Wrapping Up 2015, Looking Forward 2016

Welcome to my sixth annual review of the year past and the year to come. I’ve now got one full year of book blogging under my belt, albeit a frequently disrupted year from moving and travelling. How did I fare in 2015?

I read 77 books, falling just shy of my GoodReads challenge (80 books). I participated in three year-long challenges, as well as three of my own personal challenges. (I sort of dropped out of the CBC Monthly Reads challenge back in June.) I also participated in three events – April and October Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon and Armchair BEA. My goal had been to also participate in a Literary Blog Hop, Non-fiction November, and A Month of Faves (December) but I hadn’t anticipated conflicts with my travels and coursework.

In my mid-year review, I adjusted my Japan books goal down to three and said I was on track for all the others. Shortly after uprooting myself from Japan, I fell off that track. Let’s review:

    • Re-read: 10/12. I didn’t manage more than 12, but it’s an improvement over 2014.
    • TBR Pile: 6/12. While I only completed six books, I did give four more serious efforts and found them not to my liking. Therefore, I cleared 10 books that long languished on my TBR, so I’ll consider that a success.
    • Foodies: 4/4. I made the short end of this goal, squeaking into the Pastry Chef category.
    • Indigenous authors: 3/5. I had two books sitting on my nightstand for weeks to make this goal (Three Day Road and The Revolution of Alice) but I didn’t make it happen.
    • Tolkien: 5/6. Close but no cigar! I didn’t read The Hobbit, On Fairy Stories, or The Road to Middle-Earth. And of course, I didn’t read The Silmarillion… Well, 83% is still okay. πŸ˜›
    • Japan: 3/3 – I read one book about Koya-san and two books at the Shikoku Henro. 
    • 8 posts/month: After moving back to Canada, I thought I would discount July and August, therefore aiming for 80 posts. Once again I lacked the ambition to see that through. As for bracket of posting twice a week (one review and one other), I didn’t get that balance, either. HOWEVER, I do think my writing style (in reviews, at least) has improved a smidge…maybe? 

    That’s the end of 2015. While writing this post, it sounds like I failed at a lot of the things I wanted to accomplish. I’m not feeling too down about it, though. I know I improved in various areas over 2014. I finally acknowledge to myself that I have a problem with completing things (from eating the last bite of supper to completing a goal to finishing a paper on time). This problem affects all areas of my life. I want to tackle it next year, and not just dismiss it as some weird form of nihilism, like I usually do (“What’s the point in making this goal? No one cares but me. It doesn’t really matter.”). I don’t want to find myself losing my good habits halfway through the year, unable to recover them again until the New Year provides a fresh start.

    I will be travelling in New Zealand and Australia from February to May. To be cautious, I will assume I don’t complete any reading during these months (my time will be largely preoccupied by WWOOFing and outdoor adventuring). After returning, I hope to find work teaching English while I apply for grad school. I’m not sure how work will affect my reading habits. I liked my goals from this year and I think they would have been easily manageable had I better spirits. Keeping all these factors in mind, here are my general blogging + reading plans for next year:

    • 64 posts (8/month when not travelling, twice a week, ideally one review and one other)
      • Improve writing style (be more precise, use less words)
      • Be more engaging (in posts and comments)
    • 55 books read, including…
      • 10 books reread
        • Not counting regulars (White is for Witching, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings)
      • 5 Japanese spirituality books
      • 6 Tolkien-related books
        • Not counting regulars (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings)
      • 5 Canadian Indigenous books

    I am not actively planning to take part in any challenges (Foodies Read and TBR Pile Challenge will no longer be hosted by their creators) or events (sadly travels will interfere with the next 24 Hour Read-a-thon, a Tolkien Reading Event, and Armchair BEA) but I will participate as they catch my eye. Here’s to all the books read in 2015, and the gems to be found in 2016! Happy New Year. See you on the other side.

    Brief Thoughts: 2015 Final Reads

    I’ve spent most of December working, enjoying the company of friends and family, and hurrying to polish off some books. Here are some brief thoughts on a handful of the books I finished recently.

