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My 2021 Reading By The Numbers

Some stats about my reading in 2021 (that may be of interest only to me):

  • Total Books Read: 84
  • Hardcover: 42
  • Kindle: 32
  • Paperback: 6
  • Audio: 3
  • Nonfiction: 45
  • Fiction: 38
  • Longest book: 751 pages
  • Shortest book: 12 pages

In later posts I will outline my favorite book in fiction and non, but what jumped out at me is that I haven’t really landed on a a genre or style that I really enjoy. Despite reading close to 40 works of fiction, I didn’t read a lot of books that I would heartily recommend, books that I loved. Feels like I am in a bit of a funk; not finding a lot of “You have to read this!” Type books.

The other thing that I find interesting with using Goodreads, is that I have a tendency to overrate books; giving 4 stars when looking back I don’t feel like I “really” enjoyed it.  There is such a fine line between enjoying a book and really liking it.  At least it seems that way to me. My campaign to bring half stars to Goodreads continues.

Lessons Learned in 2021: Less busy is easy, more meaning is hard

As indicated in my Happy New Years post, I feel like I have learned somethings about myself in 2021 and that I am in a better position to post to this blog as a result. Obviously, I did not set out to learn things simply so I could blog here.

Like many during the never-ending ongoing pandemic I was trying to figure how I wanted to structure and approach my life.  What would I spend my time on? Where would I put my focus and energy?  What ultimately brought joy and meaning into my life?

There were a number of factors involved:

  • I am now working from home for the foreseeable future while my wife has a longish commute.
  • I continue to focus on my health. Having lost nearly 45 pounds, my focus is on finding a workable balance when it comes to diet and exercise. Not losing weight or gaining it back but finding a healthy stability. I run three or four times a week but still eat too much sweets and carbs.
  • I still read quite a bit but seem to struggle retaining knowledge and information from what I read.
  • I have a rather large library at home and yet still struggle not to buy more books and check out books from the library.
  • Despite wrestling with what you might call digital minimalism for many years now, I still find myself distracted by electronic devices and gadgets.

What has been reinforced for me time and time again in 2021 is that distraction is easy and focus is hard. A cliche right?  But nonetheless true.

100 books in 2020, Big Books in 2021

My big picture reading goal in 2020 was to finally crack the 100 books in a year mark which I have been approaching for a few years. I was able to accomplish that and so look for a different approach in The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty-One.

Side note: I always feel a little guilty about counting graphic novels, novellas and other forms of very short books in my books I have read count. But this is in tension with my desire to read 100 books and to track every book I have read. And to be fair, I listened to a number of audio courses which are equal to quite large books given the number of hours involved. So I will call it even.

I will admit to sometimes being put off by very large books for two reasons. 1) hard to get to 100 if you are reading large tomes 2) I struggle to stay engaged and get a lot out of large books because I don’t always have the large blocks of time required to read such books well. I started thinking about this even as I was on track to read 100 books in 2020.

But as a way to challenge myself and read some books that I have had on my TBR pile for some time and have had recommended to me multiple times, I decided to declare 2021 the year of big books.

I also want to attempt to focus on some key interest areas in my reading: classics, books on conservatism, books on writing and books on faith and/or theology.

The Future of Collected Miscellany

Once more into the breach…

As the one or two people who read this blog with any regularity know, I have been struggling with whether to keep going. Traffic has gone down year by year. No one leaves a comment or links to this blog. On occasion a publisher might retweet or tweet a review or an author might say thank you for a review, but for the most part this site is visited by those led here from Google searches with a small trickle from social media.

My motivation and energy for posting, let alone quality posting, had all but disappeared. Largely because of the above. I admit, I struggle when I get no feedback or interaction; when it seems like no one is listening. I was hanging on mostly because I still like getting books from publishers and having a website where you post reviews helps with that.

As the end of 2020 approached, I thought it presented a good opportunity to make a clean break one way or the other. So I began to think about what I wanted to do.

The biggest motivation for me to keep this site going is the realization that social media and other distractions had undermined my ability to concentrate and focus on writing. And in 2021 I want to prove to myself that I can do the hard work necessary to write engaging and thought provoking book reviews and cultural criticism.

I also felt frustrated that I had read a great many books without coming away with much insight, opinion, or reaction. I was too passive. Writing is one way to force yourself to pay attention and get more out of reading.

The question was then whether I had the time and energy to make it work and how I would go about setting myself up to succeed. I decided that I owed it to myself to try. I didn’t want all the years CM has been around to simply disappear with a whimper.

The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

I stumbled on The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri (Goodreads rating: 4 of 5 stars) at the library and read it in one sitting.  A lecture turned book(let), it was nevertheless interesting to read an author’s thoughts on book covers and to ruminate on their role, impact, etc.  It is not something the average reader probably thinks a lot about even as it may play a large role in the books they buy and read.  Book covers have an impact in ways obvious and less so.  There are elements that we consciously look for and those we don’t think about or may not even be aware of.

There are informational elements like reading jackets for basic plot or subject outline, for blurbs and descriptions from authors we may know, to know which book in a series this one might be, etc.  There are also graphical elements that catch our eye; maybe a particular style or artist we like or just the design and feel of a book may speak to us.  Covers send signals about books in ways that we might not pick up on too.  A particular style may signal science fiction or mystery or romance and this signal may or may not comport with the actual words that lie within. We may be drawn to books for reason we can’t really articulate.

Few would deny, however, that covers play an important role in the books we buy and read.  Which is why I imagine they are so problematic for authors.  Having put their heart and soul into the text they must then hand over something so critical in the ultimate success of that text to someone else.  Lahiri describes how frustrating and disheartening she finds this process.  In a related way she discusses the role of classics, or those books allowed to be positioned as such, by inclusion in a publishing series that removes this aspect; such as the Library of America, the Modern Library or Everyman’s Library series.  Apparently in Europe these type of editorial series more often include contemporary authors and aren’t reserved for those deemed “classics.”

I will admit that I am influenced quite a bit by book covers; in ways both graphic and informational (and how the two seem to connect or work together).  But I am also drawn to collections of classics and own quite a few of the above mentioned series.  Interestingly enough, I find these type of series, with their elegance and quality, appealing textually and aesthetically.  And not surprisingly, Lahiri notes that inclusion in these types of series is seen as an award or prize in itself; to be included means the work is worth this sort of attention and quality.

There is a tension involved in the way that books are packaged and sold that can’t really be resolved.  In some ways, we want the text to stand on its own; the words to have the meaning and to be judge on their own.  And yet it is not so easy to separate books from their covers; to disconnect the words from the package.  For many, the cover of a particular edition of a favorite book is part of the memory and experience of that book; the words are irreparably connected to the cover and vice versa.  And it is a basic aspect of marketing that in a world flooded with books all the tools of the trade will be brought to bear in causing readers and buyers to pick a particular book from that flood.  We need covers to differentiate and help curate books for us to prevent us from being overwhelmed with choices.

As the above might indicate, if anything Lahiri could have written much, much more on this fascinating topic.  If you are looking for a deep dive on the topic, this book is probably not for you.  But if you enjoy a well written but brief rumination on the topic from an author then you will enjoy it for what it is methinks.  I did.

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