Review copies have started to feel like an obligation I don’t want. Almost as soon as one comes through the door, I regret having asked for or accepted it. (Now I have to read the danged thing, and follow through with a review!) So I’m going to cut back severely this year. The idea is to wait until late in 2020 to figure out which are the really worthwhile releases, and then only read those instead of wading through a lot of mediocre stuff.
“Until one has some kind of professional relationship with books one does not discover how bad the majority of them are. In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be ‘This book is worthless,’ while the truth about the reviewer’s own reaction would probably be ‘This book does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to’. … The best practice, it has always seemed to me, would be simply to ignore the great majority of books and to give very long reviews … to the few that seem to matter.” (from “Confessions of a Book Reviewer” in Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell)
These are the January to May 2020 releases I own so far, with perhaps a few more on the way. I acquired a lot of these in September through November, before I made the decision to cut down on review copies.
I’m also looking forward to new books by Sebastian Barry, Susanna Clarke, Stephanie Danler, Anne Enright, Yaa Gyasi, John Irving, Daisy Johnson, Daniel Kehlmann, Sue Monk Kidd, Rebecca Dinerstein Knight, Maya Shanbhag Lang, Helen Macdonald, Hilary Mantel, David Mitchell, Sarah Moss, Mark O’Connell, Maggie O’Farrell, Anne Tyler, Abraham Verghese, Raynor Winn and Molly Wizenberg.
I can still access new/pre-release books via my public library and NetGalley/Edelweiss, especially fiction to review for BookBrowse and nonfiction for Kirkus and the TLS.
This resolution is not about denying or punishing myself, as bloggers’ book-buying bans sometimes seem to be, so if an unmissable book (e.g. HAMNET) is offered on Twitter or via my blog, I won’t consider it cheating to say yes. FOMO will likely be a chronic condition for me this year, but ultimately I hope to do myself a favor.
With the reading time I’m saving, I plan to make major inroads into those 440 print books I own and haven’t read yet, and to do a lot of re-reading (I only managed one and a bit rereads in 2019). I might well blog less often and only feature those books that have been exceptional for me. I’ve set aside this shelf of mostly fiction that I think deserves re-reading soon:
“I do not think we go back to the exciting books,—they do not usually leave a good taste in the mouth; neither to the dull books, which leave no taste at all in the mouth; but to the quiet, mildly tonic and stimulating books,—books that have the virtues of sanity and good nature, and that keep faith with us.” (from “On the Re-Reading of Books” in Literary Values by John Burroughs)
I hope (as always) to read more classics, literature in translation and doorstoppers. Travel and biography are consistently neglected categories for me. Though I won’t set specific goals for these genres, I will aim to see measurable progress. I will also take advantage of the Wellcome Book Prize being on hiatus this year to catch up on some of the previous winners and shortlisted books that I’ve never managed to read.
Mostly, I want to avoid any situations that make me feel guilty or mean (so no more books received direct from the author, and any review books that disappoint will be quietly dropped), follow my whims, and enjoy my reading.
What are some of your goals (reading-related or otherwise) for 2020?
Almost halfway through the year: how am I doing on the reading goals I set for myself? So-so. I’m mostly managing one doorstopper and one classic per month, though sometimes I’ve had to fudge it a little with modern classics or a skim read. I’ve read precisely 0 travel classics, biographies, or re-reads, so those aims are a fail thus far. As to literature in translation, I’m doing better: it’s made up 8.1% of my reading, nearly double my 2018 percentage. And it looks like I’m on track to meet or exceed my Goodreads target.
(Exactly equal numbers of fiction and nonfiction books! What are the odds?!)
Male author: 41.3%
Female author: 56.7%
Non-binary author: 2%
(This is the first year when I’ve consciously read work by non-binary authors – three of them.)
Print books: 90.7%
(I seem to be moving further and further away from e-books now that they no longer make up the bulk of my paid reviewing.)
