The Year in Review: Reading – 2009 Final Bookkeeping, and my Books of the Year

Before getting into the discussion of the quality of my reading this year, let’s run some numbers:

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Number of books read and reviewed in 2009: 47. This is an improvement over my 2007 reading, and a nice return to form from the dismal 35 I read in 2008. Given the pace at which I usually read, which isn’t aided by big chunks of reading time (other than my “Starbucks hour” most weekends), and the types of books I prefer, I really don’t see myself exceeding 50 books a year at this stage of my life, so I’m not displeased with the 2009 total.

I don’t really track my reading by sub-genres, but the major breakdown was 33 fiction, 14 nonfiction; 11 of the 14 nonfiction reads were memoirs.

Review copies read, from all sources: 23. I’m fairly satisfied with that. With a nearly even split between books sent to me and books I bought, it looks like I didn’t do too badly at keeping review obligations from taking over my reading, and I want to keep the trend going in 2010 (while continuing to slow the influx of new review obligations). I reviewed books from the following sources in 2009:

LibraryThing Early Reviewers: 8
TLC Book Tours: 5
Other sources (authors/publishers/publicists): 10

FYI for the FTC: The other 24 books I read this year came from my own shelves, and were either purchased or received as personal gifts

Reading challenges entered in 2009:
Read Your Own Books Challenge (RYOB 2009): Committed 20; Read 20; Completed as of 11/24/09.

This was my very first challenge, and it helped me rein in my review-book habit. I will be re-entering the challenge for 2010.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge: Committed 25% of books read in October and November to qualify; Read 4 out of 9 books that qualified (44%); Completed as of 11/4/09

This was a short-term, non-recurring challenge that coincided perfectly with my plans to participate in my first 24-Hour Read-a-thon in October.
50 Books for Our Times Project: Committed to read and review a specific book by December 31, 2009; Failed
Just one book? Easy! HAH! I kept thinking I’d have time to get to this, until I realized time was running out and I wasn’t going to meet my commitment. I sincerely apologize to Amy for dropping this one.

Women Unbound Reading Challenge: In progress, running through November 2010

I’m currently reading my first qualifying book for this challenge, and I expect to significantly exceed my 5-book reading commitment, since my original prospective reading list for the challenge was at least twice that long and I’d like to read all of the books listed during the coming year.

Shelf Discovery Challenge: In progress, running through April 2010

I have obtained 5 of the 6 books I plan to read for this challenge, and may need to substitute for the sixth, since I can’t seem to find a copy of it. Since this challenge involves reading youth fiction and my list is 2/3 re-reads, I’m fairly optimistic about completing this one before the deadline.

Memorable Memoir Challenge: Starts January 1, 2010 and runs all year

I tend to read a lot of memoir as it is, and cross-challenges are allowed, so I think I can manage the minimum 4-book commitment for this new challenge (letters, diaries, and autobiographies also qualify).

Moving on to the more subjective, qualitative portion of the review of this year’s reading…

Best reThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collinsading experience: The 24-Hour Readathon, October 2009 edition, featuring The Hunger Games. It was my first time joining in, and I didn’t last the entire time; however, I think I got in a solid 12-14 hours of reading, and I made it through 2-⅔ books. One of the two books I finished was Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games; I completed the sequel, Catching Fire, later that weekend after the Readathon was officially over. The novels were perfect – and popular – choices for the Readathon, but the real payoff came a little later. I handed both books to Katie, my 15-year-old stepdaughter, and told her “You ARE reading these. Now.” She had finished both within a week and loved them, and is now in the process of getting her friends hooked too.

Best book for Book Clubs: I was invited to contribute a list of “Book Bloggers’ Best Books for Book Clubs” compiled at Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations, and my selection was The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Most disappointing read: I had the unfortunate experience this year of reading a few books that I wanted to like more than I did, but there’s really only one I regret feeling that way about. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a hard book to forget – beautifully written and thought-provoking – and I’m not sorry I read it. However, I had trouble connecting with it emotionally, and I ultimately feel like it was my failure rather than the novel’s; I ended up respecting it more than truly liking it.

I posted a half-year Reading Status Report in July, and observed at the time:

I’ve liked most of what I’ve read this year, but I utterly loved one book: The Uncommon Reader. Gods Behaving Badly was probably my most fun read so far this year, and Honeymoon in Tehran the most enlightening memoir. The books that I’d most encourage other people to read – for completely different reasons, as there’s no connection between them – are Bad Mother and The 19th Wife.

Six months later, with 47 books behind me all together, here are my favorites of 2009.

Book of the Year, fiction:
The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife: A Novel by David EbershoffDavid Ebershoff’s ambitious blend of historical fiction, murder mystery, and social commentary in interwoven stories of plural marriages divided by over a century has stuck with me for over six months since first reading it, and it’s a novel I look forward to re-reading one day. I was very impressed by Ebershoff’s use of distinct narrative voices and unconventional techniques – facsimile historical documents, letters, and Wikipedia pages are all part of the story. The novel as a whole is ripped-from-the-headlines contemporary in its themes, with a page-turning plot and vivid, memorable characters.

Fiction Honorable Mentions, in no particular order:
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

In September, The Help was voted “Best Book Published So Far in 2009” by participants in Book Blogger Appreciation Week. It’s rare for me to finish a book and immediately want to start reading it again, but I had that reaction to The Help. Kathryn Stockett’s first novel is thoroughly involving and engaging. It drew me in immediately and kept me reading compulsively.

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella, by Alan Bennett

I would truly describe this 120-page novella about the Queen of England’s late-in-life discovery of the delights of readingas “a joy.” If you should find yourself with a couple of hours to spare, you could do much worse than to spend them with a copy of The Uncommon Reader and the beverage of your choice.

Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa GenovaThis novel may have affected me more powerfully than any other I read this year. Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist by training who originally self-published this novel, has done a remarkable job of truly getting inside the mind and emotions of an Alzheimer’s patient. She includes a lot of real information about the disease and its effects in ways that don’t distract from the story, and she effectively captures its disruption and alteration of family, career, and daily life, but the fact that it’s all told from Alice’s perspective makes it unique and unforgettable.

Book of the Year, nonfiction: Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet WaldmanOccasional Moments of Grace, by Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman calls herself a Bad Mother chiefly because she falls short of the standard for the Good Mother. This book is an interesting combination of memoir and essay; each of the eighteen pieces in it  revolves around personal incidents which Waldman relates to her own reflections and opinions on parenting and society. Her opinions are strong and expressed with eloquence and passion. Bad Mother would be a great read for moms’ book groups; it’s certain to generate discussion on multiple levels about both Waldman’s own stories and their relationship to bigger issues.

Nonfiction Honorable Mention
Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran, by Azadeh Moaveni

While Westerners sometimes tend to lump the “Middle Eastern” countries together, Azadeh Moaveni elaborates on the ways in which Iran, whose heritage is Persian rather than Arabic, is different from its neighbors. However, while she is in the position of being able to report on Iranian developments from the inside, her purpose in this writing is to show their effects on individual lives – particularly her own, as a ethnic Iranian raised in the United States and working for an American news magazine, returned to her family’s homeland by work and her own choice.

I really think I had a pretty good reading year, and as it winds down, these are the things that stand out for me. How do you feel about your 2009 reading overall, and what are you looking forward to in 2010?

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  1. You got some great books on that list. I agree with you about THE 19TH WIFE – it was fantastic. And I'm hoping to read THE HELP in the next few months myself.

  2. I wish I could read more books in a year – as there are so many good ones out there – but alas I am not a speed reader and only have limited time. I think you had a great 2009 reading year!

    I have the 19th Wife sitting on my shelves waiting to be read. Hopefully I will get to that in 2010. I absolutely LOVED The Help.

    I hope you are still enjoying time with your DC son 🙂

  3. The Help was my favorite non- YA read of the year. Like I said in my review, I wish it could have been twice as long!

    If you liked 19th Wife, you might also want to try The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. Similiar topic and even more immediate.

  4. Nice post. I'm hoping I get a chance to do a similar one. And I must say it is nice to see a book blogger who reads around the same number of books as me. None of this 200 books per year nonsense.

    Best of luck in 2010!

  5. Nonfiction is always my weak area. I'm okay with that though as I do prefer fiction. You did quite well in that area, I see. At least by my standards. 🙂

    You did well with your challenges. I almost didn't think I'd make it with the 50 Books of Our Time Project. And it just dawned on me that I didn't include it in my challenge wrap up! What was I thinking. Need to fix that!

    Good luck with your current and upcoming challenges!

    The 19th Wife made quite an impression on me too. I hope to get to The Help and the Uncommon Reader this next year.

    I'll always be grateful to you for encouraging me to read Still Alice.

  6. Heather – Since historical fiction is one of your specialties, I'll be very interested in your thoughts on THE HELP – and glad you agree about THE 19th WIFE :-).

    Anna – Yes, I did too, evidently :-). It was a pretty good reading year overall, really.

    Molly – Unless my reading habits change significantly (shorter books and/or more genre and YA fiction), I doubt I'll do much better numbers-wise than I did this year. I just don't want to do much worse – I don't want to read less than 40 books in one year again!

    My son's still here till Saturday morning. Yesterday, he wanted to go clothes shopping…but it was with HIS money. That's a nice change :-). We're having a good visit.

    Lenore – I was offered a review copy of THE CHOSEN ONE, but declined because it was YA. I'm working on getting past that prejudice of mine, and I've heard so many good things about that book that I may look for it on my own.

    I agree about THE HELP – I wouldn't have minded more of that story at all!

    Michelle (MyBooksMyLife) – I'd have to read a lot differently to get near even 100 books a year, let alone 200! But we're still reading a lot more than most people – it's just the company we keep that makes us look like slackers :-).

    Wendy (Literary Feline) – I like nonfiction on certain topics, and memoirs; other than that, I lean more toward fiction too. I'm fairly pleased with the balance this year, though – we'll see what happens in 2010!

    I hope you enjoy The Uncommon Reader – I was thoroughly charmed by it.

    I will always appreciate that you read Still Alice along with me :-). Your review was wonderful.

  7. Kathy (Bermudaonion) – I first heard of the book in 2008, but I read it when it was on tour for the paperback release this year. I read it in hardcover, though, and was able to get my copy autographed by the author when he did a book signing in Pasadena. That was a highlight of the year, too :-).

    Lisa – I've finally found one person who didn't love The Help (I won't say who), but I think both of those books were very hard to resist. Glad they made your Books of the Year list too!

  8. Jill (Softdrink) – I have a "Starbucks hour" on weekends when I don't meet up with my sister for coffee; it's just me, a grande latte, a breakfast treat, and my current book (or the Kindle). It's my most productive reading time, really.

    I think I'm in the minority about Never Let Me Go, so don't let me scare you off. I'll be interested in seeing what you think of it!

  9. Christa – It was harder for me to choose non-fiction too, because I read less of it and wanted to be selective for the year-end list. Funny that you had the opposite problem :-).

  10. Wow, The 19th Wife in the number one spot!! That's so great!

    It's hard for me to decide on favorite books. My favorite book is usually the one I'm currently reading 🙂

  11. Lisa – It's really hard for me to choose all-time favorite books, but I can manage it a little better for just one year at a time :-).

    Thanks for the opportunity to tour The 19th Wife!