2012 Year in Reading

By the way, just to be upfront about things, when I say “read” I often mean “listen” – but I consider consuming books with eyes, ears or fingertips to be reading.

This is the 5th year I’ve done these annual reading summaries.  Writing about reading is turning into an enlightening subject because over time I can see my reading habits evolving and showing trends.  I’ve been logging what I’ve read since 1983, and I’ve often wish I had started recording which books I read right from my very first book.  (Just some advice to any bookworm tykes reading this.)

I kept a reading log once before, in the early 1970s when I was in college and had a lot more free time, and I read 452 books in 18 months.  I hate that I lost that list.  That epic reading period was mostly short science fiction paperbacks.  I’ve always read mostly science fiction, a smattering of science, a handful of history books, and a few odds and ends.  Since I’ve started these yearly summaries I always end up wishing I’d try more variety.  I slowly have.

In 2012 I read 49 books.

I again read too much science fiction this year, but then I’m in the Classic Science Fiction Book Club.  I’m also addicted to audiobooks and love to listen to all the old science fiction novels I first discovered back in the 1960s.  I ended up reading to 22 science fiction books, way more than I should because I only read three actual science books.  I’d be a lot more impressed with myself if I had read 22 science books and only 3 science fiction titles.  Resolutions for next year:  read only one SF book a month and read at least one science book a month.

Of course that brings up the whole fiction versus nonfiction guilt that I have.  For me fiction is more fun, but nonfiction is more rewarding.  Fiction can be deeply philosophical and observant of reality, but usually it’s just escapism.  Science fiction is known for its sense of wonder, but none of the SF books I read this year could touch A Universe From Nothing, From Eternity to Here and The Mind’s Eye for their overwhelming sense of wonder.

Regarding the quality of fiction, the most thought provoking novels I read in 2012 were:  Anna Karenina, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Freeman, On the Beach, The English Patient, The Age of MiraclesFrankenstein, Ready Player One and The Windup Girl.   If I was honest with myself, I’d stop reading so much old science fiction because it’s just not that worthwhile.  However, nostalgia often overwhelms my to read impulses.  Science fiction imprinted on me at that impressionable age of 12 and I’ve never been able to give it up the habit.

I did read eight history books this year and they were so rewarding that I feel I need to up their number next year.  My yearly averages for books read usually runs around four a month.  See my past years 2011 (58), 2010 (53), 2009 (40), and 2008 (45).

For 2013 I’d like to aim for a monthly mix of:

  • 1 novel
  • 1 science book
  • 1 history/other nonfiction book
  • 1 new (2012/2013) title per month.

I’d also like to read one big classic novel during the year.  This year was Anna Karenina.  I’m thinking about Les Misérables for 2013.

Besides loving audiobooks, I love reading new books that just came out. It’s great fun to discover books published during the year and promote them with your friends and then have those books validated at the end of the year by showing up on Best Books of the Year lists. This year’s discoveries was Full Body Burden by Kristen Iverson and The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, but sadly they were only on a couple best of lists. I didn’t read Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo until after I saw it on a zillion lists this month, so it doesn’t count.


Every year when I write this summary of books read, I also think about which books I want to read for the next year.  Since I have over 500 unread books sitting on my physical bookshelf, and over a 100 unread audiobooks sitting in my digital bookshelf, I should be concentrating on clearing out my backlog, but that doesn’t happen.  Many of the books on my list below were bought just before I read them.  I’m in three online and one local book club that discusses 5 books a month.  That’s dictating too many of my reads – 19 this year.  Obviously I didn’t read all 60 discussed books.

I would like to participate more in the book clubs, read more books off my to be read pile, as well as read as many new books as possible.  That’s only possible if I read more books.  I could give up television, but I’m not sure I can digest more than a book a week anyway.

In a perfect world, every book I read should be thought about for hours, researched, studied, discussed in a book club, and reviewed for my blog.  To do all that would require 10-30 hours each week depending on the size of the book.  Most books are 10-20 hours of listening time.  Anna Karenina was 42 hours long, and it took me three weeks to finish.  As a hobby I’m pushing my limits as a bookworm.  I know bloggers who read 100+, 200+ and even 300+ books a year and write reviews.  There are some real super-bookworms out there.  I’m just not one of them.  I can accept my smallish total if I read 52 great books each year.  My goal is not to read more books, but better books.

