In late 2016, faced with an ever-expanding pile of to-be-read books, and an evolving, ever-shifting pile of library books – that often spent their allotted 9 weeks maximum lending time with me languishing in the library book box before being returned barely read – I decided that I couldn’t bear the strange cognitive dissonance of being someone who believes reading is great while rarely completing any books.
I could recall my childhood and early teens, in the dim recesses of pre-Internet memory, when spending every spare moment reading books was as natural as breathing or eating way too many potato chips. Sure, I still read books as an adult, but the volume of completed texts paled in comparison to my earlier years. It was time to remedy that scenario.
I wanted to read more real books, and less facebook. (I write, noting the irony of sharing that fact here on facebook.)
While not averse to reading on my Kindle, as an extraverted sensing type of person I find it much easier to read physical paper and ink books. Budget-wise that meant a lot of library trips (my overdue fines through the year were significant but never got as high as the average cost of a physical novel in Australian bookstores). It also meant decluttering a whole lot of books that were clogging my limited shelving space. As much as I’d love a whole personal library, renting makes that unfeasible. You never know when you’re going to have to move house so the smaller the book collection, the easier it is to pack up when the landlords inevitably decide it will be more profitable to sell the property.
My New Year’s resolution at the start of 2017 was, as it turned out, not only my simplest resolution, but also my most successful. Ever. There’s probably a lesson there: be realistic, challenge yourself but in an achievable way, and come December 31 you’ll be able to tick the box that says, “I made it.”
In the end, I kept the resolution going for the whole year. My list of books I completed reading cover-to-cover in 2017 is a total of 64. This list includes books I started reading in the past, but only finished this calendar year; however, the majority were read in their entirety within the last twelve months. The majority are books I never read before, too. This list also included books I read more than once this year – which, if I recall correctly, was an honour given to Stand Still Stay Silent Book 1, which is a compilation of the first five chapters of a web comic I’ve been reading for years.
Most of the books were physical paper-and-ink but several were e-books in various formats.
Most were well over 200 pages in length, which surprised me – I had no idea how much time I had available to read until I deliberately logged out of my social media for most of the year.
Stats (if I counted correctly)
Fiction – 39 books (38 individual books – 1 read twice this year)
Non fiction – 25 books
This is based on my own notes of each book and might not necessarily reflect the way a book would be categorised by someone who knows what they’re doing. To my surprise, I noticed a significant overlap between the genres across fiction and non-fiction texts. Despite trying to be a bit broader in the topics I read, they still often seemed to come back to the same sorts of themes.
Genres, themes and series I read included:
· Adolescent health
· Art history
· Artificial Intelligence
· Art instructional
· Australian history
· Australian politics
· Celtic mythology
· Climate change
· Computer science
· Dystopic fiction
· Educational psychology
· 18th Century Literature
· English folklore
· English literature
· Environmental Sociology
· Evolutionary biology
· Finnish literature
· Finnish mythology
· Gender studies
· Germanic mythology
· Gothic horror
· Gothic romance
· Harry Potter & JK Rowling’s Wizarding World
· Indigenous Australia
· Literary Studies
· Mental illness & recovery
· Mindfulness & contemplation
· 19th Century Fiction
· Nordic politics
· Norse mythology
· Political Science
· Religious Trauma Syndrome
· Russian literature
· Sci fi
· Sociology of Religion
· Speculative fiction
· Star Wars Canon & Expanded Universe
· Supernature & occult
· Swedish literature
· Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
· Theology (mostly Catholic theology, also some Protestant)
· Tolkien (including books he wrote but also books about his work by other authors)
· Ukrainian literature
One thing that surprised me was the prevalence of autobiography in the books I read, as I do not usually think of it as a genre I particularly enjoy. These autobiographies probably only made it onto the list because they overlap with genres I do enjoy (eg folklore, sociology of religion).
There were several books that nearly made it to the list but due to either my slow reading or the library’s insistence I return them, I didn’t read them cover-to-cover. They included the brilliant (based on what I did read) The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914 by Christopher Clark (2012, 2013), Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island, and a number of poetry books.
Going into 2018 I want to continue this resolution (one day it will override my Internet habit!). I want to read more poetry and more science, as well as delving into more classical mythology. Science wise, I particularly like astronomy, artificial intelligence, and palaeontology, but it is hard to find good quality books for lay adult readers on those topics that don’t dumb the topics down.
My favourite reads in 2017
The fact is, any one of the books in my list of 64 texts is already a ‘favourite,’ by virtue of the fact I actually read it instead of giving up (or succumbing to overdue fines).
However, some of the books on this list will probably stay with me longer than others. In fact, some of them I’d forgotten about except for the fact I wrote them down when I finished reading them.