    • That’s Why I’m a Journalist: Top Canadian Reporters Tell Their Most Unforgettable Stories edited by Mark Bulgutch
      • Great collection of varied stories that let you get a glimpse into person who brings you the news. As a Canadian, I loved being able to read about what reporting can really be like for these people I see on TV for brief moments – what dangerous situations they enter, why they pursue certain stories, and what it’s like when they get to share something significant with the world. Reading the journalists’ own words adds a unique dimension to events I saw unfold in the news. Bulgutch provides a few paragraphs of biographical introduction to each story. Most of these journalists have been at their jobs for longer than I’ve been alive! So, I appreciated learning a little about each of their careers. 
      • One small caveat is that most of these stories could easily have been longer. I’ll have to explore which of these journalists have published their own books.  
    • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull
      • I’m really not the right sort of person to appreciate poetry. This stuff isn’t too bad! I most enjoy reading about the Middle-earth context of these poems. The commentary, including earlier versions of the poems, enhances the reading, but at times I thought it would’ve been better as an annotated version (i.e. with definitions for obscure words in the margins of the poem).
    • Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton
      • Intense read told in first person, alternating between Jennifer and Ronald. Your heart breaks for the both of them. Their reconciliation and further activism gives hope that some of the justice system’s injustices may yet be repaired.
    • The Way of the 88 Temples by Robert Sibley
      • Another book exploring matters close to me, so it’s hard to give an objective opinion.
      • I can with certainty that it’s a good introduction to the Shikoku Henro, even for those who know nothing about it. Whether you just want to learn about it, or if you’ve already undertaken the pilgrimage, I recommend this account.
      • I appreciated hearing a foreigner’s perspective, someone who has a very similar mindset to me – at first too rational to truly embrace the religious aspects of it, but still able to appreciate the spirituality and evolve over the course of the pilgrimage.
        • The Japanese have an intriguing relationship with their ‘religions’, Buddhism and Shinto, in that it’s rare a Japanese person will say they are religious or that they believe everything contains kami, but nearly all will visit shrines and temples as occasions call for it (53).
      • Made my heart yearn to return! Really captures the natural and spiritual aspects of Japan that are particular to Shikoku.
      • The conclusion punched me in the gut. Certainly wasn’t prepared for it. The only book that made me cry this year.
    • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
      • Easily readable account of how human behaviour can be predictably influence to act irrationally. Based on numerous small experiments Ariely conducted on university campuses. 
      • I appreciated the bit where he explained how humans can’t value things on their own (i.e. how can you say how much something should cost without knowing how much similar/different things costs?); we must compare to other things. This made me feel better about how I always end up comparing books in my reviews πŸ˜›

    End of Year Book Survey

    Hosted by Jamie @ Perpetual Page Turner, I like how this survey delves into the specifics of books read. I did remove some of the questions that don’t apply to me, so be sure to visit the original post if you’d like to complete the survey. My annual overview will go live tomorrow.

