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.

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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.

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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.

2016: My Year In Books

Well, here we are in 2017.  Kicking the tires, perhaps quietly depending on how much champagne you had.  Getting our sea legs under us as they say. Nervously looking around at our favorite celebrities maybe.

But let’s take a quick look back at 2016 as it pertains to books.  My year in books as it were.  For this post I just want to take a high level look.  In a separate post I will get into favorite books of the year.

So the numbers from the above graphic: 82 books (the highest since I started tracking using Goodreads) and 20,620 pages.  Some not included:

More on my favorites from 2016 in another post.

What was your year in books?

Jonah Goldberg on writing a book

The problem, you see, is that people who don’t write books don’t know what an unending, unyielding ass-ache they are. I’d compare them to a non-stop flight in a middle seat between John Goodman’s sweaty former body double who’s now jobless because he “let himself go” and a runny-nosed, cotton-candy-loving small child who is hard to distinguish from a deadly pathogen vector.

But I can’t make that comparison — because writing a book is worse than that. You see there’s nothing “non-stop” about writing a book save the constant yearning to either reach the destination or the unending sound of the siren on your shoulder counseling you to give up and beach the ship. Even though you’re often surrounded by people, you’re always alone in that community-of-one called “the author of your unfinished book.”

It’s more like a years-long journey with constant layovers, cancelled planes, and rerouting through Newark. Every time you push away from the keyboard, it’s like deplaning just long enough to see if Wolfgang Puck Express has finally decided to more accurately rename itself “Bowel Stewery on the Go.”

I know what you’re thinking right now: “Stewery isn’t a word.” To which I ask, “That’s your objection to this rant?”

Jonah Goldberg in today’s G-file

Collected Miscellany at Ten Years

This Blog began ten years ago yesterday . There are older posts because I imported book related posts from Kevin Holtsberry Dot Com but for original content it all started ten years ago.

Kinda wild to think about that.

I will admit that I have been tempted to quit many times and these days I often struggle with whether it is still worth it. I still read a lot and would like to think I am still engaged with the world of ideas.  But with two young kids, a full-time job, a habit of watching lots of football, and the distractions of social media (and, you know, reading books)  I find it hard to find the time and focus for well written reviews.

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