Recapping my year in books — and looking ahead

While I’d like to say I hit the century mark in books for the second year in a row, technically I can’t. The year’s total? 96, not counting the book I finished this morning, most of which I read in the waning two days of 2008. But there are ways around technicalities.

Among the 96 books were nearly 1,250 pages of War and Peace, almost 900 pages in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 and more than 600 pages in Paul Verhaeghen’s Omega Minor. So, if you figure the average book has around 350 pages, those two books are roughly equal to eight, taking me to 102.

But as we all should know, quality is more important than quality. My thought is there was plenty of quality this year. Just out of curiosity, I broke it down by the categories I use for my reading log. Seventy-five percent of the books I read came in five categories and the amount of fiction I read compared to nonfiction shows the former is making up a bigger segment of my interest. The top five categories (with each book assigned only one category) were:

World Lit (works originally published in a language other than English) — 25
Fiction — 18
Science Fiction — 10
Biographies/Memoirs — 10
History — 9

I also went somewhat overboard on the Russian Reading Challenge. It called for reading four books in 2008 by authors who wrote in Russian or about Russia and Russians. Not only did I read five of the seven on my proposed list, my final total was 14.

To spread it out a bit, I’ve decided to take on at least two reading challenges in 2009. Given the figures above, both seem to fit in my reading habits so even if they don’t expand my reading horizons it’s unlikely I’ll bail on them. I’m also considering three others.

One I’ve signed up for is the Lost in Translation challenge. It requires reading six books in translation during the year. Since I read four times that many this year, I don’t think it will be a problem. The challenge even got some love from the blog at Words Without Borders, the organization in part responsible for sparking my world lit interest.

The other is Notable Books, based on a a variety of “notable” book lists at the host blog. There are no specific requirements or rules (my kind of challenge) other than to read books off those lists. I figure I’ll start off with a goal of half a dozen.

Under serious consideration is the World Citizen Challenge, which seems to combine aspects of the two I’ve signed up for. The challenge “invites participants to get to know the world better and become true world citizens” by reading non-fiction works about the world around us. Given there are varying levels of participation, I am likely going to sign up.

Another is almost kind of a no-brainer for me. It’s the Support Your Local Library Challenge. It’s based on reading books from your local library. Given how many I check out and read during any one year, it shouldn’t be too hard.

Finally, I’m intrigued by the War Through the Generations challenges. It plans to do several six month to one year challenges “over the long term” on the broad topic of war and its impact. The first will focus on World War II and requires reading at least five nonfiction or fiction books during the year where WWII is a primary or secondary theme.

I am, though, wondering about my approach. As virtually all these challenges fit my recent reading habits, are they really a “challenge”?

I did not read from a sense of superiority, or advancement, or even learning. I read because I loved it more than any other activity on earth.

Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

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