Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Year in Reading: 2012

I don't know what compelled me to start, but in 2008, I began listing every book I read in a composition notebook, aptly titled "BOOKS." I have four guesses as to why I started doing this:

  1. I like lists, and I especially like going back over lists because it jogs my memory and helps me relive experiences I might otherwise forget.
  2. A friend of mine had a list like this, and I wanted to copy him.
  3. The first book that I finished in 2008 was Les Miserables, and let's face it: after you've read over 1200 pages of a book, only 700 or so of which were worth your while, you want to make sure to record that accomplishment for posterity.
  4. Abby had by this point been commenting on how many unused composition notebooks I had purchased, and I had better start filling them to mask my shame.
I'm not sure which of these explanations is the primary one, but I'm sure there's some truth in each. Whatever the reason, I began this practice in 2008, and I have enjoyed going over the list at year's end (or mid-year, or several years after the year, as the case may be) and setting goals for the next year. (One year, for example, I set out to read spiritual autobiographies--but I still failed to get through The Seven-Storey Mountain.) Usually I enjoy this practice by myself, as posting all the books you've read on a blog can be seen as self-serving or pretentious. But since one of my college professors has done this (and I don't think he is either of those things), and since I've been recording most of my reads on Good Reads anyway, and since this year's list is nothing to shame anybody, I decided to indulge in the public practice.

A few notes at the start of the list. First, I include books that I've read in my work as an editor on my private list, but I've omitted them from this public one. I've also included some keywords where they apply. I use the keywords reread, e-book, audiobook, and book club so you can track those things if you feel so inclined. I include a book's completion date on my list and that's all. So, for example, in March I finished two commentaries on the book of Luke. Those books both took me over two years to complete (the length of my Sunday school class's study through the book), so a single "read" date is misleading in many of these cases. Also, rightfully so, I do not include all the books that I began with good intentions and abandoned. To be included on my list, I must have read the book cover to cover (so a book of short stories or essays, for example, is only included if I've read all the short stories or essays in the book).

Here's my list for 2012, divided by month:


  • This Boy's Life, Tobias Wolff
  • On Stories, C.S. Lewis
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain
  • Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton (e-book)
  • Luke for Everyone, N.T. Wright
  • The Daily Study Bible: Luke, William Barclay
  • Jesus of Nazareth, Volume 2: Holy Week, Pope Benedict XVI
  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens (e-book, book club)
  • Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez (book club)
  • The Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers
  • The Big Short, Michael Lewis
  • Death in Venice, Thomas Mann (e-book)
  • Portuguese Irregular Verbs, Alexander McCall Smith (audiobook, reread)
  • The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, Alexander McCall Smith (audiobook, reread)
  • At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, Alexander McCall Smith (audiobook, reread)
  • The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton (e-book, reread)
  • The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark
  • The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde (audiobook)
  • Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (audiobook)
  • The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis (audiobook, reread)
  • Orient Express, Graham Greene
  • Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene (reread, book club)
  • Blink, Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook)
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (book club)
  • The Age of Miracles, Karen Thomson Walker (e-book, book club)
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan (e-book, book club)
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)
  • The Odyssey, Homer (audiobook, reread)
  • Jesus of Nazareth, Volume 3: Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI
  • Swan Lake, Mark Helprin
  • The Story of the Other Wise Man, Henry Van Dyke (reread)
One thing of note here is the prominence of nonfiction on the list (at least compared with years past): fourteen of the thirty-one books here are nonfiction titles. I usually try to read one fiction and one nonfiction book concurrently, but as you might guess, it is often easier to be swept away in story. This year I did a better job of achieving this balance. I'm guessing this shift is work related (I now work on nonfiction). It looks like I didn't read any fiction until May, but let me assure you: I was plugging away at Bleak House, the book I chose for a work book club. You might also notice several fluffier fiction books after I read this. Don't judge.

My reading picked up in June because of the library's summer reading program. Reading for prizes sounds great if you win prizes. No prizes were won in the Schindler household. I suppose you will say something like  "Reading is its own reward." I guess that's true. But it's even better when prizes are your reward.

Eight of these books were audiobooks, and I began reading these in the summer. The reason? I rode my bike to work (too occasionally, unfortunately) and liked to take my mind off the physical strain. I continued the practice in the car (though with less regularity and considerably less physical strain) once the weather cooled down.

My list this year is a bit sparser than in years past, due in part to having a baby in the house, but also due to my reading more on the job. In my previous position, I handled a lot more procedural paperwork than I do now. Now I usually read a book I work on several times before I'm finished with it. I understand what it means to have eyes too tired for reading when I get home!

A third of the books on this list (ten) are rereads, which seems about right. I hit the two I try to reread every year (Orthodoxy around the start of the year and The Story of the Other Wise Man near Christmas), and several other rereads I listened to as audiobooks for the first time. I listened to C.S. Lewis read The Four Loves, for example (I had never heard Lewis's voice before, and it's not what I expected). I also listened to The Odyssey for the first time, and I'm not sure I'll ever read it with my eyes again. Alexander McCall Smith's books, true to my suspicion, I prefer as audiobooks. I listened to my first nonfiction audiobook this year (Freakonomics), and I loved it. I was afraid nonfiction would be hard to follow in audio form (and I still wouldn't choose it as an ideal medium for many nonfiction titles), but I enjoyed Freakonomics and the other nonfiction titles I listened to this year.

As for goals for 2013, I aim to read at whim. It's been a while since I've been in college or written book reviews regularly, but I still often feel constrained by Books One Must Read. It took me a long time to get over that I don't love J.M. Coetzee and that's okay, or that I don't have to read every award winner, or that Publishers Weekly's starred reviewers and I often wildly disagree. I'm hoping 2013 pushes me more in that direction. It might also be time to lift the Harry Potter embargo. The movies are over; new series have taken its place in the public consciousness. Is it time for me to read it in peace?

What about you? Any reading goals and/or reading exploits you'd like to share?


  1. Alas, there was only one reading reward in the Gwynne household this summer, and the coupon for a free game of bowling expired before we could use it.

    This year, I have a goal to read 24 books. I've been guilty of leaving books on my shelves unread, so many of those reads will be taken from that collection. There's a post all about my plan on my blog.

  2. Bummer!

    That's a good goal. Thanks for pointing me to the blog!