In no particular order, my most favourite books I read in 2017 were:
J. K. Rowling (1999, 2014). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
It doesn’t matter how often I return to this series, I find something new in it each time. This time around I read it out aloud to the kids, which forced me to really read every single word instead of charging through it like I normally would. Reading it aloud and more slowly helped me notice things I had missed before.
Joseph Campbell (1949, 2008). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd edition. Novato: New World Library.
I can honestly say this is probably one of the most important books I have ever read in my whole life. The way it opens up and unlocks mythologies across history and culture is fascinating and compelling. I know some aspects of his theories have been critiqued, and rightly so, but overall what I gained from it was life-changing. Not only does it encompass the hero’s journey taken by many of my favourite story characters, but it looks at the significance of mythology and religion and why, when used wisely, religion still has something to say to humanity (which is interesting because I also got the impression from his writing that he was an Atheist or Agnostic). This is the book that sparked the original Star Wars trilogy, and countless other stories follow similar patterns – whether the life of Jesus Christ as written in the Gospels, and much-loved characters like Harry Potter, and Frodo Baggins.
Minna Sundberg (2016). Stand Still, Stay Silent: Book 1. Portland: Hiveworks.
Fans of Minna Sundberg’s beautiful webcomics call ourselves ‘Minnions.’ There is something almost all-consuming about the SSSS fandom. Written by a Finnish-Swedish artist in her 20s, SSSS is a post-apocalyptic story following the mishaps and adventures of a group of poorly-trained explorers setting out into a virus-ridden world some 90 years after a mysterious disease wiped out most of humanity. At the same time, the story is an exploration of languages: each character comes from a different Nordic language group and the misunderstandings as they grapple with trying to communicate is a big part of the story. At the same time, it blends Finnish and Norse mythologies (which are quite different, as it turns out).
Donald R. Prothero (2015). The story of life in 25 fossils: tales of intrepid fossil hunters and the wonders of evolution. New York: Columbia University Press.
This book is a great, readable science book written for adults. That in and of itself is worthy of note: it is so hard to find good, current science, by experts for laypeople. In my personal experience, it seems that science books (especially palaeontology) tend to be written either for children or for extremely advanced level scientists. The few that are written for lay adult audiences often have a tone of patronisingly dumbed-down language. Prothero’s book takes a really unique approach. Each chapter centres around a different fossil group (a palaeontology book not just about dinosaurs is an impressive thing, too). While discussing the science behind that they do or don’t know about those fossil creatures, the book also talks about the stories of the scientists themselves – often revealing some quite dramatic behind the scenes adventures. Refreshingly, the book acknowledges the often forgotten work of women palaeontologists from eras when a woman could collect fossils but not be published.
J. R. R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien (editor) (1977, 1999). The Silmarillion. London: HarperCollins.
I feel almost embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to finally read The Silmarillion. It was beautiful. It felt a bit like reading Genesis in the NKJV Bible but with Elves. I don’t have words for how moving and sweeping and majestic it was to me.
Sara Maitland (2012). Gossip from the forest: the tangled roots of our forests and fairytales. London: Granta.
This is a wonderful mingling of classic folklore, mythology and environmental sociology. It explores the natural histories of a number of British forests and the lives of the people who lived (or still live) there, the apparent uniqueness of Germanic folklore’s connection to forests, and the way fairy tales can still speak to us today.
N. K. Jemisin (2017). The Stone Sky. London: Orbit.
This entire trilogy was fantastic but I particularly liked the way The Stone Sky wove together the various plots and subplots in surprising and unexpected ways. Jemisin is a fantastic writer: I got the sense that every word was especially chosen for the perfect balance of concise expression and weightiness. Not only that, but it is the first series I’ve ever read in second person, present tense, yet still conveying leaps in time. The world building is spectacular and it is a genuinely unique fantasy series that tosses out the trope of fantasy having to occur in what is essentially medieval northern Europe.
Tom Cox (2017). 21st Century Yokel. London: Unbound.
This was easily one of the best books I have read in years. It’s a very diverse text: both hilarious comedy and heartbreakingly moving, a brilliant environmental sociology of England, almost like a tourist guide to the best hiking in the English countryside, a sort of census of scarecrows and haunted places, a moving autobiography, and a must-read for people who love animals (especially cats). Tom Cox is the guy behind ‘Why My Cat Is Sad,’ which followed the adventures of the sad-faced little The Bear (who sadly passed away in 2016). I cannot think of any other book that has made me laugh quite so much as this one. Tom Cox’s anecdotes about his father’s funny observations had me in stitches, as did his random encounters with other hikers (and scarecrows). I very highly recommend this book.
First shared in my personal facebook Notes: 31 December 2017.
Edited and posted on WordPress: 5 January 2017. Unfortunately I’m experiencing some infuriating formatting glitches and after editing this post about six times it looks like there isn’t a whole lot I can do to fix the inconsistent paragraph breaks!
Full list of the books I read in 2017: https://fionakat.wordpress.com/bookreadingchallenge/