Last year was a banner year for me in terms of book reading. I use goodreads.com to track my book reading progress and they have this nifty Book Challenge widget for each year in which you can set yourself a challenge for that year and as you read books you add them to your profile and it marks them against that years goal. In 2012 I logged 39 books (my goal was 20), and somewhere in the realm of 10,000 pages. You can view my list of books read here –> 2012 Reading Challenge.
This year I constantly revised my goal. Initially I think it was at 40, but then in September I upped it to 45, then 50 and then 55. I ended up reading 60 books this year, which was somewhere in the realm of 15,000 pages! HUZZAH! You can view my list of books here –> 2013 Reading Challenge. It was an awesome reading year!
I devoured the Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, a delightful fantasy series about the coming of age of a young pig keeper. I would say that the second book was the best of the series, however they were all very fun to read. I was a little disappointed by the under development of a potentially amazing female character. In a couple of the books she showed so much command of her life in spite of her status. I really liked her and would have liked to see her do more. Although, she does more than other female characters do in some more recent books, that’s for sure.
It was supposed to be my year to focus on reading Samuel R. Delaney, however that got a bit sidetracked by my desire to learn more about the First Nations people of Canada. However I did read The Einstein Intersection, Babel 17 and Empire Star. Sam Delaney has a delightfully bizarre way of telling stories and while it took me a while to get into his books, they were very rewarding reads! Babel 17 was probably my favorite of the 3, and The Einstein Intersection was the most unusual.
With the happenings last fall of the #IdleNoMore movement and the fact that there is a good segment of the community I work with who are First Nations, I decided to read up on some of the history of Canada and the treaties that were made. I read three books specifically on the treaty process and what happened, from the eyes of the First Nations people involved and from academics on both sides of the issue. I then proceeded to read several books by First Nations authors. The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King was made me laugh out loud several times, and was a refreshing take on the “history” of what it means to be Indian in America. It’s by no means objective; in fact it is quite subjective and makes no apologies for that, and so when I read some reviews by people coming down hard on King for his lack of objectivity, I just laughed to myself and enjoyed the book all the more. I followed that with Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, which made the Canada Reads 2012 final five selection. It is the kind of book that makes you cry and laugh out loud no matter where you are. It’s a well paced and very touching tale that invites the reader into a much talked about but little understood moment in time regarding the residential school system in Canada. Wagamese is a master storyteller and I am very disappointed that this didn’t win Canada Reads 2012. My final reads in the First Nations literature this year were three novels by Joseph Boyden, Through Black Spruce, The Orenda, and Three Day Road. Boyden is another master storyteller, but different than Wagamese. Boyden is much more loquacious than Wagamese, which in Three Day Road served him incredibly well, but failed him in The Orenda. Through Black Spruce is similar to Indian Horse in that it takes place in a modern setting, but has a different theme and isn’t quite as touching.
I read several series this year as well which was a joy. I mentioned the Chronicles Of Prydain above. I also read The Guardians Of Childhood series by William Joyce. They are the books the movie Rise Of The Guardians is based on. They are incredibly imaginative and are probably the most enjoyable fairy tale books I’ve read in a LONG time. It was also a joy to read them to my eldest son who is a lovingly attentive listener. I read the Kenneth Oppel bat series, Sliverwing, Sunwing and Firewing; another delightfully imaginative series that was incredibly intense and I can’t wait for my boy to get old enough to read them. I was however disappointed by the Lois Lowry Giver series (Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son). I read these on the recommendation of a friend and while there is nothing alarmingly bad about them, they just did nothing for me. The characters are bland without being yucky, the stories are formulaic to a fault; the only thing that I genuinely liked was the world these stories inhabited, that was pleasant (and a bit frightful as well).
I was also disappointed by Neil Gaiman’s latest offering, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. Again, not a bad book, it’s full of trademark Gaiman imagination and magic, and full of vivid images contrasted with starkly desperate relationships. I just expected more. Which is perhaps unfair of me, but hey, what can you do when you love an author and he hits it out of the park 9 times out of 10 and, for me, this just happened to be that odd tenth time.
Three other books that were stand outs for me: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Tattoos On The Heart by Fr. Gregory Boyle and Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey. Ready Player One was the nerdiest book I read and I devoured it! It was chalk full of geek and nerd references from the 70’s to the 90’s and it was good! Tattoos On The Heart by Fr. Gregory Boyle is all about his work in LA among the most gang involved youth there. He is a Jesuit pastor who has worked there for a couple decades now, developing work opportunities for gang involved youth, to help them out of their place in life, helping them to recognize their potential and their loveliness as sons and daughters of God. There wasn’t a single chapter where I didn’t cry. Kenneth E. Bailey’s book (which is actually 2-in-1) Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes is an engaging and eye-opening journey through some of the most difficult parables in the New Testament. Especially the parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13). This parable has plagued theologians for a couple thousand years. Bailey offers some fresh insight after having lived for decades in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus and getting to know the Palestinian peasants. It’s his specialty in the cultural backgrounds and literary forms used in the New Testament that give him a delightful and fresh take on the parable of the Unjust Steward. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has the slightest interest in trying to understand Jesus’ words from a perspective much closer to the original.