    2015 Reading Stats

      • Number of books read – 76 (a few shy of 80, this year’s goal)
      • Number of re-reads – Though I didn’t meet the goal I set at the end of last year (12 rereads), I did reread 9 books, which is quite a few more than last year! I didn’t fit in The Hobbit, which is a bit of a shock for me. I read it at the end of 2014, to coincide with the movie, and now the spacing between rereads has been thrown off. I shall read it twice next year to balance myself out πŸ˜‰
      • Genre you read the most from – I don’t keep track by genre, so here’s the fiction/non-fiction split: 51 (67%) fiction, 25 (33%) non-fiction. Not as heavily weighted towards fiction as I expected! Every year I pledge to read more non-fiction but I find my cravings tend towards good tales, not new knowledge.
    • Best in Books
      • I don’t read many books from a single genre (which is to say, these genres didn’t have a lot of contenders) but it lets me list more than one favourite so I’m doing it that way πŸ˜‰
        • Best YAChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
        • Best middle grade – The Nest by Kenneth Oppel 
        • Best spooky  The Nest by Kenneth Oppel
        • Best fantasyA Darker Shade of Magic (ADSOM) by V.E. Schwab 
        • Best scifi The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer (likely the only scifi I read, but I wanted to make sure it got a mention on this best list!)
        • Best literary fiction – None really stood out this year.
        • Best non-fiction – I struggled to chose between three (The Rights of the Reader, The 1918 Pilgrimage of Takamure Itsue, In the Heart of the Sea). Takamure’s articles win out, though, because of the personal connection I found within her writing.
        • Overall best – For once I think I have a clear pick! The Nest trumps all because I’d been searching for a book like it for years.
      • Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’tWelcome to Night Vale by Joseph Frink and Jeffrey Cranor. When you’re so accustomed to enjoying the podcast, it’s just not the same without Cecil. Perhaps the audiobook would have changed my opinion.
      • Most surprising book read –  The Nest. I didn’t expect to be so impressed, let alone by Kenneth Oppel (a good author, but not one I ever thought would give me the creepy MG read I longed for).
      • Book you ‘pushed’ the most people to read (and they did)A Darker Shade of Magic. My best friend loved it and I handsold the two copies my store had.
        • Favourite author discovered – Victoria Schwab. The Archived has been on my radar for a few years, but ADSOM finally had me picking up her work. Kendall Kulper and Maggie Mitchell are two more authors I’ll be watching in the future.
        • Best book from a genre you don’t typically readThe Southern Reach trilogy. I never seek out scifi; there has to be something exceptional about a book in that genre for me to take note and even consider it. Vandermeer’s trilogy definitely impressed me.
        • Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book – I literally just finished Picking Cotton (told by Jennifer, a rape victim, and Ronald, a man who wrongly spent 11 years in prison due to Jennifer’s misidentification), a book I picked up to read in the New Year, but when I tried out the first pages I found myself caught in an ‘unputdownable’ story and read the whole thing in one sitting. One of those books that ignites you slowly with all the injustices contained within.
        • Most likely to reread next yearADSOM in preparation for the sequel coming out in February
        • Favourite cover – Love the purple in Salt & Storm; love the design and colours in Pretty Is.
        • Most memorable character – Johnny Truant from House of Leaves. He seemed intensely real to me.
        • Most beautifully written – Perhaps Half a Creature from the Sea
        • Most thought-provoking/life-changingThe Rights of the Reader, for reminding me of the pleasure of reading and that I’m in control of what I read
        • Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien
        • Shortest book – Not counting short storiesQuick and Easy Thai: 70 Everyday Recipes by Nancy McDermott (168 pages)
        • Longest bookHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (736 pages)
        • Most shocking bookThe Way of the 88 Temples by Robert Sibley. The ending made me shout and then cry.
        • OTP of the year (you will go down with this ship!) – Lila and Rhy from ADSOM. Not yet canon, but if it goes my way…!
        • Favourite non-romantic relationship – Maija and Frederika (mother-daughter) in Wolf Winter
        • Favourite book read by an author you read previously Challenger Deep by Neal ShustermanI love his Unwind and Everlost books, but this one is on a whole new level. 
        • Best book read based solely on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure –  ADSOM. Pretty sure I decided to read this after reading Louise’s review.
        • Best 2015 debut  Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell. I only read two debuts this year…but I did really like this one!
        • Best world-building – Split between ADSOM and The Southern Reach trilogy. The magical Londons appeal more to my personal taste, but Area X was also elegantly presented.
        • Most fun to read – Scrolling through this year’s reads, I see I read a lot of darker books… The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry stands out as one that was a pleasant, easy read.
        • Book that made you cry – The Way of the 88 Temples
        • Hidden gemThe 1918 Pilgrimage of Takamure Itsue
        • Most unique bookHouse of Leaves
        • Book that made you most madPicking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. Documents a wealth of problems with the justice and incarceration systems.
      • Your Bookish Life
        • New favourite book blog discovered – Not totally sure which blogs I discovered in the past year, but I know I just started following Ms. Yingling Reads so I’ll go with that
        • Favourite review on your blog – I like my Anne of Green Gables review because I tackle a popular classic I’d never read before.
        • Best non-review post on your blog – Hmm, I’m going to say Family Reads doesn’t quite count and go with our discussion on Annihilation, which received kind words from Jeff Vandermeer.
        • A very kind and wide-ranging discussion of Annihilation. Very nice of them and interesting too. https://t.co/Yydosw4m4C

