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My Year in Books 2004

Your Humble Blogger was not altogether surprised to discover that the total book count for 2004 was over a hundred; that’s only two a week, after all. I was surprised, however, that of that hundred (actually 119) only 44 were re-reads. I think that the ratio is due to keeping this public log of my reading. The observer changes what’s observed, particularly when it comes to this sort of thing.

Anyway, I was also a bit surprised by the breakdown within those 75 new books. The top category was speculative fiction, of course, with 20 entries (plus another 6 Young Adult specfics), but the second was essays. Well, and we could get into a lovely conversation about genre here: of the eleven books I’ve called essays, only The Best American Essays 2003 and Critical Essays on Charles Dickens's Bleak House are clearly books of essays, although Apostrophes & Apocalypses and The Meaning of Swarthmore couldn’t really be anything else. I’ve also counted two book-length essays, Bleak House: A Novel of Connections and Eats, Shoots & Leaves, rather than create a separate category for monographs. I’ve also put the two Studs Terkel books (Hope Dies Last and Coming of Age) as well as the Studs-esque Voices from the Federal Theatre into essays, although I could make a good argument for putting them into memoirs (which consists of A Kentish Lad, West with the Night and, for lack of a better category, The Thurber Letters). The other toughie on that score was Collecting Himself: James Thurber on Writing and Writers, Humor, and Himself, but it is mostly essays, or ‘casuals’, which are more like essays than anything else. I also threw in From Narnia to A Space Odyssey, which certainly isn’t a memoir and, despite containing specfic short stories, is mostly a non-fiction book. On the other hand, I put Dating Your Mom into the humor category (which it shares with Holy Tango of Literature) rather than in essays. I also put Pitching My Tent and The Screwtape Letters into religion rather than essays, as they are for the most part essays on religion, and they seemed more comfortable with Does God Have a Big Toe? and Nothing Sacred than with the essays.

I would have expected to find in second place mystery novels, but even tossing in thrillers brings that only up to nine. That’s only just ahead of non-genre novels at seven. Not that those don’t have genres, but on first glance they would all (According to Queenie, Bandbox, Moo, The Charioteer, The Cider House Rules, The Magic Christian, and The Tidewater Tales) be shelved as ‘fiction’. Or so I surmise; I hardly ever go to those shelves in bookstores.

I also read six graphic novels (or whatever they are) over the year, which is likely higher than in most recent years, although I didn’t think it was that high this year. Since I’ve never kept track before, I have no idea how many I’ve read and forgotten. Only two of this year’s stuck in my mind, and one of those was written by an old buddy.

The rest were a scattering of non-fiction on policy, history, and home improvement, and one chapter book, or whatever it’s called when it’s beyond ‘easy reader’ but not ‘young adult’. Altogether, it breaks down to two fiction books for each non-fiction book. I would have expected the non-fiction to be even smaller; I suspect the eyes of my Gentle Readers have something to do with that as well. For which many thanks, as I’ve enjoyed them.

Anyway, if any Gentle Reader has made it past the numbers and categories, I’ll put in as a reward my Favorite Books of 2004. Remember, this is books I read during 2004, not books that came out. I’m also ignoring re-reads, which for the most part I know I like, as it isn’t fair to the new crop. OK, here are ten Books Your Humble Blogger Enjoyed:

  • Inkheart: Probably my favorite book of the year. Good enough that I actually miss the characters (Dustfinger, Meggie, Basta and Fenoglio) and want to go back to them.
  • The Maquisarde: I was surprised to find this on the top of my specfic list. I liked it and all, and it is well-plotted and suspenseful, but I would have thought there was some specfic book I liked better, and there wasn’t. It’s a distopian future, with lots of political stuff, which might turn some people off, but not YHB.
  • The Game: This is another one I wouldn’t have expected to top my list, but it was good fun. Holmes and Kim. Also, it puts something on my list that actually came out in 2004.
  • The Screwtape Letters: I don’t know if I would actually recommend this to Gentle Readers all. I suspect, though, that if you like it, you’ll like it a lot. I did.
  • Hope Dies Last: If you haven’t read any Studs Terkel, start with Working, but if you like him, and haven’t read this one, do yourself a favor.
  • West with the Night: Hunh. I’m pretty sure I read the Beryl Markham short stories in 2004, but they don’t show up in the Tohu Bohu. Did I not finish the book, and decide I hadn’t read enough to include it? Or did I just let it slip? Anyway, this was better.
  • Pitching My Tent: This is a sweet, sweet book. I should really read her novel.
  • Ten and a Kid: I know how unlikely it is that any Gentle Reader will find this book, but it’s worth keeping an eye out.
  • Ombria in Shadow: Actually, I had almost no memory of this book until I looked at it again, and it really is very good. I can’t remember the ending at all, and so don’t remember what I disliked about it. Anyway, it makes the top ten list.
  • Grim Tuesday: Is the next one in the series out yet? Why not?

Well, and that’s ten, I think. Not the most stellar list, when I look at it. Still, that was the year that was.

Thank you,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Why not post your reviews on Amazon as well as here? (You may already do this.) It seems somewhat like shouting into the wind when there are already dozens of reviews, but I'm sure some of the books you've read don't have a lot of reviews already posted.

I find myself posting reviews on Amazon (often of products rather than books) that I strongly like or strongly dislike, and not bothering with items that are middle-of-the-road boring.

I was just discussing network effects with Lisa last night, and of course Amazon's review feature is a prime example these days -- the more people who post reviews, the more useful the site becomes.


I don't post to Amazon, partially because I don't like Amazon, and don't really want their site to be any more useful than it is.
Not, I should add, that my notes would likely be useful. Recently I did post a few things that aren't unlike reviews, but often enough they've been either entirely digressionary or purely personal. I don't really want to think of these reports as indicating whether my Gentle Readers would like a book (much less the Amazon readership), but simply as records of what I've read, and with luck what I was thinking when I read it.

Thanks,
-V.


So glad to see _Inkheart_ up there at the top of your list!

I've been wondering of late just how many books I consume in a year. It's hard because I start so many that I plan to finish but don't want to carry on the bus. So there's the large number of lightweight (in both the literal and literary senses) commuting books and the much smaller number of heavyweights. There was a lot of young adult fiction on my list this past year because it generally fits in the lightweight category.

My favorite unfinished book of essays is either Robertson Davies' _For Your Eyes Only_ or his _The Merry Heart_. The second is surprisingly good for reading aloud as these essays were lectures and meant to be heard.


Hmm. I'll have to pick up the Davies; I like his fiction a lot.

Your curiousity about what you've read sounds very very similar to mine a year ago; I think you'd enjoy keeping a list. I found a lot of surprises, looking back, including at least half-a-dozen titles which I couldn't recognize at all without going back and looking at my report. And, of course, I'm all in favor of lightweight (or bathtub) books, myself. On the other hand, I've hardly been on a bus or a train this year, so I haven't that excuse.

Thanks,
-V.


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