Near the start of the year in 2012, I set about some goals for myself.
Now that we’ve put 2012 to bed, it’s time for me to look back at what I accomplished and what I failed to accomplish, and also to look forward and plan for the next year.
To kick off my 2012 retrospective, I wanted to take a look at the books I’ve read.
Reading a certain number of books was a popular goal that many people set for themselves in 2012. I wanted to do the same: the first year in which I would set such a goal for myself. But there was a problem. The unit of “a book” is not universal. I can put two books side-by-side and they will not have the same salient features that determine how long it might take me to read. A book might be anywhere for 75,000 words (or even fewer) to 400,000 words long. The word itself, really, is the more salient measure (and considered en masse, is a more consistent unit of measurement). So instead of looking to read a certain number of books, I set out to read a certain wordcount worth of books.
The goal I set for myself? 550,000 words worth in 2012 – or about 5 books at an arbitrarily-picked 110,000-word average length.
How did I do?
I blew that goal out of the water, by my own reckoning.
In 2012, I read approximately 977,000 words, give or take. I read five whole books and parts of three others. Here’s the run-down:
I read the entire “Hunger Games” trilogy this year, starting with The Hunger Games at the beginning of the year, then later catching up with Catching Fire and finally Mockingjay as my last book of the year. Those three books accounted for over 300,000 words. I read the last two-thirds of The Children of Amarid, which I had started in 2011, and I read about 12% from the middle of A Clash of Kings. (The latter has been difficult for me to get through, and I’m still not done.) I also read the debut novels of Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss – Elantris and The Name of the Wind, respectively. Both of those left me with quite a lot of something or other to chew on and think about with respect to my own writing. Finally, I read almost half of the first Steampunk anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. (I couldn’t read the whole thing because I ran out of “renewals” at the library; I’ll be checking it back out sometime to read a few of the other stories in that volume.)
You want a gut-level insta-reaction or review of each of the above titles? No detailed reviews, here, but some thoughts:
“The Hunger Games”: I’m probably the last person to read it (because time, she has not been my friend), but I really enjoyed these books, and would recommend them. On the other hand, you probably already know whether you want to read “The Hunger Games” trilogy and in fact have probably already read them if you’re going to. Be that as it may: very good books with very few caveats.
The Children of Amarid: was entertaining but not particularly ground-breaking or original. It was a debut novel, so that says something: it was good enough to get someone (in this case David B. Coe) the attention they needed to get published in the first place. But on a purely critical level, I found it mostly predictable. (For example, there were red herrings thrown in to try to hide the villain of the story, but I found it easy to figure out the difference between a red herring and a real villain.) On the fourth or fifth hand, I felt bad about not liking the book more, because I personally like the author himself (whom I have met).
A Clash of Kings: I think I’ve discussed my general reaction to Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” before, but if not, I’ll not belabor the point here. Again, this is a super-popular mega-epic where most of you know whether you like it or not already, so my opinion won’t change things much.
Steampunk: My reactions to the stories I read was highly variable, ranging from “WTF was that?” to “That’s pretty good… but…” Overall, the stories I did read (from roughly the first half of the book) were not as good as I wanted them to be. The non-fiction essays were more interesting. But there was a lot of really great imagery in those stories.
Elantris: was good and yet… disappointing. This was the first pure Brandon Sanderson book I’ve read, after having read two books co-authored by Sanderson and the late Robert Jordan (The Gathering Storm and The Towers of Midnight, of the “Wheel of Time” saga). Those two books were fantastic (IMO) and really breathed new life into a series I loved but which had, let’s be honest, grown a little long in the tooth. Given how strong those books were, I had pretty high expectations for my first all-Brandon book… not sky-high, as I knew this was his first published book, but still pretty high. And it was pretty good. But it didn’t rise to the level of my expectations. And there were noticeable, problematic flaws with the book. I think I could go on about my thoughts on this book and so… assuming there’s time I intend to dive a little deeper into this one in a future “Interrogating the Text” post.
The Name of the Wind: Mostly lived up to its hype. It was an enjoyable read that felt fast and well-paced despite it’s potentially intimidating length. (I say “potentially” because, to a reader like me, a book this long isn’t intimidating at all… it’s practically par-for-the-course. But I realize that to many readers, it’s very long.) Most interesting to me was the way in which this book tackled some of its key themes, a few of which are themes that have been tumbling around in my head for a long time, and are similar to things I wan to write about in my own fiction. Apparently Patrick Rothfuss got there first, and he did it very well. There’s enough in that book that I think it’s also worth a future “Interrogating the Text” post.
So that’s it: what I read and the short version of what I thought about it in 2012.
What did you read in 2012? Any surprises, stand-outs, or disappointments? Did you take any writing lessons from the books you read? Please share (or share a link back to a post on your own blogs where you discuss those things, if you’d like).