2016 reading in review

In the beginning of 2016 I set myself six goals which I hoped would inspire me to switch up my reading and pick up new, exciting and challenging books. And I believe this is exactly what it would have done had I remembered my goals. Alas, it was not to be, and here were are, in time for the confessional.

I successfully met only one of the six goals. However, looking at my reading statistics I’m positively surprised that some of my goals from previous years are now bearing fruit: my gender balance is close to 50/50, I’ve started actively reading both plays and poetry and am no longer avoiding “big books” (In 2016 I read 4 books that were over 600 pages, and am currently in the middle of two more). All the same, it’s time to look back on those goals and how gruesome where my failures. But first, some numbers:

In 2016, my Goodreads challenge was to read 52 books – and I read 101 books. That’s 4 books more than in 2015. However, according to Goodreads that’s a total of 25,193 pages which is almost 1,000 pages less than in 2015.
In 2016, I read 9 books out of my 274 TBR, which means I now stand at 101/274. That’s down by half from 2015.
In 2016, I read 49 books by male authors and 44 books by female authors. There were also six graphic novels that had both male and female authors/artists.
In 2016, I read 73 books in English, 19 books in Finnish and 7 books in Swedish. Out of these, 12 were translations.
In 2016, I read 47 books by North American authors and 19 books by Finnish authors. The United Kingdom fell into the third place with 15 books. In 2015, the number of US authors was 43 and 30 for UK. The number of Finnish authors on that year was 25.
In 2016, I read 76 physical books and 22 ebooks. Out of the physical books, 61 were paperback and 15 hardcover. I also listened to one audiobook.
In 2016, I read a variety of different types of literature. Compared to 2015, the greatest changes were the decrease of classics (by half from 2015) and the increase of science fiction and childrens literature (doubled) as well as disappearance of some previous genres (horror and contemporary).

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So let’s recap the goals and analyse my failures shall we.

1. Read 20 books I already own

AHAHAHAHAA… This is actually quite sad. I read a measly 8 books that I’d bought before 2016 and continued to buy on seven books a month on average, so this goal was utter failure. This year alone I acquired exactly 100 books, and little over half of them still stand unread on my shelves. Although many of these were either gifted to me or bought with gift cards, I still need to kick the habit of buying cheap ebooks from the Kindle Daily Deals – this amounts to 35 new books of which 19 unread – as well as second-hand books (33 books of which 23 unread).

2. Read 20 books from my TBR 274 list

NOPE. In 2016, I read only nine books from this long list of high-ranked books. I enjoyed most of them, but I’m also seeing a trend of my reading shifting more towards what’s current now instead of picking up the backlist from previous years and decades. This is a shame but also understandable as I often am more exposed to new releases than reviews of older titles. However, I don’t plan on scratching out the massive TBR. I’ll wait for one year and see if the progress continues to be minimal or if 2016 was simply an anomaly.

3. Read at least 4 from the selected list

EH, 2.5/4 ain’t so bad? I was so excited for my choices, but then I never got excited enough to actually pick up and read the books. Why? I don’t know. I guess my downfall was beginning with Anna Karenina which I first procrastinated on for several months and then after starting it had to return it back to the library before even reaching the end. However, I do plan on going back to and finishing Anna Karenina in 2017. The two books that I did finish from the list were Lord of the Flies by William Golding and The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami. Lord of the Flies left me a bit underwhelmed, whereas The Strange Library definitely delivered on the strange. I’m definitely want to read more Murakami in 2017!

4. Read 16 books in translation

ALMOST THERE. I read 12 books in translation in 2016 – that’s about one per month. This was mostly thanks to signing up for the Around the World in 80 Books challenge, which forced me to look for books from different countries. In 2016, my reading was dominated by US authors, and although several of them had an immigrant background, they mostly publish their writing in English. However, similarly to the TBR274 goal, I’m not letting go of this one yet. Translations do still make approximately one tenth of my reading, but with more time and conscious effort I might be able to up that into 15 or even 20 per cent.

5. Read at least one book in Swedish and German

YAY for Swedish, nay for German. In 2016, I read the most I’ve ever read in Swedish in year – 7 books! This was partly due to a Swedish literature course that I took in the spring and partly because I came across several interesting Finnish-Swedish authors. My plan is to keep reading around five books a year in Swedish to broaden my vocabulary and improve my reading comprehension. In contrast, I don’t know what I should do with German. In 2015 I read 3 books in German, so to drop down to zero is quite a downgrade. I currently have a couple German books on my TBR shelf, but unless I get round to reading them in 2017 I don’t know when I might read them – if ever.

6. Read 16 books by Finnish authors

SUCCESS! In 2015 I started to make a more conscious effort to read in my native language, Finnish, and to read more Finnish authors. I set myself a 15 in 2015 challenge which I aced and felt confident that next year would be piece of cake. In the end, it wasn’t. Reaching the milestone of 16 books took a real last minute reading sprint. My top three reads were Compartment no. 6 by Rosa Liksom, Sing no Evil by JP Ahonen and The Wednesday Club by Kjell Westö. However, this will not be the end of these goals, as I plan to devote 50% of 2017’s reading solely for Finnish fiction and classics. After the bumpy experience of 2016 I do feel a bit apprehensive, but like they say – no pain, no gain.

