Reading List: Powell’s Books staff’s best books of 2017

Powell’s just released their Staff Top 5 Picks of 2017, and I’ve crunched the numbers* in order to calculate their “consensus” Top Ten. Presented in order of most to least total points, they are (links below take you to Powell’s, because that seemed appropriate):

  1. The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld (34 points)
  2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (29 points)
  3. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (26 points)
  4. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (23 points)
  5. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (21 points)
  6. American War by Omar El Akkad (21 points)
  7. Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh (19 points)
  8. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (19 points)
  9. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (16 points)
  10. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby (14 points)

So far, the only book on this list that I’ve read is The Hate U Give. That one made my top five best of 2017 list as well. But, I’ve had my eye on Borne and American War for a while now. Both sound fantastic. I may bump these up on my library hold list based on how well loved they were by the Powell’s staff.

Overall, this looks like a pretty solid list of great books. In general, Powell’s staff recommendations are a pretty reliable source for me of great reads, especially for literary fiction. So, I’ve added these to my to-read shelf and created a separate PowellsBestof2017 Goodreads shelf to keep track of them.

If you’ve already read anything on this list, or if you are planning to read anything here, let me know what you think/recommend in the comments.

 

* In case you’re interested, here’s how I came up with the total points… I did some good old “copying and pasting” of all the lists into a spreadsheet. Then I assigned points to each mention of each book based on where it appeared in each list (5 points for first place, 4 points for second place, etc.). Then I made a pivot table and sorted the results by total number of points in descending order. There was an obvious cut-off after the first ten books. So I capped the list at ten books.

I did this same analysis for the past 2 years. You can check out my analysis and summary of the 2016 best of post here and the 2015 best of post here if you’re looking for more recommendations.

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December reading summary and 2017 reading wrap-up

First day of the New Year and time to wrap up what I read in December and see how I did on my 2017 reading goals…

First, here’s what I read in December (links go to Goodreads):

  • Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (audiobook, library) — I enjoyed this. There are so many things I didn’t know about Carrie Fisher. I loved the stories and her dry sense of humor. And I especially love that she narrated the audiobook.
  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Kindle) — I bought this on Kindle on 7/1/2014. It’s taken me 3.5 years to finally get around to reading it. If not for the “Read a book about sports” task in this year’s Read Harder Challenge, it might have remained unread on my Kindle for who knows how much longer. That would have been a shame. As I expected, it reminded me of my 4 yrs as coxswain for Purdue Crew and brought back so many great memories. It’s fascinating to see that not much has changed from the 1930s to the 2000s in the sport of rowing.
  • Jane, Unlimited by Kirstin Cashore (Hardcover) — It took me a while to get into this book. There were so many aspects that I loved (the house, the characters, the sea stuff, the umbrellas, the spies and the art…). But, I started this over the Thanksgiving holiday, got about a quarter of the way into it, put it down, and didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to get back to it. I think maybe just didn’t give myself enough time to get immersed in the story, because when I finally picked it up again (on the second to last day of the year), I finished it in nearly one sitting. It’s clever and also cute. If you read Kirstin Cashore’s blog, you can see so much of her personality (or at least her blog personality) in this book, which is charming.
  • 1984 by George Orwell (Kindle, library) — I read this for the “Read a book published between 1900 and 1950” Read Harder task. This book was published in 1949. So, it just makes the cut off. Plus, since people keep talking about it, and I never had to read it in school, I wanted to read it anyway. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I loved it. It pretty much falls into that genre of “polemics in the form of a novel” like The Circle which, as we’ve already established, are not my jam. The entire first quarter of the book is basically a world-building dump. Plus, at about two thirds of the way in, the main character reads two chapters from “the book” that are included verbatim in the story, serving up another hefty world-building info dump. This would NEVER fly in modern fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the world. I just was expecting there to be more of a story set in the world, rather than a massive info-dump of world-building with a tiny bit of story.

