Midweek @ Musings: 2010 Year in Review

Inevitably, as the year comes to a close, I begin reflecting on my year of reading.  Then, of course, I simply must write a “year in review” post.  And so, here we are.  For the third year in a row, I’ve clocked in at 80 books, somewhere in the neighborhood of 24,500 pages, and an average rating of 3.6 out of 5.  Well, I’m nothing if not consistent!  My top 5 books each garnered a rare 5-star rating, except for the Zweig, which was the best of a long list of memorable 4.5-star reads (links will take you to my reviews):

And my year in review wouldn’t be the same without graphs!  My trusty reading spreadsheet produced four lovely graphs, and since they take up a lot of space I’ve put them in a nifty slideshow.  Click on the image below to open it in a new window:

Click here for a 4-graph slideshow!

As you can see, I usually read 5-7 books per month, except for July, which was unprecedented!  Very few books came in at less than 3 stars; I like to think that’s more about being selective than about being an “easy grader.”  My typical read was just over 300 pages, and in general my 2010 reading was more chunky than in 2009.  I also read far more books by women than men, surpassing 2009’s already-lopsided 66%/34% ratio.

But it’s not all about the numbers.  On a more qualitative note, below are a few “reading superlatives”  in a format borrowed from other bloggers, most notably Verity (as always, click on links to read my reviews):

  1. Best Book: Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain.  I was completely blown away by Brittain’s first-hand account of life at the front during World War I, and amazed at her ability to cope with such tremendous tragedy and grief.
  2. Worst Book: The Old Devils, by Kingsley Amis.  I disliked this so much, it doesn’t even merit a few more words here.
  3. Most Disappointing Book: Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope.  Given my reading tastes, I should have enjoyed this book.  It still bugs me that I didn’t.  I found it too slow-moving and because it was a really long book, I just gave up.
  4. Most Surprising Book (in a good way):  When Everything Changed, by Gail Collins.  While I was sure I’d like this book, I didn’t expect to be recommending it to all and sundry for weeks after.  I even interrupted a ladies’ room conversation with two women I’d only just met, simply to tell them about this book!
  5. Favorite New (to me) Author: Winifred Holtby.  This is partly because Holtby was Vera Brittain’s dear friend, and partly because South Riding was so amazingly good.  Holtby is now on my “must read everything” list.
  6. Favorite Cover: this one’s a tie.  I can’t decide between The Lacuna and Lady Audley’s Secret.  The Kingsolver is so gorgeously floral.  I also love pre-Raphaelite art, and the portrait is true to the description of Lady Audley.
  7. Most Memorable Character: Undine Spragg, in Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country.   As I wrote in my review, “Beautiful, vapid, self-centered, ambitious, money-grubbing … need I say more?  She’s thoroughly despicable, but so well-drawn … ”  She was the driving force behind this book, and utterly fascinating.
  8. Most Beautifully Written Book: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.  This is a “love it or hate it book,” and some have found it too slow for their taste.  I thought it was magnificent, and the pacing essential to delivering its profound messages.
  9. Book that had the Greatest Impact on me: Again, Testament of Youth.  This was one of the most moving and powerful books I’ve ever read, and one I will never forget.  It left so many thoughts and feelings rattling around in my head that I had to follow my review with a Remembrance Day post.
  10. Book I Can’t Believe I Waited Until 2010 to Read: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.  This is one of those “books about books” that everyone talks about.  I was afraid it would fall short of all the hype, but I was wrong.  It was simply delightful.

So that’s it — another year done & dusted.  Please leave a comment with your choices for any of the 10 “reading superlatives.” And I’ll be back in the coming days with 2011 resolutions and a little “blogiversary” celebration.

Midweek @ Musings: 2010 Challenge Wrap-up


This year I signed up for only 4 reading challenges, so I thought I’d write a single wrap-up post.

Women Unbound (completed 6/20/2010)

For this challenge, participants were encouraged to read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of “women’s studies.”  I read 8 books (5 fiction and 3 non-fiction).  This challenge provided the perfect excuse to read Virago Modern Classics.  But my favorite book was non-fiction: When Everything Changed, by Gail Collins (read my review).  This book was so good, I found myself foisting it on unsuspecting business colleagues, sometimes people I’d only just met!

