is. While I appreciate the review offers I get and free books are nice for my wallet, I won’t accept any books that I wouldn’t be willing to spend my own money to read, and I have no wish to become primarily a “book reviewer;” I am, and always want to be, a READER first. I just happen to be a reader who blogs her impressions of what she reads.
And as a reader, I’m thinking about my best reading experiences of 2008. They weren’t always the books I gave the highest ratings, but they are books that introduced me to something new, resonated with me in one way or another, and have stuck with me over the course of the year. And for what it’s worth, all but one was “discretionary” reading, although two of them did lead to review offers of another book by the same author.
The Ruins of California, by Martha Sherrill
The Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver
I liked the way that each chapter essentially related a similar plot scenario, but with differing details and twists depending on which future it was talking about. For example, Irina writes and illustrates a children’s book. In one version, it’s a creatively assembled two stories in one that doesn’t make a lot of money, but is nominated for a major award. In the other, it’s a different story in a different style, more commercially successful, and it’s nominated for the same award. I also liked that I really had no idea which of the two versions of Irina’s future might be the “real” one; both have their positives and negatives, which makes either direction plausible, and I found it difficult to favor one over the other. The final chapter – which, like the first, is only told once – wraps things up while maintaining that ambiguity. I realize that this very attribute might annoy some readers, but for me, it’s what made The Post-Birthday World an involving, original, and memorable reading experience.
Book of the Year, Non-fiction:
But Enough About Me: How a Small-Town Girl Went From Shag Carpet to the Red Carpet, by Jancee Dunn
So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading, by Sara Nelson
While there’s plenty of discussion of particular books here…this is a memoir much more than a recommended-reading guide. It very much reflects Sara’s personal experiences with the books she read that year, in addition to some of her other experiences during the time. Her tastes in reading are informed but unpretentious – no literary snobbery here – and her discussions of the books she loved, the books she didn’t like, and the books she didn’t finish are accessible and often insightful.
Nelson’s eager approach to reading, and her love for it, come through clearly. I liked her voice, and the way she relates to books and reading comes across very much like mine. When she talked about books that I’ve also read, I found myself wanting to discuss them with her, or at least be able to leave her a comment – this is what blogging does to a person!
Weller does discuss each woman’s particular musical career in (mostly objective) detail. Carole was barely out of high school in Brooklyn when she started out as a professional songwriter and arranger, and was a seasoned pro when, ten years later, she became a hugely successful singer-songwriter. Canadian Joni was always driven toward artistic expression, both musically and visually, and on her own terms. Carly’s privileged Manhattan upbringing led to a relatively late start on her career, as it interfered with her being taken seriously. As Weller discussed the writing of various songs, quoting lyric passages here and there, I found that a lot of them were coming back to me, even if I hadn’t thought of them in years.
The context is enlightening and the work is interesting, but the book is also a biography, and it’s in these women’s personal stories that the real fascination – and fun – is. While I didn’t feel that Weller struck a gossipy tone at all, much of anyone’s biography involves their relationships, and these three women definitely have had many of them in their lives. Carole was a teenage working mother, and played a maternal role with many of her friends as well – and this tendency was probably also a factor in her attraction to younger men (she’s been married four times, and all except her first husband were younger). Both Carly and Joni were rarely without male companionship unless it was by their own choice, and both have been part of musical power couples at various times. Joni was the inspiration for Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s song “Our House” (she and Graham Nash were living together when he wrote it), and later was James Taylor’s girlfriend. James and Carole were platonic friends, but eventually Carly became his wife. The overlaps in all three women’s social and artistic circles are interesting, if a little confusing. I really felt like I’d gotten to know all of them pretty well by the time the book wrapped up, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to do so.
While I read all of these books in 2008, only one was actually published in first edition this year. However, the Weekly Geeks participants have selected their top books among 2008 publications, and you can find their picks in various genres in the Book Bloggers’ Top 10 of 2008 list posted at Literary Escapism.
What were the highs and lows of your reading experiences this year?