What I read in 2013 and what I want to read in 2014

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Stephen King, On Writing

Ever since I read On Writing in 2008, I have taken Stephen King’s words to heart.  He admitted that he reads 70 to 80 books a year, so that has been my goal.  In 2013, I read 85 books, 12 more than in 2012.

When I analyzed the books I read in 2013, the numbers came out generally like this:

  • 20-25 Memoir/ Autobiography
  • 35+ Novels, including 7 “Classics” and 3 Childrens/Young Adult
  • 10-12 Writing Craft
  • 10-15 Nonfiction (including self-help, history, but not writing craft or creativity)

I loved the classics that I read, especially Pride and Prejudice, The Moonstone, Girl of the Limberlost, Hard Times, and Tom Sawyer.  Most of them I read on audiobook through LibriVox, through which volunteers read, record, and make available free public domain audiobooks.  In that future life in which I will have enough time to volunteer for all of the things I want to do, I would love to contribute my own reading and recording.

I read a lot of memoirs in 2013, primarily because I realized that the writing I have done and want to shape into a book is really a memoir, so I’ve been studying the form.  I still have a lot to do, but I’ve read many great examples that also include family history, including: What We Have, Missing Lucile, Nola, Ava’s Man, and The Lost.  I loved to read about Sonia Sotomayor in My Beloved World and Marcus Samuellson in Yes Chef, although I’m sure both books were ghostwritten.  To me, that didn’t diminish their journeys.  Other books were a combination of memoir and nonfiction, such as Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Wolf’s Vagina, and Pollan’s Cooked.  Each provided insights that I hadn’t considered.  I want to read just as many memoirs in 2014, and I have plenty of lists to start with.

When I compiled the 2013 list, what surprised me was how many books on writing craft I read.  I realized that it’s much easier for me to read about writing than to actually write.  So I think the reason I read all the writing craft books was avoidance.  Don’t get me wrong, many were very useful, especially the ones about plot, journaling, and memoir writing.  I learned a lot about how I need to shape my material.  And The Icarus Deception, by Seth Godin, was life-changing and paradigm-shifting. Although it isn’t about writing per se, it’s about creating art, so I included it in this list.    In 2014, I want to read less about writing, and write more.  

Fiction.  A portion of the novels I read were for my library book club:  Defending Jacob, An American Tune, Blue Asylum, Goldberg Variations, Cup of Gold, Devil’s Trill, Goodbye for Now, and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Most of those were books I probably wouldn’t have picked up myself, and I continue to treasure the opportunity to expand my book horizons and discuss them with other book lovers.

My favorite novels of the year were probably An American Tune (Barbara Shoup’s novel set in Bloomington and MIchigan between 1969 and the recent past); The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (what happens fifty years later if Alaska had become a Jewish protectorate in WWII, minimizing the effect of the Holocaust?); The Last Days of Dogtown (outcasts and forbidden love in the early 1800’s, including all of the savagery and cruelty of the time); MaddAddam (Atwood’s final book of the dystopian future trilogy begun with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood); and Kindred (written in the late 1970’s, Butler wrote about slavery and time travel that seems to combine aspects of the later Beloved and The Time Traveler’s Wife).

Novels that had an interesting twist:  Defending Jacob, Goodbye For Now, Gone Girl, and The Perfect Ghost.  I enjoyed the surprises each of these books gave me.

I’ve realized that I like a lot of books.  There aren’t very many I don’t care for.  There were only two this year that I can say I wish I hadn’t read:  Cup of Gold and The Lost Get-Back Boogie.  Cup of Gold was one of Steinbeck’s early books, and I didn’t care for the sexism and conquer-the-natives exploits of Captain Morgan.  The book was well-written, and kept me interested in finding out what happened, but I didn’t like what was happening.  Boogie was also well-written, but I had anticipated that it would be a mystery.  Instead, it was a crime novel, tracing the activities of an ex-con and his drugged-out friend.  It wasn’t what I expected, and I don’t care for drug scenes in movies or books.   (Years ago, I started but couldn’t continue with James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces for that reason.)

Although I can’t say I wish I hadn’t read them, I continue to read Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, but just for the pure entertainment.  I don’t expect the characters to say anything profound or come to life-changing realizations when I read this series.  Although they were great mysteries in the beginning, they’ve become formulaic and I’d just like her to pick between Ranger and Morelli, finally!

My wish for 2014 comes from Seth Godin, from The Icarus Deception:

Sometimes, courage is the willingness to speak the truth about what you see and to own what you say.

I hope what I read in 2014 helps me to speak my truth and that you are able to do the same.

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