Battle of the Prizes (completed 10/10/2010)

I participated in both the British and American versions of this challenge, which sought to answer the questions:  Does one prize have higher standards than the other? Pick better winners? Provide more reading entertainment or educational value? I read three British prize winners and four American prize winners.  My favorites were Without my Cloak, by Irish novelist Kate O’Brien (review), and Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (review), which will be one of my top reads of 2010.

Book Awards IV (completed 10/21/2010)

I’ve participated in all four Book Awards challenges.  I don’t find it at all difficult to read prize winners, but this year’s challenge required reading 10 books from 10 different awards.  I enjoyed scouring my shelves for award-winners I already owned, and reading from prizes I’d never read before, like the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse Anglais. I read some really great books for this challenge, including Haweswater, by Sarah Hall (review) and The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver (review).

1% Well-Read

I abandoned this challenge when I launched my “un-project.” I was about halfway through my list at the time.  The funny thing is, I’ll probably read all 13 selections sometime in the next year.  I just decided to free myself from the obligation of reading them all by next April!

So that’s it: four challenges, done and dusted.

Did you participate in reading challenges this year?

The Sunday Salon: Third Quarter Wrap-up & October Preview

Happy Sunday, everyone.  This has been a gorgeous, sunny autumn weekend, a sharp contrast to the torrential rain mid-week as Tropical Storm Nicole worked its way up the east cost of the US.  And now only three months remain in the year!

I’ve read 63 books so far this year, and 25 during the third quarter.  That’s a significant increase over the first and second quarters, thanks to an amazing July. My top 5 reads for the 3rd quarter are listed below (links take you to my reviews):

As for the month of September, I read 7 books, but most were just average.  Helen Dunmore’s The Siege stood out, as did Iris Murdoch’s The Bell.  But I was disappointed with Troubles, which won “the lost Booker Prize” earlier this year.  Here’s the complete run-down (links will take you to my reviews).

This string of mostly-average reads has made me a bit impatient.  While reading my last book in September (Postcards), I felt more critical than usual, and at one stage just wanted to be done with it.  It wasn’t really a bad book (3 stars is respectable, after all) — but I wanted to be reading something really good.  It was frustrating!

Now I’ve moved on to Rose Tremain’s Trespass, which was nominated for the 2010 Booker Prize.  I’ve read two other books by Tremain (Restoration and The Road Home) and really enjoyed them.  I received my copy of Trespass through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program, which always feels a bit like winning a prize.  And we have a group read going over there for others who “won” the book, or are reading it for whatever reason.  It’s early yet — not much discussion because it’s too soon — but there are some who feel it’s not quite as good as Tremain’s other books.  We’ll see … have I mentioned that I want to be reading something really good??

Even if the Tremain turns out not to be my really good book, I have high hopes for the rest of October.  Here’s what’s in my queue:

  • Something to Answer For, by P.H. Newby (this is the only Booker Prize winner I haven’t read, at least until this year’s prize announcement!)
  • Adam’s Breed, by Radclyffe Hall (The Well of Loneliness was excellent, and this book will complete my Book Awards Challenge)
  • Summer, by Edith Wharton (it’s Edith Wharton — what’s not to like?  And this one was chosen by my readers!)
  • Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain (this book has received rave reviews from a couple of LibraryThing members)
  • For Grace Received, by Valeria Parrella (recommended by a commenter on a recent post about Belletrista)

What was your favorite book this month?

What are you looking forward to reading in October?


Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

The Sunday Salon: Second Quarter Wrap-up

Hello Saloners!  It’s another hot summer Sunday, and a long holiday weekend in the US.  Independence Day is not a big holiday for me, for a variety of reasons political and cultural, but I do like having a 3-day weekend.  And I’m actually taking all of next week off from work, so I’m feeling nice and relaxed now. I can’t believe we’ve reached the halfway point of 2010, but that’s gives me an excuse to look back on the year so far.