Most of the books I “read” every year are books I listened too.  I just don’t have much time for eyeball reading anymore.  Theoretically, I might average two books a week, one listening and one reading, but I’d need to find more La-Z-Boy reading time, and that’s hard.  I do watch a lot of TV and listen to a lot of music, so I suppose I could sacrifice some of that time.  But do I want to be more of a bookworm?  Sometimes I think I should be less of a bookworm, and do more active things.  Or instead of reading books I should be writing them.  I’m happy with the book a week pace.  It would be nice to actually hit 52 books a year though.

Here are my favorite books I’ve read this year.  Only the first was actually published in 2012.

Novel of the Year

   The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Nonfiction Book of the Year

   Eden’s Outcasts by John Matteson

Classic Science Fiction Book of the Year

   The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Modern Science Fiction Book of the Year

   Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Most Recommended Book This Year

   The Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Orekes and Erik Conway

Books Read in 2012

  1. The Gnostic Gospels (1979) – Elaine Pagels
  2. Tunnel in the Sky (1955) – Robert A. Heinlein
  3. Ready Player One (2011) – Ernest Cline
  4. 1959 (2009) – Fred Kaplan
  5. The Ecstasy of Influence (2011) – Jonathan Lethem
  6. Midnight Rising (2011) – Tony Horowitz
  7. The Forge of God (1987) – Greg Bear
  8. A Universe from Nothing (2012) – Lawrence M. Krauss
  9. Life (2010) – Keith Richards
  10. The Swerve (2011) – Stephen Greenblatt
  11. Pushing Ice (2005) – Alastair Reynolds
  12. Anna Karenina (1877) – Leo Tolstoy
  13. The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970) – Wilson Tucker
  14. Embassytown (2011) – China Miéville
  15. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (2012) – Jenny Lawson
  16. The Last Starship From Earth (1968) – John Boyd
  17. Little Women (1868) – Louisa May Alcott
  18. Beyond This Horizon (1948) – Robert A. Heinlein
  19. The Day of the Triffids (1951) – John Wyndham
  20. Glory Road (1963) – Robert A. Heinlein
  21. Assignment in Eternity (1953) – Robert A. Heinlein
  22. Merchants of Doubt (2010) – Naomi Orekes and Erik Conway
  23. A For Andromeda (1962) – Fred Hoyle and John Elliot
  24. Imagine (2012) – Jonah Lehrer
  25. The Age of Miracles (2012) – Karen Thompson Walker
  26. The Listeners (1972) – James E. Gunn
  27. The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction (2009) – edited by Allan Kaster
  28. Full Body Burden (2012) – Kristen Iversen
  29. The Black Cloud (1957) – Fred Hoyle
  30. Freeman (2012) – Leonard Pitts, Jr.
  31. The Mind’s Eye (2010) – Oliver Sacks
  32. Horseman, Pass By (1961) – Larry McMurtry
  33. From Eternity to Here (2010) – Sean Carroll
  34. Ubik (1969) – Philip K. Dick
  35. A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916) – James Joyce
  36. The Dog Stars (2012) – Peter Heller
  37. Eden’s Outcasts (2007) – John Matteson
  38. Aftershock (2010) – Robert B. Reich
  39. Frankenstein (1818) – Mary Shelley
  40. Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace (2012) – Kate Summerscale
  41. The Windup Girl (2009) – Paolo Bacigalupi
  42. The English Patient (1992) – Michael Ondaatje
  43. Space Cadet (1948) – Robert A. Heinlein
  44. The Worst Hard Times (2006) – Timothy Egan
  45. On the Beach (1957) – Nevil Shute
  46. Jumper (1992) – Steven Gould
  47. Behind The Beautiful Forevers (2012) – Katherine Boo
  48. Revelations  (2012) – Elaine Pagels
  49. The Wizard of Oz (1900) – L. Brank Baum

I’ve annotated this list with links to my reviews.

The last book I read in 2012 was The Wizard of Oz in anticipation of Oz the Great and Powerful that comes out in Spring 2013.

JWH – 12/19/12