I always find it interesting to look back at where my books come from. Here are the statistics for the year so far, in both real numbers and percentages (not including books I’m currently reading, DNFs or books I only skimmed):
- Free print or e-copy from the publisher or author: 65 (43%)
- Public library: 31 (21%)
- Secondhand purchase: 21 (14%)
- Downloaded from NetGalley or Edelweiss: 12 (8%)
- Gifts: 9 (6%)
- Free, e.g. from Book Thing of Baltimore, local swap shop or free mall bookshop: 5 (3.5%)
- University library: 4 (2.5%)
- New book purchase: 2 (1.5%)
- Borrowed: 1 (0.5%)
How are you doing on any reading goals you set for yourself?
Where do you get most of your books from?
We arrived in the UK on January 1, after an overnight flight from Baltimore. There was no midnight announcement, no complimentary champagne; nothing. Clearly I had my hopes too high. So we’re feeling a bit cheated out of our New Year’s Eve experience and will be doing a recreated countdown and toast when we have houseguests over for this Epiphany weekend.
It was a low-key, relaxing couple of weeks back in the States, the majority of it spent seeing family and friends. We also made it into D.C. to see the new Obama portraits. Mostly I enjoyed doing not a lick of work. And I acquired books, of course: a secondhand and remainder stack that, after my trade-in of some cast-off books, cost just $4; and a few ARCs I’m excited about.
I’m feeling restless in my career, like if someone gave me permission to quit all my gigs I would do it tomorrow. But, of course, only a fool would do so with no plan to replace them with other remunerative work. The year is likely to involve a lot of rethinking for me as I evaluate which of my proofreading and writing jobs feel worthwhile, and what’s taking me in the direction I want to go (not that I currently know what that is).
Life is awfully hard to plan out. Reading is much easier! So here are my fairly modest reading goals for the year, some of them overlapping:
- I plan to reinstate the Classic and Doorstopper of the month features I ran in 2017, since otherwise I hardly ever read them. I’m starting with Annabel’s readalong of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, which is just over 500 pages but also conveniently falls into one of the below categories.
- I’ll make a second attempt at getting through some of the travel books and biographies I own, though I won’t hold myself to any particular target. At least five of each would be nice.
- I’m determined to up my literature in translation ratio. These are all the books I own that were originally published in other languages – pitiful! – but I will get hold of more through the library and publishers.
- Re-reading is something I undertake very reluctantly. I have friends who swear by it, but to me it can feel like a waste of time. Last year I re-read just four books: Little Women, Give Me Everything You Have, Crossing the Moon, and Diary of a Bookseller. In each case, on the second reading I rated the book a star lower. That suggests that, far from appreciating books more on a second reading, I have less patience with them and find more flaws! All the same, I’ve chosen four books to re-read in 2019. The Collins is a longtime favorite about moving to Hay-on-Wye; the Thomas is one of the books that first got me into reading memoirs. I’ve been let down by Lamott’s latest three books so wanted to go back to one of her spiritual classics; I’ve gotten into L’Engle’s writing for adults and want to revisit her most famous children’s book (which I don’t think I comprehended at age nine or whatever I was).
- I have a bad habit of racing through self-help and theology books rather than taking my time mulling over them and fully exploring how I might apply them in my life. This was especially true of The Artist’s Way, one of my bibliotherapy prescriptions. I started out with the aim of completing the daily “morning pages” of free writing (though for me they were ‘evening pages’; I’m not a morning person) and each chapter’s self-knowledge exercises. But soon I’d given up on the writing and contemplation and begun just reading the book straight through, which is not the point of it at all. So this year I mean to go back through the Cameron and Rubin books more mindfully, and use the McLaren devotional as it is intended, reading the recommended Bible passages alongside the weekly reflections.
What are some of your goals (reading-related or otherwise) for 2019?
The year-end coverage continues!
So, how did I do with the 2018 reading goals I set for myself about this time last year? Rather poorly! is the short answer.
- I only read one book that might be considered a travel classic (by Patrick Leigh Fermor), though I did read some modern travel books.
- I only read Ali and the first half of a biography of May Sarton. What I’d envisioned being a monthly biography feature on the blog turned into a one-off.
- I need to work out my literature in translation percentage and compare it to last year’s to see if I’ve improved at all.