To begin with, this is my 27th Sunday Salon this year.  Yes, I’ve managed to post every single week!  That surprised me; I’ve never managed such consistency before.  And consistency is a theme in my reading as well.  Every year, I aim to read about 75 books and have clocked in around 80 the past two years.  I read 38 books from January through June, which means I’m easily on track to reach 75.  In the second quarter, I read 19 books (5700 pages) — pretty much the same pace as the first quarter.  And I’m happy with the progress towards my 2010 reading goals:

  • 2 for the Women Unbound Challenge.  I’ve now completed this challenge (5 books read this year; 8 total)
  • 4 Booker Prize winners (total 6 vs. a goal of 10)
  • 3 for the Book Awards IV challenge (total 5 vs. a goal of 10)
  • 3 Virago Modern Classics (total 6 vs. a goal of 12)
  • 4 from the 1001 Books you Must Read Before you Die list (total 6 vs. a goal of 10)
  • 2 from Belletrista (vs. a goal of 6)

I also read 3 books from my stacks, and it’s been really satisfying to discover books that have been gathering dust.  I also read 2 for The Classics Circuit, which continues to be a great way to discover new-to-me authors.

So all in all, it was a pretty good quarter.  Normally I like to list my top 5 books; however, this quarter there was a clear break between my 4.5- and 4-star reads, leaving only a “Top 4.”  I rated these 4.5 stars, except for Gilead, which was an amazing 5-star read for me and just as good as Home, which I rated 5 stars last year.  So here’s my Top 4, in the order I read them.  Click on the title to read my review:

I hope you’re enjoying your Sunday, and your 2010 reading.

What were your top reads in the second quarter?


Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

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The Sunday Salon: First Quarter Wrap-up

Happy Easter, everyone!  It’s been a really beautiful weekend in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania:  great weather for gardening and egg-hunting.  And, with March behind us, it’s time for a look back at my reading during the first quarter of 2010.

I read 19 books, 14 written by women.  This amounted to 5,574 pages, which would have been higher but for two “DNF” reads.  I’m making decent progress on several of my 2010 reading goals.  I’ve read:

  • 3 of the 5 books needed to complete the Women Unbound Challenge.
  • 2 of 10 Booker Prize winners (well, OK, these were my two “DNF” reads!)
  • 3 of 8 Orange Prize nominees
  • 2 of 10 for the Book Awards IV challenge
  • 3 of 12 Virago Modern Classics
  • 2 of 10 from the 1001 Books you Must Read Before you Die list

I also read 4 books from my stacks, and 2 “just for fun.”  And I have thoroughly enjoyed reading 3 books for The Classics Circuit.  I’m signed up for two more tours and I expect to contribute regularly for the rest of the year.

And finally (drum roll), my First Quarter 2010 Top 5, in the order I read them (4 out of 5 were read in January, isn’t that weird?)

Click on the title to read my review:

Did you write a first quarter wrap-up piece?

What were your favorite books?

Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

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New Year, New Blog, Blogiversary Book Giveaway

I’m giving away a book to celebrate the new year, my new blog home, and my third blogiversary which is TODAY!  The lucky winner will receive their choice of one of my Top 5 books of 2010 (all of these were 5-star reads for me):

Click on the title above to see the specific paperback edition of each book.  Here is how to enter:

  • Leave a comment on this post any time before noon (US EST) on January 16, 2010
    • Share a New Year Reading Resolution and you will earn 1 chance to win
    • Blog about your New Year Reading Resolution, link to this giveaway, and then comment here with a link to your blog post, and you will earn 2 chances to win
  • This is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway – all are welcome to enter.
  • Please only one entry per person.
  • You must complete the comment form and include your email address so I can contact you if you win (your email address will NOT appear publicly, but I will be able to see it through my blog dashboard).
  • You do not need to specify which book you want now; I’ll work that out with the winner.
  • I will use Random.org to choose a winner.
  • The winner will be announced here by noon (US EST) on January 17, 2010, and I will then contact the winner by e-mail.

Good luck!

The Sunday Salon: 2010 Reading Goals

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Sunday Salon of 2010!  A few days ago I posted my 2009 year in review, one of my last posts on LiveJournal.  This is the first Sunday at my new blog home.  If you are reading this in an RSS feed, I hope you’ll click over and check out my new look.  Since it’s a new year, it’s time to share my 2010 reading goals.  I’ve blogged for 3 years now (my blogiversary is January 7), and each year my reading evolves in some new way.

