Books! According to Goodreads, on which I track the majority of what I read, I read 114 books (give or take) in 2013. This year I diverted more time into reading magazines, since the TPL started carrying e-versions of such, and I also spent a chunk of time doing time-consuming things with my hands such as making quilts for various babies and re-learning to program and make things blink and flash and so on, which cut into my reading time. Such is life.
This year I also decided to do some reading in French since it would be Good For Me. My office is bilingual, so I hear a lot of French day to day and I work with French texts, but don’t spend a lot of time reading. I read roughly eight times faster in English, by my rough calculation, because I don’t have to spend so much time internalizing the tenses and sentence structures.
I thought the Harry Potter books in translation would be good since they’re not particularly babyish in vocabulary and I’m familiar enough with them in English that it might help me follow the plot adequately. I made it through the first three, which pleases me although it’s less than I’d hoped to read — but on the other hand I haven’t read a whole French novel since Les Liaisons Dangereuses about twenty years ago. My pace puts me in mind of the two-headed monster on Sesame Street, sounding out words:
Okay, well, not quite that bad, but I do look up two or three words per screen which does slow me down even beyond the slowness of reading in French to begin with. I assume I’ll get faster over time, just as I’ve gotten faster at doing our French newsletter at work. I used to have to put on French music while working on it; now I’m fine with whatever the iPod throws at me and I’m still much faster than I was before. (Yay for progress, I guess.) Bonus: excellent translations, such as Choixpeau for the Sorting Hat! And a magic wand is a baguette magique which gives me amusing if incorrect mental images of people wielding long sticks of bread. The TPL has the French ebooks should you want them and they’re usually not in great demand so you won’t have to wait long on hold (if at all).
Beyond that, my top recommendations from stuff I read this year:
- Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang. Some minor flaws in character and pacing, I thought, but overall I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It walked the fine line between pleasant absurdity and fardo with delicacy, and some of the art pieces were howlingly funny. Here’s a quote, which truly isn’t a spoiler for anything:
The Fangs found Buster hiding under the van, conspicuously sparkling as he shifted his weight upon the uncomfortable asphalt. Mr. Fang knelt down and helped his son inch out into the open air. “What happened to the line from Milton?” Mrs. Fang asked. Buster flinched at his mother’s voice. “You were supposed to throw the crown away.”
Buster looked up at his mother. “It’s my crown,” he said.
“But you don’t want it,” Mrs. Fang said, exasperated.
“Yes I do,” he replied. “I won it. I’m Little Miss Crimson Clover and this is my crown.”
“Oh, Buster,” she said, pointing at the crown atop his head, “this is what we rebel against, this idea of worth based on nothing more than appearance. This is the superficial kind of symbol that we actively work against.”
“It. Is. My. Crown,” Buster replied, almost vibrating with righteous anger, and Mrs. Fang allowed a slow smile to cross her face and unclenched her jaw. She gave in, nodded three times, and hopped into the van. “Okay,” she said, “you can redefine the crown if you want to.”
It’s just not possible to read that on the subway and not giggle; it just isn’t.
- Lois McMaster Bujold, the Vorkosigan Saga. I read the first eight books but stopped there only to enjoy still having more of them to read. I’ll be sad once I’ve run out.
- Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men and its sequels (the Tiffany Aching series, embedded in the Discworld series). Really fun YA stuff with some pleasantly serious embedded themes. The audiobooks are excellent.
- For fluff of a purer nature and a steampunkish bent, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate books. I see numbers 2 (Changeless) and up on my list for 2013 — I must’ve read #1 in 2012. Very silly. Lots of supernatural beings and James-Bondish devices.
- On a less fluffy note, Drew Hayden Taylor, Motorcycles & Sweetgrass. Sweet and very Anishnawbe. Don’t piss off the raccoons, yo.
- G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen. Not a perfect book by any means but well worth the time.
- Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. The creepiness ebbs and flows (or more accurately, flows and then ebbs) with extreme precision.
- Howard Rheingold, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Very good advice, very low bullshit. I rarely disagree with Howard and this continues that trend.
- Jessice Hiemstra, How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting: Stories of Pregnancy, Parenthood, and Loss. Very good collection of stories from when things went south. I’ve had five miscarriages myself (very early ones, thank goodness) so I’m in the intended audience here, but even if you’re not it’s worth a read.
- Andrew Solomon, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. Another hard read, and long, but thoughtful and covers territory I haven’t previously seen covered well for many of the exceptionalities he covers.
- David Finkel, Thank You For Your Service, following recent US veterans through a variety of postwar re-integration experiences while fighting PTSD and other injuries. Just brutal, but well done.
- Frank T. Vertosick Jr., When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery. Who can resist a gory brain surgery memoir?
- David Stuckler, The Body Economic: Recessions, Budget Battles, and the Politics of Life and Death. Details the disastrous health (and economic) effects of cuts in social spending by governments. So often books of this type — books which have one major point to make — fall into the trap of making it too many times, using too many similar examples and losing readers’ interest. The Body Economic avoids this trap perfectly, giving enough diverse and well-supported examples to support its main thesis but ending before going overboard.
So that was 2013. Feel free to chuck me recommendations for 2014 here, on Goodreads or on FB.