Best Books of 2016

‘Tis the season for reminiscing and hygge, so here I am, back at blogging to tell you about my favourite books read in 2016. As per usual, most of these were not published in 2016, although there are also a few of those lurking on the list. Due to the (on-going) blogging slump [enter vague explanations here] there are no reviews to link to, so I’ll try to be brief with my praise.

Saga, volumes 2–6 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
For me 2016 was the year of Saga (which is why I’m counting this series as one book). Although I read the first volume of this science fiction graphic novel series back in late 2015, it was only after volumes 2 and 3 that I knew I was properly hooked. This genre-defying kickass story tells of an unlikely couple running from the wrath of two warring races and its diverse cast of characters, dark humour and wider themes make each volume and each issue such a joy. In short, Saga will keep you at the edge of your seat and still manage to surprise you with its twists and turns.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Another science fiction favourite of the year is Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s a classic for several reasons and often compared to Orwell’s 1984 – which I read last year and that also made it’s way to the top 10. Personally, however, I found that its pleasure-seeking, conditioned and manipulated population was far more scarier than any of the prospects in Orwell’s dystopia. Perhaps it’s the clear parallels in today’s society or the chillingly good writing that made this such an unforgettable read.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Both in 2015 and in 2016 one of the big and debated issues in print media and literature was race – especially in the US. The Black Lives Matter campaign and many instances of wrongful conduct raised awareness of these injustices. One of the buzz books at the heart of the discussion was Citizen, a brilliant, thought-provoking and angry collection of poetry and essays on what it’s like to be black in America. It opened my eyes, made me furious and angry cry at the unjust world.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Dept. of Speculation is a special book in the sense that I’ve never heard of it anywhere else but the blogosphere. That is not say that Jenny Offill isn’t a household name, because she sure as hell should be. This book is deceptively short but it still manages to map the course of a woman’s life – relationship, marriage, trust, family and career, family versus career, artistry, the mundane. I devoured this book  in a day and I know for sure that I’ll return to this book in years to come.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
So I’m probably the last person in the world to read and adore Elena Ferrante. I purchased my copy at the beginning of 2016, but held back a long time in order to try and let the hype die down. And I loved it. I think the charm of My Brilliant Friend is that it’s nothing extraordinary – if you’re looking for a new and exciting, unique story, this is not your book. However, if you’re looking for well-written characters that come to life, that you recognise and that become your friends, this is your book. Perhaps 2017 will be the year of Ferrante?

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This book. I have a draft of a review on A Little Life which I started back in January and have since then unsuccessfully tried to edit and polish. It’s hard to put to words what this book did to me, what it made me feel and how it made me think. I know it’s the big marmite book of 2015 – you either love or hate it, with passion. I don’t think it’ll be a modern classic or something taught at schools, but it is very much “of its time” and manages to capture something essential of this generation of individuality.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Do you know those books that suck you in from the first page and keep you in their grasp until the last page? The Vegetarian is one of them. Told from three outsider perspectives, this story of a young woman’s decision to become vegetarian is a harrowing, raw and almost titillating. Moreover, Deborah Smith’s translation is so fluent that it feels like the story could have been written in English. It also won this year’s Man Booker International Prize.

Silent House by Orhan Pamuk
To be completely honest, I’m actually quite surprised to find Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House on my favourites list. Similarly to My Brilliant Friend, it’s a rather quiet and calm book – although with a lot simmering under the surface – and it’s that overall sense of stifling heat, guilt and shame that’s captured in this book. Funnily enough, this was passed on to me by my mother who gave up on it because “it’s dull – nothing’s happening”. A family saga on the cusp of Turkish revolution”.

Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks
In 2016 I managed to read a few non-fiction pieces, but translator-author-columnist Tim Parks’ Where I’m Reading From blew me out of the water. It’s one that I’ve seen many times in the Goodreads “Because you read X you might enjoy…” bar, which to be honest is often a hit-or-miss. Being a translator and a budding editor this naturally covered a lot of the things I already know about and am interested in, but it’s the style in which Parks presents his ideas and doesn’t mince his words that really had an impact on me.

Compartment no. 6 by Rosa Liksom
Inspired by the Around the World in 80 Books reading challenge I picked up this Finnish Finlandia Prize winning novel set on the Trans-Siberian Express Train. I didn’t know what to expect and was positively surprised by this novel. Similarly to Silent House, Compartment no. 6 has also slowly sneaked its way to my favourites list. The vivid descriptions of Soviet surroundings and the sense of constant movement have stayed with me for the most part of the year. I read this in its original Finnish, but I’ve heard the English translations by Lola Rogers doesn’t pale in comparison. (Pssst. It also gained a mention on the WSJ best books of the year list, you know.)