However, I do feel that I did well at reading my own books, as boosted by my 20 Books of Summer being chosen exclusively from my own shelves. Once I’m back from America I’ll have to do another full inventory and see how many unread books are still in the house, as compared to the 327 at this time last year.
Out of my 31 most anticipated reads of the second half of the year, I read 20 (of which 5 were at least somewhat disappointing), abandoned 2, still have 2 to read, lost interest in 1, have 1 in progress, and can’t find 5. For the whole year, the statistics are at 38/61 read (13 disappointments = more than 1/3 – that’s really bad and needs to be fixed!), 7 DNF, 4 still to read, 9 not found, 2 lost interest, and 1 in progress.
As for my non-reading-related goal … my accordion-playing fell by the wayside in July because I went away to America for three weeks unexpectedly, and after that never got back into the habit of daily practice and biweekly lessons the other side of Reading. I’d still like to pick it back up in the near future. I was at a point where I knew five notes and a few bass chords and could play both hands on a number of very simple tunes.
This Year’s Cover Trends
Mostly flora, which I noticed before 2018 had even begun.
The other one that kept jumping out at me was rubber gloves. Weird!
I’ll be back on the 26th to begin the countdown of my favorite books of the year, starting with nonfiction.
It’s possible that I might finish another book tomorrow, but as we now have house guests here through the 2nd, it’s probably for the best if I consider the reading year done. I even surpassed 2016’s reading total, making this my most prolific year ever:
(Very similar to last year.)
Male author: 38.4%
Female author: 61.6%
(Roughly the same thing happened last year, which I find interesting because I have never consciously set out to read more books by women.)
Print books: 74.8%
(This really surprised me. Last year I was at one-third e-books / two-thirds print books, but this year the print books have dominated even more. I think this might be because I’m more likely to read lots of books on Kindle when traveling and we’ve done less travel overall; I’ve also scaled back on some of the reviewing gigs that only send me e-books.)
Works in translation: 8%
(I thought I’d done better than last year, but I actually read a bit less in translation. Sigh.)
Where my books came from for the whole year:
- Free print or e-copy from publisher: 28%
- Downloaded from NetGalley or Edelweiss: 22.2%
- Secondhand purchase: 18.5%
- Public library: 16.7%
- Free from giveaways (or Book Thing of Baltimore): 6.5%
- Gifts: 6.2%
- University library: 1.9%
Some interesting additional statistics courtesy of Goodreads:
Looking back at the reading goals I set for 2017, I’m pleased to see that I did indeed get involved with blog tours and prize shadow panels: I participated in eight blog tours and two shadow panels (the Wellcome Book Prize and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award – highlights of my bookish year; I’ll probably do the Wellcome again next year). I was pretty consistent about featuring at least one classic and a doorstopper per month. I doubt I’ll keep those challenges up on a monthly basis in 2018, but I might do them occasionally.
Specifically, in the next year I’d like to focus on:
- Travel classics
- Biographies, some of which will happen to top out at 500 pages or more.
- Literature in translation (I’d like to increase the past year’s percentage.)
- The books I own – I went around and counted 327 unread books in the house, which is more than a year’s reading. (This is opposed to 221 at this time last year; I blame a trip to Hay-on-Wye, multiple visits to Book Cycle in Exeter, free books acquired from the swap shop, and a 3-for-95 pence deal one of our local charity shops used to have.) In addition, I have nearly 350 books on my Kindle: again, over a year’s reading. To keep chipping away at the books I already own, I need to scale back on purchases and on requests from publishers (print or e-) and try to make the books from my own shelves account for at least a quarter – better, a third – of my reading in 2018.
- Unrelated to books … I got a vintage accordion for Christmas and need to learn a) how to read music and b) how to play an accordion. It should be a fun project!
I’ll be back at some point next week – once I’ve had time to wade through all the upcoming 2018 releases I’ve heard about via Goodreads, NetGalley, Edelweiss, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Twitter, Instagram, other bloggers, etc. – to preview the 25–30 coming out in the first half of the year that I’m most excited about.
Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks for your support of my blog through another year.