In-progress (unfinished):

  • Information Doesn’t Want to be Free by Cory Doctorow (Hardcover) — I’m reading this aloud with my husband. So, even though it’s a short book, it’s going very slowly.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (audiobook, library) — This audio book is nearly 50 hours long. I’ve manage to listen to about 10 hours, but I’m nowhere close to being done. I’ll have a chunk of commuting time in January where I think I’ll be able to finish it. But, it’s going to have to wait until then.

I really hate leaving books unfinished at the end of the year. I always try to finish everything in-progress before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Plus, I was reading both of these for Read Harder Challenge tasks. So, not finishing them means that I don’t get to check off those tasks either. Double bummer.

So, for the purposes of my end-of-year stats below, I’ve included the hours of audiobook I’ve listened to so far. (I’ll include the remaining hours in my 2018 stats, assuming I finish it next year.) And I’ve given myself partial credit in the total books read.

Here are my overall reading stats for the year:

  • Number of books/comics read (total): 53
  • Number of pages read: 17,840 pages
  • Hours listened: 3 hrs
  • Books published in 2017: 19
  • Published before 2017: 34
  • Read Harder Challenge tasks completed: 20 of 24 (83%)
  • Format: 45 digital, 7 print, 1 audio
  • Owned vs. borrowed: 19 of 53 borrowed from the library
  • Fiction vs. Non-Fiction: 46 fiction and 7 non-fiction
  • Genre: 58% sci-fi and fantasy, 25% realistic, 8% romance, 4% comics, 5% other
  • Age category: 57% adult, 40% YA, and 4% MG
  • POC authors/artists: 36% (19 books)

Not bad. I finished slightly better than my goal (50 books), but didn’t quite complete my Read Harder Challenge. As usual, fiction and ebooks dominate my reading life. But, there are a few surprises to be found in the stats. I’ll have to go back and check previous years’ stats, but I think I read a lot more adult books this year than I’ve been reading in the past few years. I was also a little (pleasantly) surprised to see that I made excellent use of the library this year. Over a third of my books read came from the library! And, over a third of my books read were written by POC authors! It’s not a full 50% yet, but it’s heading in the right direction.

And that wraps up another year in reading! Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year, and hoping that your reading in 2018 takes you on delightful adventures!

Thoughts on book buying

For the past few years I’ve been trying to eat through my backlog of ebooks that I’ve purchased on sale but haven’t read yet. I’ve also been trying, and failing, to stop buying new ebooks, especially when I don’t plan to read them right away.

The good news is, even though the year isn’t over yet, I may have *finally* put the brakes on my book buying. And buy “put the brakes on” I basically mean I purchased half the number of books I normally purchase. For the past few years, I’ve purchased between 60 and 70 ebooks each year. But, this year, I only purchased about 35. That’s progress.

For the most part, I succeeded in only buying new releases that I really wanted to read immediately. But, there were definitely more than a few on sale ebooks that I couldn’t resist, the most recent of which was Jade City which sounds amazing and is on sale for $2.99 as of this posting.

Because more of my book purchases were pre-orders this year vs. on sale ebooks, my average cost per book increased from less than $4 per book, to about $4.5o per book. Not a huge increase, but noticeable. Still, overall I spent about $100 less on ebooks than I have in previous years. Again, a notable improvement.

Now comes the big question, why bother tracking my book buying habits, and why bother trying to spend less on books? Well…buying on sale ebooks (usually backlist) makes almost zero sense when my library ebook selection has improved so much in the past few years.

If I want to avoid long hold lists, fine. But, if I just want to read the ebook sometime in the future, it’s way more sensible to let my library inventory that book for me, especially if it’s a backlist title that they already have. Plus, they now allow me to recommend purchases. They don’t always purchase what I want, but they’ve definitely listened to a lot of my recommendations this year.

The other part of why I decided to keep track my book buying was my desire to keep track of books I purchased at full price but never read. Which makes very little sense unless I truly love making myself feel terrible.

At this point, the portion of my purchases bought at full price but not read yet represents 13 books at a total of just over $100. That’s not a small amount of money. But, as of the New Year, I’m officially absolving myself of all guilt over these unread books.

