A year in books, with pointless charts

At the start of the year, I set myself a number of goals, so by way of end of year round-up, I’m going to review how I’ve done against these. I realise this is a) self-indulgent and b) of absolutely no interest to anyone else, but hey, blogging. First up, my goal of reading a book a week.

I enjoyed Jane Rawson’s post at the end of last year “My year in books, unnecessarily charted“, so thought I’d just do a wholesale copy of that idea, rather than, you know, anything original. I set myself the goal of reading a book a week. This sounds easy, but days soon get away from you and the it’s Sunday before you know it and you’ve got 200 pages to read to keep on track. I found myself choosing books (or rather eliminating books from my choice) by page numbers. I was in an airport once and needed a new book, so went along the limited range, giving them a squeeze to detect length and rejecting any bulky ones. But having the target was useful, it has got me back into reading in a way I haven’t been for years. I was an avid reader as a youngster (I remember being told off for reading “too much”), but other stuff comes along and you find that you’re only reading 10 or so books a year.

So how did I do? Well, it’s not quite the end of the year, but I think I’ve got two lined up, so that will make the full 52. That is a good chunk of books. What I liked about this approach was that I would go into unexpected areas. As the charts show, I don’t cover a lot of genres, but for instance, I re-read a couple of (thankfully short) sci-fi classics, as well as a couple of literary classics I had not actually gotten around to reading before.

The full list of books is at the end. My top 10 for books I’ve read this year (not books that have come out this year) is below. I excluded books that were re-reads (so Hemingway, Vonnegut aren’t included). They are in order of date read, rather than preference:

  • H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
  • The Princess Bride – William Goldman
  • Under The Net – Iris Murdoch
  • The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton
  • Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
  • How to be both – Ali Smith
  • The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters
  • Frankenstein – Mary Shelly
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
  • Let me be Frank with you – Richard Ford

Here is the breakdown by genre:

You can see I’m mainly a literary fiction kinda guy, but it was nice to dabble in some other genres. I particularly enjoyed reading well written, but nonetheless quite light, crime novels (Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie). I could do this without feeling ‘guilty’ as they provided a nice counterbalance to other more worthy literature.

Looking at authors by gender:

It’s almost equal, but I’m actually surprised at how many male authors there were. My impression as I went through the year was that it was about equal, if not more women. Certainly when I think back, it was mainly books written by women that had the strongest impression – if I had to choose one book I read this year, it would probably be The Poisonwood Bible, and of books published this year How to be Both and The Paying Guests were my favourites.

What format did I choose to read them in?

Kindle was really convenient for this goal, although one does become obsessed with percentage completed figure (“I’ve got to read 38% this evening!”). But I liked purchasing the occasional physical book too. I think this percentage will probably remain for me.

Lastly, how many were re-reads, and how many new:

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority were new reads, but it was nice to go back to some books that I read probably as a teenager. Some of this stood up well (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), and others not so well (maybe I’ve read it too many times, but I found Slaughterhouse 5 quite irritating).

I’m not sure I’ll repeat it next year, it would be nice to have the luxury of reading some longer books. But I may set myself a goal or restriction, eg to only read non-fiction for a year. I think when we have access to everything, creating our own restrictions forces us down new avenues, which can be enlightening. For the record here are the ones from this year:

An Introduction to English Poetry – James Fenton
50 Ways of Looking at a Poem – Ruth Padell
Stoner – John Williams
The Black Echo – Michael Connolly
H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
Tigers Wife – Tea Obreht
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman – PD James
Elisabeth is missing – Emma Healy
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
The Children Act – Ian McEwan
Cover Her Face – PD James
The 6th Extinction – Elizabeth Kolbert
Bedsit Disco Queen – Tracey Thorn
Girl in a Band – Kim Gordon
The Greek Myths – Robert Graves
The Hunters – James Salter
Tropic of Hockey – David Baldini
An exquisite sense of what is beautiful – J David Simons
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin
Under The Net – Iris Murdoch
The Game – Ken Dryden
Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
Look Who’s Back – Timur Vermes
A Man Lay Dead – Ngaio Marsh
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton
Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
The Establishment – Owen Jones
The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters
The Old Man & The Sea – Hemingway
A Moveable Feast – Hemingway
Ragtime – E L Doctorow
Methods & Theories of Art History – Anne D’Alleva
A Jeeves Omnibus – PG Wodehouse
The Bell – Iris Murdoch
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
Snows of Kilimanjaro – Hemingway
Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance – Edmund de Waal
Murder at the Vicarage – Agatha Christie
Master of the Day of Judgement – Leo Perutz
W or the Memory of Childhood – Georges Perec
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
How to be both – Ali Smith
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – Philip K Dick
Knots and Crosses – Ian Rankin
Enter a Murderer – Ngaio Marsh
Frankenstein – Mary Shelly
Let me be Frank with you – Richard Ford
Hide & Seek – Ian Rankin
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
A Far Cry From Kensington – Muriel Spark
A Dumb Witness – Agatha Christie

14 Comments

  1. […] post has inspired me to share the books I read in 2015, though I have not made the time to produce […]

  2. Jim Groom says:

    This is an awesome list, and an even awesomer year-long project. Color me inspired. I’m gonna try this myself next year, and if you are looking for a read, can i recommend John Fante’s Ask the Dust or James M Caine’s Mildred Pierce. It will fit with yout lit crit or crime focus (if the genre qualify next year), but I also think you may get a kick out of them.

    Thanks for this post, it was what I needed for the new year.

  3. daibarnes says:

    Inspiring stuff. I’m curious as to when you made the time to read? Before bed? After supper? Did you have to play catch-up a lot? And did you learn to read more efficiently?

    1. admin says:

      Thanks Dai – yes to all of those. I’ll also admit I skipped chunks of books when I was under pressure. You get all sorts of slots – eg the hour where I’m sitting outside my daughter’s drumming lesson, while I’m waiting for her to get up on Saturday morning, when I have an early night if I’m staying at my parents. I don’t lead a very exciting life, which helps.

  4. phb256 says:

    I’m curious about Ken Dryden’s book. Do you recommend it?

    1. admin says:

      Yes, very much – it’s in a different class in terms of quality of writing and insight

  5. What a great project. Really impressive list of books. I think if I compiled a similar list I would have a list of 3 books finished…with 28 started and abandoned 4 chapters in.

  6. AJ Cann says:

    Just finished H is for Hawk. I’m undecided, but if Stoner is a 10, it’s somewhere in the 2-3 range.

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