This year I am being more selective than ever about time-based challenges.  As 2009 came to a close, my feed reader was overflowing with new opportunities listed on A Novel Challenge. There were a number of tempting gems, and I could have signed up for several with considerable overlap.  But sometimes I find it overwhelming to keep up with all the challenge blogs and Mr. Linkys.  So I held back, with only one new challenge and a couple of old favorites:

Perpetual challenges are really my favorites.  These have no time limit, and allow me to pursue longer-term goals.  This year I’m adding a personal “Belletrista Challenge,” to celebrate women writers from around the world.  Perpetual challenges will make up most of my reading in 2010:

And finally, a few more personal reading goals for 2010:
  • From my Stacks – read 10 books that have lain around my house the longest (based on LibraryThing data)
  • Just for Fun – read 10 books for any reason whatsoever.  These could be recommendations from friends, or new releases.
  • The Classics Circuit – be an active contributor, celebrating the classics by hosting blog tour stops.  On January 12, Edith Wharton will visit Musings.  I’ll also be participating in the Harlem Renaissance tour in February with a post featuring poet Langston Hughes.

Whew!  It will be a busy year, but having spent the time to craft these “New Year’s Reading Resolutions,” I’m really looking forward to all the great books and authors I’ll discover.  On Thursday (my blogiversary) I’ll be announcing a giveaway related to the new year.  If you’ve made resolutions for your 2010 reading, be sure to stop by and enter to win!

Read more from The Sunday Salon here

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The Pulitzer Project: 2010 Goals and Progress

I’ve been working on this perpetual challenge since 2007.  In 2009, my goals was to read 6 Pulitzer winners, and I achieved that goal.  I’ve now read more than 25 of the 80+ winners, and I’ve decided I’m not really trying to complete the list; however, there is some good literature to be found here!  My 2010 goal is to read another 6, including the 2010 winner.

Pulitzer Prize Winners Read in 2010 (will post as completed)
2005 – Gilead (Robinson) – review
2010 – Tinkers (Harding) – review

Complete List of Pulitzer Prize Winners Read (with links to reviews where available):
2010 – Tinkers (Harding)
2009 – Olive Kitteridge (Strout)
2008 – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Díaz)
2007 – The Road(MacCarthy)
2006 – March (Brooks)
2005 – Gilead (Robinson)
2004 – The Known World (Jones)
2003 – Middlesex (Eugenides)
2002 – Empire Falls (Russo)
2001 – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Chabon)
2000 – Interpreter of Maladies (Lahiri)
1995 – The Stone Diaries (Shields)
1994 – The Shipping News (Proulx)
1992 – A Thousand Acres (Smiley)
1988 – Beloved (Morrison)
1973 – The Optimist’s Daughter (Welty)
1972 – Angle of Repose (Stegner)
1961 – To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee)
1958 – A Death in the Family(Agee)
1953 – The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway)
1940 – The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck)
1939 – The Yearling(Rawlings)
1937 – Gone with the Wind (Mitchell)
1932 – The Good Earth (Buck)
1930 – Laughing Boy (LaFarge)
1925 – So Big (Ferber)
1923 – One of Ours (Cather)
1921 – The Age of Innocence (Wharton)

The Orange Prize Project: 2010 Goals Progress

The Orange Prize is my favorite award after the Booker Prize.  In 2009, I finished the winners list and read two shortlisted works.  In 2010 my goal is 8:  7 shortlisted works, plus the 2010 winner. Jill at The Magic Lasso will continue her tradition of sponsoring “Orange January” and “Orange July,” two months devoted to reading from the Orange Prize list.  I’ll be doing most, if not all, of my Orange reading during those two months.