          β€” Jeff VanderMeer (@jeffvandermeer) June 30, 2015

        • Best event that you participated in – I had a fun time with the spring Read-a-thon, when I hosted an hourly challenge for the first time.
        • Best moment of bookish/blogging life – Neil Gaiman retweeting the discussion my mom and I had about The Ocean at the End of Line. Can’t get much better than that! 
        • Most popular post – Hour 23 Mini-Challenge: Share A Song = 40 comments, 494 views. The most popular non-event post was Family Reads: The Ocean at the End of the Lane = 4 comments, 293 views.
        • Post you wished got a little more love – My posts on Eowyn (I do concede that they are very niche-y)
        • Best bookish discovery – Tokyo’s bookseller district, Jimbocho. Incredible place where I spent a few marvellous hours. Blocks and blocks of booksellers, including many English books and rare books. Paradise!!
        • Completion of challenges/goals – I don’t think I met any of my goals! Heh, but I came pretty close for most of them…more on that tomorrow.
      • Looking Ahead
        • One book you didn’t get to in 2015 but will make a priority in 2016 – I still haven’t read The Road to Middle-Earth! That, and Tolkien on Fairy Stories should be read in January. : <
        • Book you are most anticipating (non-debut)What Is Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
          • Book you are most anticipating (debut) – No debuts on mylist, but Ian McGuire’s The North Water comes close, being is second novel 10 years after his first.
        • One goal for your reading/blogging life – *cough* …read The Silmarillion? 
        • 2016 release you’ve read and recommend – Alas, none ;_; A few of the books I’m excited about are on NetGalley, but not for Canadians.

      Finished! This survey made me realize I’ve read a solid variety of books the past year, some wonderful and thankfully none terrible. It seems I did inch closer to my goal of reading “more exceptional books and less mediocre ones”. Here’s to 2016 seeing an increasing in those exceptional reads! I’ll have four months of travel hampering my reading next year, so I’ll have to be more selective. Have you completed this survey? What were some of your best reads in 2015? 

      Family Reads: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

       Welcome to Family Reads! Family Reads is a monthly feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book. Posts with a link-up go live around the last Sunday of each month, so feel free to grab the banner and join in however you like.

      Reno: Sister’s pick this month is House of Leaves, a chunkster that’s been on my TBR list since July 2012. It’s difficult to motivate me to read lengthy novels. Sister gave me plenty of notice for this one, so I read a little bit each day through December, occasionally blazing through intense or sparsely filled passages.

      Sister: I saw this book on the shelf at work and flipped through it. It looked really neat and weird, which I thought might make it interesting. I asked some people at work about it and they encouraged me to read it.

      Sister gives this book 3.5 stars; I give it 4 stars.  You’ll get more out of this discussion if you’ve read the book (though we do avoid spoilers below). This post takes a different format than previous posts, because I didn’t realize I wasn’t recording until halfway through our discussion =.= Here’s our discussion on the structure of the book and the layering of stories.

      No room in the house exceeds a length of twenty-five feet, let alone fifty feet, let alone fifty-six and a half feet, and yet Chad and Daisy’s voices are echoing, each call responding with an entirely separate answer. (57)

