By CARLA OFFENBURGER
COOPER, Iowa, Jan. 11, 2014 – I was so excited on the recent New Year’s Eve when I had finally reached – and topped – my 5-year-old goal of reading 52 or more books in one year. I finished 2013 with 54!
I read a lot, and it would seem that this shouldn’t have been such a difficult task for me, but it has been. I started keeping track of how many books I was reading each year in 2009, when I read 49. In 2010 it was 47, in 2011 I read 43, and in 2012 it was 44.
My husband Chuck is always amazed at how much I’m reading, but I assure him there are many, many folks who read many more than 52 books a year. So, while I’m excited about reaching my own goal, I am also very willing to acknowledge that perhaps I should have even a loftier goal. Maybe next year I’ll shoot for 60 and inch my way up.
The problem I run into is that in the summer months I’m in my garden more than in my leather reading chair. Sometimes it seems I can read two or three books in a week, and then I go two or three weeks reading one book.
I read fiction quicker than I read non-fiction and this past year I read 40 fiction books and 14 non-fiction. I didn’t bother to go back and see what the breakdown was in previous years.
Let me share with you what my 2013 reading year looked like.
I started 2013 with Anne Lamott – and nearly ended the year with her. Lamott’s “Help, Thanks, Wow” began my year and her latest book, “Stitches,” was my 46th book in mid November. Had I been paying closer attention, I probably would have made “Stitches” my final book for 2013. Lamott is certainly on my top ten list of authors overall. I rarely miss what she writes. I follow her ramblings on Facebook, too. The two of us could be good friends, I think. I’ve never been terribly fond of her fiction writing, but her non-fiction insights on life, friendships, faith and honesty speak to me – every time I read them.
Bill Bryson never disappoints me. He makes everything interesting. And he can weave a tale from the most remote thought or fact, plus he’s just plain fun to read. I put his latest book, “One Summer: America, 1927” on my Christmas list, but when I heard that he was speaking in Ames in late October, we drove over to hear him, and I paid a premium for “America” that night and started it right away. Every page was fascinating. Few authors could keep me interested in Babe Ruth, Charles Lindberg and President Calvin Coolidge. Bryson very much did.
2013 was the year that I chose to finish re-reading all six of Jane Austen’s novels, which I started at the end of 2012. I loved every one of them this go ’round, too.
It was also the year I read “Gone with the Wind” for the first time! Can you believe that? I’m actually embarrassed about this fact. But it’s off my list now. I’m sure I will read it a few more times in my lifetime.
Perhaps the book that I was most proud to log on my reading list was my May 5 entry, “Fancy Nancy: Six Short Stories” by Jane O’Connor. I read this book (182 pages) with granddaughter Lindsay Offenburger. I have been buying her “Fancy Nancy” books since I spotted one in the New York City Public Library’s gift shop in 2011, when Lindsay was 4. We’ve been reading them together ever since.
Because I feel like I’m always reading, but had always fallen short of my goal of 52 books a year, I thought it would be fun to also keep track of how many pages I read. Total for 2013 was 17,387.
Longest book for the year was “Gone with the Wind,” at 1037 pages. Shortest book was “The Country Quilter’s Companion,” by Linda Seward, at 67.
The book I disliked the most – and fretted that I was wasting my precious reading time with, but muddled through it anyway – was J.K. Rowling’s book, “Casual Vacancy.” I nearly hated every minute of it – all 503 pages. I thought for sure there would be something redeeming in the book. After all, this was the same author who gave us the Harry Potter series. Not true. Don’t bother.
Overall, I read more books I loved than those I didn’t care for. In fact, I can’t think of a second book that I didn’t enjoy reading. It would be a waste of time to take the 53 books I enjoyed and put them in some kind of preference listing. Good books are different in many different ways. For the most part, I’ve got to like the narrator or main character. I don’t like violent or sexually explicit books, and I don’t like books with a lot of bad language.
I like reading non-fiction and was shocked to see that I only read 14 non-fiction books in 2013. But perhaps I’m a bit more picky about non-fiction books that I want to read, and what I want to read about, for that matter. Or perhaps I know non-fiction books take me a bit longer to read and I was very focused on reaching my goal of 52 or more books – so I simply chose to read fewer non-fiction books this year. Who knows?
Perhaps the most surprising read for me was a book my husband Chuck handed to me, “Joie de Vivre” by Harriet Welty Rochefort, of Paris, France, who has written this (in English) about the style and essence of the French. This is a book I’m 100 percent sure I would not have picked to read on my own. But Rochefort is a native of Shenandoah, Iowa (just like Chuck). She and Chuck have had a long friendship and she was coming back to Shen for an author’s workshop Chuck was hosting in late September. He thought I’d enjoy the read. He was right. “Joie de Vivre” put me on a weeklong trip to Paris – and I loved the trip.
But I’ve got to put 2013 behind me, and get going on 2014. I’ve already finished my Christmas gift book, “David and Goliath” by Malcom Gladwell, which I finished on New Year’s Day. Interestingly enough, Gladwell has that Bryson talent to take two totally different events and tie them together neatly in a sentence, paragraph or chapter that is mindboggling.
By the time you read this, I will have completed Rick Warren’s “The Daniel Plan.” Next up? “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, for my book club’s discussion at our January meeting. And then it’s “The Books That Mattered: A Reader’s Memoir” by Frye Gaillard; “End of Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe, and “The House Girl” by Tara Conklin.
It’s going to be another great year of reading.
What books do you have on your reading list?
You can write the columnist at carla@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.