How did 2017 turn out for you reading-wise? What are some of your goals for 2018?
I’ve set just a few modest goals for the coming year’s reading:
- As always, I’d like to focus on reading more of the books I actually own. I went around and did an inventory of unread books in the house and came up with 221. That could easily fill two-thirds or more of next year, yet I know I’m unlikely to cut down on my library borrowing or NetGalley and Edelweiss requests. I think the strategy will be to always have two of my own books on the go at all times, one fiction and one nonfiction, no matter how many other public library or Kindle books I’m reading.
- Some of the books I most want to tackle have 500+ pages. I wonder if I have enough really long books to sustain a Doorstopper of the Month feature? To get a head start on this goal, this past week I started City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg and Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. Also on the shelf are A Suitable Boy, This Thing of Darkness, An Instance of the Fingerpost, Until I Find You, and a few chunky biographies; I’m also sure to get some long books from the library and NetGalley.
I read very few classics in 2016, just a couple short books by Jerome K. Jerome, a Stefan Zweig novella, Tender Is the Night, and two rediscovered 1930s works from the Apollo Classics series. So that’s something to rectify in 2017. Three classics from the list of “Books to Read in Your 30s” in The Novel Cure are calling to me, and it’s also high time I read some more Dickens (maybe I’ll finally return to Dombey and Son?), Trollope (at least The Warden, if not more of the Barsetshire series), Brontë (Anne, in this case) and Woolf (The Voyage Out). Maybe I’ll also start a Classic of the Month feature?
Regarding my career…
I’d like to replace some of my individual book reviewing with longer articles. For instance, this past year Foreword magazine invited me to write three articles surveying new and upcoming books in various genres: young adult, climate change and middle grade. It’s more rewarding (and remunerative) to prioritize full-length articles.
Regarding the blog…
I’d love to get involved in more blog tours and collaborative challenges. I also hope to continue maintaining a balance between straightforward reviews/lists and different stuff, whether that’s travel reports or more introspective pieces. My dream is still to judge a literary prize, even if that’s just as part of a shadow panel.
What are some of your goals for 2017 – reading-related or otherwise?
Tomorrow: Some final statistics on my reading for the year.
With less than a month left in the year, it’s time to be realistic about what I’m likely to finish before the end of 2016. My goals are fairly simple:
- Finish all the books I’m currently reading.
- Get through my stack from the public library; it’s not as daunting as it seems because I plan to just skim two or three of them.
- Make as much of a dent in my giveaway books pile (below) as possible. This particular goal is looking increasingly unlikely. I certainly don’t have any illusions about getting through the 900+ pages of City on Fire, though I might start it over Christmas and hope to get caught up in it. Before then I’ll try to read another couple books I won in various giveaways; any that remain will be priorities for January.
- Finish my next two review books for BookBrowse, due in early January: Valiant Gentlemen by Sabina Murray and The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. They’re extremely different – rollicking historical fiction set in the 1880s–1910s and a contemporary YA story with teen narrators – but I’m very much looking forward to both.
- I had hoped to make this the year I finally try Karl Ove Knausgaard. I might start the first volume over Christmas and see how I get on with it. I was also thinking about picking up the first book of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. Luckily, Christmas promises to be conducive to reading: a very quiet few days sat around the fire in my in-laws’ Hampshire rectory and at their home by the coast!
As usual, a peek at a few Books of the Year lists has left me feeling glum about how few of the year’s best books I seem to have read. From the Kirkus list, I’ve read 11, skimmed one, and am currently reading another two = 13/100 read. I’ve done slightly better according to the New York Times list: I’ve read 20, skimmed two, abandoned one, and have one (Murray, see above) to read soon = 21/100 before the end of the year.
What do you hope to read before the end of 2016?
How have you done on various best-of lists?
Following up on the handful of low-key resolutions I made at the start of the month, I can report that three of my volunteer reviewing positions plus a paid one all seem to have come to a natural end, so that frees me up a little more to seek out big-name opportunities and focus on reading more of the unread books in my own collection plus library copies of books by the authors I’m most keen to try.