      We noticed a common theme of ‘beyond the realm of the known’ between Sister’s picks – Annihilation, The Wake, and House of Leaves – for Family Reads. Our discussion depend heavily on asking why? without providing many answers! House of Leaves overwhelmed us in this sense. We both enjoyed the story lines of Johnny and the Navidsons, but quickly realized as our discussion progressed that one could ask why? about nearly every aspect of the book and not come to any solid conclusions. Our why? questions about House of Leaves took a different direction that our why? questions with Annihilation and The Wake. Previously, we asked why? about in-story situations, characters, explanations, etc., and we filled in some answers with our own theories. With House of Leaves, we found ourselves wondering “Why would the author do this or that?” With an experimental novel, it’s hard not to ask yourself that question. Sometimes the answer appears easy (ex. the disorienting layouts convey a hint of what it’s like to be in the dark room) while other answers would take more thought than we were willing to put in on a Sunday night (ex. what does the index add to the story?). We wondered whether Danielewski had a purpose to every choice he made, or whether some things he just threw in to mess with the reader or (to put it more politely) allow the reader to build on and interpret in their own way, giving them a chance to own the story and make it uniquely relative to them. Some other features we wondered about: the pause buttons, the Yggdrasil page, the missing Reston and Last Interviews, the note ‘This is not for you’. The layering of the book itself astonished us. You’ve got the Navidson videos, Zampano’s commentary (and commentaries of numerous others), Johnny’s commentary, and Johnny’s life story. Danielewski created all of those together. Impressive!

      One of the bigger questions we considered was why did Zampano write The Navidson Record, and why did Johnny add his own story to it, making it public for all to read. Did Zampano actually have access to these videos that Johnny could find no evidence of? Did he know the Navidsons? (Sister theorizes that the Navidsons might have been relations of Zampano’s.) I have a tough imagining that the Navidson’s aren’t real, but I also have a tough time imagining that Zampano didn’t make the whole thing up. The fact that we know relatively little about Zampano (compared to the Navidsons or Johnny) makes it even more difficult to distinguish what might have been true or real. Zampano and Johnny are both unreliable narrators, so you can’t really pin anything down with certainty. (Then I wondered, in what way would the reader benefit from being able to define what is true or not in the context of the book? A question beyond our ability to answer!)

      Sis agrees with those who consider it a love story. She also felt that Johnny’s story was the main story, but that both stories need each other to work. I loved the Navidson’s story most, but for the creepy bits rather than the ‘love story’ bits. I would have enjoyed reading that even without Johnny’s additions (though I also loved Johnny’s character and voice).

      We found this book a little overwhelming to discuss, though we enjoyed the story and its surface layers (I particularly liked how Zampano wrote in a pseudo-academic style, still delivering intense and shocking moments). There’s so much going on! With Annihilation, we had a nice little list of things we wanted answers to. With House of Leaves, you could spiral off your discussion into infinite discussions. We barely scrapped the surface. I wonder if Danielewski has given any interviews about House of Leaves. I’d be interested in hearing what he has to say about the whole thing, but I also like the idea of leaving it a totally self-contained work. Have you read House of Leaves? Does it intrigue you or does it just look weird? If you’ve written a Family Reads post this month, add your link here.

      Brief Thoughts: Road Trip Rwanda by Will Ferguson

      • Road Trip Rwanda by Will Ferguson
      • β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
      • Will Ferguson writes fiction and non-fiction, but I most enjoy his travel writing. His book, Hitching Rides with Buddha, probably had the biggest influence on my interest in Japan in that it really got me interested in the country at a time when I was just starting to watch anime and read manga.
      • Not just a history of Rwanda, but Ferguson gives a solid foundational context for those of us who don’t really know much about the genocide. He provides recommended reading for topics where one might want to learn more. I especially appreciated the global context in which he placed Rwanda – that is, within its history of colonialism and relationships with foreign powers such as France and Belgium. He’s careful to explore the genocide through these lenses, rather than simplifying the issue to ‘Africans killing Africans for the sake of it’. Ferguson’s trip also functions as an exploration of how the country has evolved (especially in positive ways in areas such as economy and safety) since the genocide.  
      • Also not just a white guy travelling around. Ferguson’s strong friendship with his travelling companion, Jean-Claude Munyezamu (a Rwandan who escaped the country shortly before the genocide began), adds a personal depth and reality to the journey. Munyezamu isn’t just a guide taking Ferguson around the country. Munyezamu’s story forms an integral part of this book.
      • Fergson touches upon the issues with current President Kagame’s rule. At the time of writing, he noted that Kagame’s term limits were coming up and he wondered how Kagame might deal with that. A news headline from yesterday: “Rwanda votes to give President Paul Kagame right to rule until 2034“. That doesn’t bode well…