Guilt is a terrible motivator. No. Scratch that, it’s actually a pretty reliable motivator for me, but it sucks all the joy out of reading. And, since reading is a thing I do for fun, a hobby, I’m done with guilt. I know I’ll read these eventually. But, next year I’m officially retiring my “guilt list” TBR. In fact, I’m seriously considering killing the entire concept of a TBR for my 2018 reading. Stay tuned for more on that in a future post…

Until then, happy (guilt free) reading!

Some mid-year book stats and favorite books read (so far) in 2017

So far this year I’ve read 31 books. Technically, I haven’t finished that 31st book, yet, but I’m anticipating that I’ll finish it by the end of the month, so I’m counting it here. Even if I didn’t count it, I can still safely say that I’m comfortably past the halfway mark to my goal of reading at least 50 books/year.

I’d given myself a few fun challenges at the start of the year. For one, I wanted to actually complete the Read Harder Challenge this year (2017). I’ve participated the last few years (every year they’ve had one), but I’ve never actually finished all 24 tasks before the end of the year. I think the closest I came was in the first year (2015) when I completed 21 of 24 tasks. This year, I’m on track but a bit behind schedule. So far I’ve completed 10 of 24 tasks, which is exactly how many I completed in all of last year (2016). I think I’m going to be able to catch up and complete all the tasks, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a nail biter, up to the last minute, sort of affair.

I also wanted to “bust my backlist” of Kindle ebooks. I have over 100 unread books on my Kindle. Some were free, others I got deeply discounted, and a handful (my “hotlist”) were purchased full price but I still haven’t read them. I put myself on a backlist book buying ban this year, meaning no buying new books unless they are new releases and I intended to read them right away. For any other books, I needed to leverage my library’s extensive ebook collection. This has definitely cut back on my book purchases, but I’ve leveraged my library a bit more that I’d initially anticipated. So, I’ve only managed to read 10 books off my backlist so far. Not bad, but not great considering that’s less than a third of the total books I’ve read so far this year.

Since I’m starting a new BuJo in July, I made this cool spread to keep track of my reading challenges:

The top section is for tracking my Read Harder Challenge tasks and the bottom section is for checking off books on my “hotlist” because those are the most guilt-inducing of my backlist of purchased books. My goal is to read at least 8 before the end of the year. As you can see, so far I’ve read 3.

If I haven’t put much of a dent in my hotlist (or backlist, for that matter), what have I been reading? Well, I’ve definitely been reading a LOT of new releases. 13 of the 31 books I’ve read were published in 2017. The rest were either books I borrowed from the library, comics, or writing craft books.

In general, my reading has been pretty evenly spread between YA (58%) and adult books (42%). As usual it’s been pretty heavily weighted toward fiction (90%) vs. non-fiction (10%). The genre split shows that almost half of what I’ve read so far have been fantasy novels (unsurprising). But the full breakdown is:

  • 45% fantasy (14 books)
  • 19% realistic (6 books, 3 fiction and 3 non-fiction)
  • 16% sci-fi (5 books)
  • 6% comics (2 trade volumes)
  • 6% writing craft (2 books)
  • 3% romance (1 book)
  • 3% health (1 book)

Out of the 31 books I’ve read so far, these have been my favorites:

Oddly enough, all but one are new releases. More surprising (to me, at least) is that 3 of these 6 (HALF!) are contemporary YA books, not sci-fi or fantasy! I guess this has been a good year for contemporary YA…or, more likely, I’m just finally finding ones that I like to read.

If forced to stack rank them, I’d put them in this order (links go to Goodreads):

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — contemporary YA fiction with one of the best narrative voices I’ve read
  2. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor — YA fantasy with a strong “gods or monsters” theme
  3. The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin — strong second/middle book in an excellent and unique adult sci-fi/fantasy series
  4. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi — adult space opera done exactly the way I like it
  5. Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy — contemporary YA fiction with characters that leap off the page and into your heart
  6. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon — possibly the cutest contemporary YA romance I’ve read in… well, ever

We’ll see how they stick with me and hold up against whatever books I read in the rest of this year, but I definitely think at least a few of these will make my “top 5” end of year list.

How are you doing on your reading goals for this year? What have been your favorite reads so far? Anything I should definitely add to my TBR?