 

Reading goals for 2016

New year, new challenges! I for one love to make plans and plan out small projects, goals or challenges for myself, and reading is no exception. Last year I made a total of eight goals and had great success with most of the challenges. However, because there were so many different goals, some went completely haywire, which is why this year I’m shifting down a gear and setting myself only six reading related goals. For the past month I’ve been toying with many challenge ideas, such as rereading the entire Harry Potter series, The Continental Challenge etc, but I’ve nevertheless decided to go with goals and challenges that go with my current interests and that I know I could meet with just a bit more dedication. Aside from these six goals, I’ve set my Goodreads reading challenge to 52 books in 2016 (ideally one book a week) and I might also sign up to other challenges as the year progresses just to keep things interesting. However, 2016 will be a busy year for me as I will be graduating and starting the job hunt, so I expect there’ll also be a lot of other things to keep me occupied. We’ll just have to see how that affects my reading.

1. Read 20 books I already own. (And buy less books.)
2015 was a year of big book hauls. So much so that we had to buy a third bookshelf to our apartment. (Not that I’m complaining; I’m very much partial to the library esthetic.) Many of the new purchases, however, went directly to the shelves instead of lingering on my nightstand along with my TBR. In 2015 alone I increased my physical TBR with 30 unread books and read only about 10 books that I’d bought in previous years. If the trend continues, I’ll soon have a full shelf of unread books and a half empty bank account. Part of the problem is that I find myself too often prioritising the library books over my own, which is why I want to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks in 2016. 20 might seem like a small number, but if I can focus on reading the books I already own for the first half of the year, it should give me more freedom to catch up with the new releases and shortlisters on the latter half of the year. To stop buying books would also be ideal but unrealistic considering that I received for Christmas not one but two gift vouchers to my favourite bookstores. So there’ll be some book hauls in 2016, but I plan to overall cut back on book buying.

2. Read 20 books from my TBR 274 list
Ever since starting this blog, I’ve read yearly around 20 books from my massive TBR 274. I’m currently at 92/274, so with this pace it should take me around nine years (?!) to read the entire list. Last year I managed to read 18 books, so this year I want to repeat the challenge but aim a bit higher. As my reading has begun to shift more towards fiction published in the 21st century, it’s good to have something to inspire me to pick up also the classics. There are still so many that I want to read!

3. Read at least 4 of the following :
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  • Anna Karenina by Fjodor Dostoyevski
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Illiad/The Odyssey/Medea/Metamorphoses or other classic text
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • A book by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • A book by Charles Dickens
  • A book by Haruki Murakami

I don’t know about you guys, but there are many classics or authors that I keep meaning to read but never do. This is mostly because the books are either big or sound very challenging. Thus I decided to write down a list of five classics that I would like to read soon and challenge myself to prioritise them this year. In true bookworm style I, however, ended up with six books and three authors. To read all of them might be a bit of a stretch, so I’m setting the bar to four books and aiming higher. Some of the books in this list might also count for my TBR 274 goal and some would classify to the translations goal, so I hope to tick off many of these in the coming year.

4. Read 16 books in translation (either in Finnish or English translation)
As a Translation Studies major I’ve always known that I read an appalling low number of books in translation. Last year only 10% of the books I read were translated, which is why I want to put more emphasis on reading translated fiction. In 2016 I want to read more books in translation, whether it be English books in Finnish translation or Russian books in English translation. Reading one book a month would be be good, but considering that I finished 15 books in translation in 2014, I decided to aim for 16 titles.

5. Read at least one book in Swedish and in German
This one’s a repeat from the previous years. I want to continue reading literature in other languages that I know and to keep up my reading comprehension in languages that I don’t use on a daily or weekly basis. Especially with German I know that I’m beginning to forget more and more, which is why in order to keep my language skills active I should keep reading texts in German. The Swedish side of this goal should be easier to meet as I will be taking a Swedish literature course in the spring.

6. Read 16 books by Finnish authors
The year 2015 was “The Year of Book” in Finland and to celebrate Finnish literature I vowed to read 15 books written by Finnish authors. Overall it was an amazing year and I soared through the challenge with a total of 21 books. Although meeting the goal was easier than expected, the challenge nevertheless inspired me to seek out new authors and helped me to discover new and interesting voices. This year my goal is to read at least 16 books by Finnish authors. I already have a few titles in mind, but for the most part I plan to target especially books that have been translated into English.

Lastly I have one goal that I’m not going to give a number for because it is simply this: Be more active in commenting. I am sometimes embarassingly slow when it comes to replying to your lovely comments and also guilty of just clicking the Like button after reading a blog post. Clicking on the button is, however, not as fruitful as commenting because it means that I often miss the insightful discussions. In 2016 I want to give more to other people. Most of the bloggers I follow are writing such intelligent and thoughtful posts, that I want to let them know that I appreciate what they are doing. After all, it’s the social element of blogging that makes this such a lovely hobby!

So there you have it! These are my six reading related goals for 2016. Let me know in the comments what are your reading resolutions for 2016 or which Murakami/Ishiguro novel I should start with. I’ve heard Norwegian Wood is a good place to start with Murakami, but for Ishiguro I have no clue. I hope you had a lovely weekend! x