Now that nearly one twelfth of this ‘new’ year has passed, I feel like it’s time to set some more specific goals for 2016.
Be more strategic about which books I review in full on here. So far it’s just been a random smattering of books I requested online or through publishers. Overall, I don’t feel like I have a clear rationale for which books I feature here and which ones I just respond to via Goodreads. Perhaps I’ll focus on notable reading experiences I feel like drawing attention to (like The Goldfinch recently), or target some pre-release literary fiction to help create buzz.
Start writing more concise reviews. The task of writing just two sentences about my top books from 2015 got me thinking that sometimes less might be more. (See Shannon’s Twitter-length reviews!) Ironically, though, dumping a whole bunch of thoughts about a book can feel easier and less time-consuming than crafting one tight paragraph. As Blaise Pascal said, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
Redesign this blog and get lots of advice from other book bloggers on how to develop it. It’s my one-year anniversary coming up in March and I want to think about what direction to take the site in. I feel like I need to find a niche rather than just post at random.
Update my social media profiles and pictures. In some cases I’m still using photos taken of me nearly three years ago. Not that I’ve changed too much in appearance since then, but I might as well stay current!
Make it through my backlog of giveaway books. In the photo below, the books on the left I won through Goodreads giveaways, and the pile on the right I won through various other giveaways, usually through Twitter or publisher newsletters.
Although there is no strict compulsion to review the books you win, it’s an informal obligation I’d like to honor. Before too many months go by, then, I’d like to read and review them all. That’ll help me meet the next goal…
Get down to 100 or fewer unread books in the flat by the end of the year. Although this seems like an achievable goal, it does mean getting through about 100 of the books we own, on top of any review books that come up throughout the year, not to mention my Kindle backlog from NetGalley and Edelweiss (so I am definitely NOT counting those in the 100!).
Weed our bookshelves. Alas, it’s looking like we’re going to be moving again in August, so before then it would be great if I could reduce our overflow areas so that everything can fit on our four matching bookcases with little or no double-stacking. I’ll start by picking out the books I’ve already read and don’t think I’ll read or refer to again. Which brings me to a related goal…
Start a Little Free Library or make another arrangement for giving away proof copies. Advanced copies technically should not be resold, so ones I don’t want to keep I tend to give away to friends and family or to a thrift store if they don’t too obviously look like proofs (i.e. they have a finished cover and don’t say “Proof copy” in enormous letters). I figure if a charity shop can get £1 for the copy, why not? It’s a perfectly good, readable book. However, I should really come up with a better solution. If not an LFL, then maybe I could arrange to keep a giveaway box outside a charity shop or at the train station wherever we next live.
Take control of my e-mail inboxes. There are currently over 11,000 messages in my personal account and nearly 1,100 in my professional account. I attribute this partly to sentimentality and partly to fear of deleting something important I might need to reference later.
Find a way to incorporate exercise into my workday. I really, really need a treadmill desk. Or any piece of exercise equipment with a ledge that would hold a Kindle or laptop. That way I could continue reading and writing so that working out wouldn’t feel like lost time. Otherwise I am far too sedentary in my normal life.
What are some of your updated goals for 2016 – reading-related or otherwise?
I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions – I prefer to set challenges and commitments at any time of year – but I have a few professional and reading-related goals that I will share here for the sake of accountability.
- Target a few more big-name publications. My work will appear in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Los Angeles Review of Books in the early months of 2016 – that’s progress, but I’d like to work on getting some other noteworthy publications.
- Assess which freelance gigs are working for me and which ones are not worth it. Sometimes I look at the number of hours I put into a project compared to the ultimate payment amount and think I must be crazy to continue with it.
- Find ways of being paid into my British bank account rather than hoarding lots of dollars in an American bank account where they’re not doing me much good.
- Focus on reading more of the books I actually own. This means cutting down on NetGalley and Edelweiss requests and volunteer reviewing!
- Keep an ongoing priority list of books and authors I want to try, and make steady progress through it. On the list so far: Elena Ferrante, Matt Haig, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Wallace Stegner, Tim Winton, and Nell Zink.
What are some of your goals for 2016 – reading-related or otherwise?