Orange Prize Books Read in 2010
(Books will be listed as completed)

Complete List of Orange Prize Fiction Winners & Shortlists Read (with links to reviews where available):

2010 – The Lacuna (Kingsolver)

2009 – Home (Robinson)

2008 – The Road Home (Tremain)

2007 – Half of a Yellow Sun (Adichie)

2006 – On Beauty (Smith)

2005 – We Need to Talk About Kevin (Shriver)

2004 – Small Island (Levy)

2003 – Property (Martin)

  • Unless (Shields)

2002Bel Canto (Patchett)

2001 – The Idea of Perfection (Grenville)

  • The Blind Assassin (Atwood)

2000 – When I lived in Modern Times (Grant)

1999 – A Crime in the Neighborhood (Berne)

  • The Poisonwood Bible (Kingsolver)
  • Paradise (Morrison)

1998 – Larry’s Party (Shields)

1997 – Fugitive Pieces (Michaels)

1996 – A Spell of Winter (Dunmore)

  • The Hundred Secret Senses (Tan)
  • Ladder of Years (Tyler)

The Complete Booker: 2010 Goals and Progress

The Booker Prize is one of my favorite literary prizes.  Since 2007, I’ve been hosting  The Complete Booker to encourage others to join me in reading works by these great authors. In 2009, I achieved my goal of reading 12, including the 2009 winner.  And now, there are only 10 remaining winners left for me to read.  My goal is in sight!  However, it’s going to be more difficult to achieve because 1) I’ve been putting off some of the books that I think I won’t like, and 2) some of the older titles are hard to find.  Still, it will be fun trying … and once I’ve read as many winners as possible I will pay more attention to the shortlists!

In 2010 I’m also hosting a timed challenge on The Complete Booker.  I’m joining at the Winners Circle level, which requires reading at least 6 winners.

The rest of my Booker Winners “TBR” list (links to reviews will be posted as read):
2010 – The Finkler Question (Jacobson) – review
1995 – The Ghost Road (Barker) – review
1994 – How Late it Was, How Late (Kelman) – review
1991 – The Famished Road (Okri) – review
1986 – The Old Devils (Amis) – review
1983 – Life & Times of Michael K (Coetzee) – review
1974 – Holiday (Middleton) – review
1972 – G. (Berger) – review
1970 – The Elected Member (Rubens) – review
1970 – Troubles (Farrell) – 2010 “Lost Booker Prize” – review
1969 – Something to Answer For (Newby) – review

Complete List of Booker Winners Read (with links to reviews where available):

2010 – The Finkler Question (Jacobson)
2009 – Wolf Hall (Mantel)
2008 – The White Tiger (Adiga)
2007 – The Gathering (Enright)
2006 – The Inheritance of Loss (Desai)
2005 – The Sea (Banville)
2004 – The Line of Beauty (Hollinghurst)
2003 – Vernon God Little (Pierre)
2002 – Life of Pi (Martel)
2001 – True History of the Kelly Gang (Carey)
2000 – The Blind Assassin (Atwood)
1999 – Disgrace (Coetzee)
1998 – Amsterdam: A Novel (McEwan)
1997 – The God of Small Things (Roy)
1996 – Last Orders(Swift)
1995 – The Ghost Road (Barker)
1994 – How Late it Was, How Late (Kelman)
1993 – Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Doyle)
1992 – The English Patient (Ondaatje)
1992 – Sacred Hunger (Unsworth)
1991 – The Famished Road (Okri)
1990 – Possession: A Romance (Byatt)
1989 – The Remains of the Day(Ishiguro)
1988 – Oscar and Lucinda (Carey)
1987 – Moon Tiger (Lively)
1986 – The Old Devils (Amis)
1985 – The Bone People (Hulme)
1984 – Hotel du Lac (Brookner)
1983 – Life & Times of Michael K (Coetzee)
1982 – Schindler’s Ark (Keneally)
1981 – Midnight’s Children (Rushdie)
1980 – Rites of Passage (Golding)
1979 – Offshore (Fitzgerald)
1978 – The Sea, the Sea (Murdoch)
1977 – Staying on (Scott)
1976 – Saville (Storey)
1975 – Heat and Dust (Jhabvala)
1974 – The Conservationist (Gordimer)
1974 – Holiday (Middleton)
1973 – The Siege of Krishnapur (Farrell)
1972 – G. (Berger)
1971 – In a Free State (Naipaul)
1970 – The Elected Member (Rubens)
1970 – Troubles (Farrell) – 2010 “Lost Booker Prize”
1969 – Something to Answer For (Newby) – review