« Bound Primary Texts: Genesis | Main | Ice Ice Baby »

Year in Books 2008

Yes, it’s every Gentle Reader’s favorite time of year, the time when YHB blah blah numbers, blah blah books, blah blah trends, and winds it up with Ten Or Eleven Books I Liked. Can you taste the excitement?

First of all, YHB read 114 books in 2008, a fairly normal number, but the details reveal a few startling things, starting with five-year records: a low of 28 re-reads, and a high of 86 new reads. The high is only one more than 2005, but is significant (I think) because it appears to be a direct result of the decrease in re-reads, five below 2005’s 33. I’ve now tracked five years of books, which allows me to make trendlines and pretty charts and things.


See? Pretty chart. As we can see from the chart here and here, and these points here and here, Your Humble Blogger is a hopeless nerd. Ah,well.

Seriously, it appears as if Your Humble Blogger’s reading of not-marketed-for-kids specfic is decreasing with an alarming rapidity. Well, alarming if it were worth caring about. I mean, it’s not as if it would be morally problematic if I read more non-genre fiction and non-fiction than specfic, it’s just that there’s a chart, you see, with a line going down. And I suppose it could be argued that replacing five to ten books of not-marketed-for-kids specfic with five to ten books of marketed-for-kids specfic is more likely caused by a shift in marketing techniques than by a shift in preferred reading habits. Or by a shift in library shelving, which is as likely as anything, now that I think about it.

Also, in sample spaces that range from 58 to 86, it’s likely that a significant chunk of the difference is due to my placing things in different categories. For instance, I put The Book Thief under YA/SF, despite feeling quite strongly that it ought not to be considered as such (although presumably the marketers know what they are doing for sales purposes). I also put The Arrival under YA/SF rather than Graphic Novels, despite that being clearly wrong and unsupported by any rationality whatsoever. Dropping those two would bring YA/SF down to 26%, making the line more pointy, looking like 2007 was an outlier. I also could just put all the specfic into one big category without worrying about its target audience, although that seems less helpful for me. On the other hand, I have the category of non-genre fiction, which makes no sense at all, not only because it has in the past included westerns which are about as genre as I could imagine, but because this year it includes three Victorian novels and four Georgian novels, making each of those sub-categories as viable a category as (f’r’ex) Graphic Novels or Plays.

Enough. It’s time for the moment y’all have been waiting for, particularly if you are iced in, bored and cranky with nothing to entertain you: Your Humble Blogger’s Annual List of Ten or Eleven Books Enjoyed for the First Time in the Past Year.

  • The Arrival: This is a really remarkable work, stunningly made, lovely and sad and sweet and beautiful. When I hock about how people claim that literary novelists writing specfic are really just using the tropes of science fiction to illuminate the human condition, as if that was something that genre novelists are not doing, I should bring up this example, where the story works because it’s science fiction, and works because it’s told in pictures, and illuminates the human condition as a comic book about invasion of space aliens.
  • The Wednesday Wars: I only read five children’s books that couldn’t be said to be specfic, and four of the five, while fine, reminded me that I really do prefer zap guns and dragons along with my coming-of-age. This one reminded me that if I stick with the stuff I know I like, there are wonderful books I’ll never see.
  • Klezmer: This is the one on the list I am most likely to re-read in a few years and wonder why I liked it so much. But like it I did.
  • King George V: I know I’m giving this extra Harold Nicolson points, and I suspect that it is considered dreadfully inaccurate and sloppy amongst historians, but I liked it.
  • The Crime at Black Dudley: Really, I put this on the list as a representative of the Mystery Genre, although I did certainly enjoy it, and it represents many of the qualities I think I like about mysteries.
  • An Uncommon Reader: This is from the very beginning of the year, and I have been recommending it ever since. I don’t know whether anybody actually read it on my recommendation, but that’s not my fault.
  • People of the Book: YHB has nearly given up on reading short stories, after discovering that I don’t like them much these days, but this is one of those books that is a series of somewhat-connected short stories linked by a framing device. Only where most of those suck, this one is good.
  • The King of the Schnorrers: Like Dickens, but Jewish! And short! The book, I mean, not the author.
  • His Majesty’s Dragon: A fun and formulaic novel of Napoleonic dragons. I actually reread this one before the year was out, and enjoyed both times through.
  • Horns and Wrinkles: Not an earthshaking book, but a very sweet and crazy book, a book that makes me smile remembering it.

So, of the books on that list, I picked up five at the library based entirely on the cover and a glance, not knowing anything at all about the author or the book before seeing it. Three were books by favorite writers, or at least familiar ones. One I had read reviews of but was skeptical before picking it up at a friend’s house, and one was a gift.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,