Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Year end wrap-up

Phew!  A record-breaking year for book-reading here at Olman Central.  I am quite pleased to have continued to maintain and even increase the new-found energy I found for reading at the second half of last year.  Even better, I was really quite consistent about it.  I made a huge dent in my deficit and where I had planned to take 3 to 4 years to get my average back to 50 books a year, it is now conceivable that I could achieve that by the end of 2020. 

More than the numbers, though, are the benefits of so much reading.  First and foremost, I get to read so many great books!  Really if you are reading this, I don't need to say much more than that.  Some may argue that reading in such quantity diminishes the experience, as if I am rushing through books.  It is the opposite, as I am not reading any faster than usual but just reading instead of doing other things.  As I have said in the past, those other things were usually wasting time anyways, like futzing around on the now totally-polluted World Wide Web (so advertising did destroy the internet, just like everybody said it would back in the day, who would have thought?).  I am also barely watching any television or movies these days, except some sports while cooking.  This is not so bad except that it was one area that my wife and I liked to do regularly together.  I still would like to do that but all these prestige shows coming out seem so similar to me that there is nothing that grabs my attention more than the book I am reading. 

The other big advantage of reading so much is that I can vary the kinds of books I read.  I have been branching out more into non-fiction and even picking up hard to read books every now and then.  I am toying with the idea of reading some big classic next year when I am ahead of my goals, as I will have the extra time.

Finally, I find that steady reading becomes an anchor in my life for other good disciplines.  I believe there is a subtle calming, even meditative, mechanism in reading that counter-acts the psychological frenzy of adult life in the so-called civilized world, especially in today's phone-zombie nightmare we are all living.  It isn't all due to reading, but my sleep schedule is the most consistent it has been for a long time perhaps ever.  Though to be fair, there are certain books that will keep you up either because you can't put them down or because they get you so excited it's hard to go to sleep after.  For my own personal discipline and productivity, 2019 has been a banner year, a real step in a return to my old ass-kicking form.  It would be an exaggeration to say that this is because of all the reading, but that certainly has been an important factor in the mix that sets the foundation for all the rest. 

My reading goals for next year are the same as last.  Read 50 books and if possible whittle away at the average.  If I can keep up any of the consistency of 2019, 59 is a very realistic possibility.  I also hope to read a long series or trilogy one after the other, to stay in the same imaginary space for a longer time rather than jumping all over the place.  I am targeting the Vorkosigan saga and some of these great new what I call "woke" sci-fi or fantasy series, possibly Robin Hobb's Assassin books or the N.K. Jemison trilogy.  I hope to throw in a major classic in there as well.  We shall see!

Now on to the actual books!  It is hard to summarize 2019 with any general theme as I read so many books.  There were several highlights.  As I mentioned above, I read several non-fiction books which I usually resist mightily.  The two books on the history of basketball and the ABA were great, super fun, informative and I tore through them.  I didn't tear through The Hermit of Peking but it was also enjoyable and it refreshed my knowledge of the British colonization of China, which I had studied in college and which indirectly informs so much of the British spy and adventure fiction I read (basically reminding me that despite its outwardly benevolent guise, British Colonialism was at its base motivated by greed and was fundamentally a giant and destructive theft at best).  A bizarre read for me, which ended up being quite rewarding was The Organized Mind, though it did reinforce my belief in the hype around all these organizational self-help books.

Another highlight was that I found and read a lot of authors that have been on my hunting list for years:  Edmund Crispin, Lionel Davidson, Michael Tod, Edgar Pangborn, Dorothy B. Hughes and a few others.  I also finished a few series that I have been working on over the years, including Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series (disappointing) and Mary Stewart's King Arthur trilogy (solid) and C.J. Cherryh's Chanur series (which was great but really should have been a single massive book or I at least should have read it that way). 

Speaking of female science fiction writers, I also jumped on the wave of all these great new series and books coming out in the new "woke" sci-fi space.  I only read two authors but that was simply because I am pacing myself as so far everything has met the hype and even exceeded my expectations.  Nnedi Okorafor's Binti series was really cool and innovative.  Anne Leckie's Ancillary series was really mind-blowing and awesome, up there on my most favourite books.  I really have had to force myself not to read the third one.

Finally, I discovered or found several Animal adventure books (I really need a term for the sub-genre where the animal is the protagonist).  The Silver Tide about squirrels in england had been on my list for ever.  Maneater was an awesome random find, as was Black Fox Running.  I still haven't found a single Colin Dann book used but did discover a beautiful reprint of The Animals of Farthing Wood and loved it.

Specific books that stood out for me were the quiet and gentle and almost simple The Long Way Home by Margot Benary-Isbert.  The super nasty and intense No Orchids for Miss Blanding which since I have read it keeps popping up everywhere (a character is reading it on the train in Crispin's The Gilded Fly mystery).  Wake in Fright, as well as being satisfying as a great find (Penguin paperback for $3 off a sidewalk garage sale) stayed with me like the heat of the Australian outback it portrays.

I really could go on and on. I probably missed something.  However, now it is time to move on to the next decade of reading.  Happy new year and happy reading in the Double Twenties everyone!

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