Monday, December 16, 2013

My Year of Books: By the Numbers

"Well, hello!  Come in, come in.  Stamp the snow off your boots and step inside.  Cold out there today, isn't it?....I suppose you're here to see the library, aren't you?....Here, let me take your coat.  I'll just toss it over here for now.  You don't mind if the cats use it as a temporary bed, do you?....Would you like a drink?  I've got some chilled wine--or maybe you'd rather have three fingers of whiskey in a tumbler?....What's that?  A gin and tonic?  Sure, I can whip one of those up for you....Follow me to the basement--that's where all the books are anyway....Watch your step coming down here--the cats like to play this little game they call Trip the Human--they score extra points if they're able to do a perfect figure eight around your feet....Anyway, here we are: the BOOKS.  Why don't you take a look around while I pour the gin and tonics?....What's that you say?  Have I read all of them?  Of course not!  Are you frickin' insane?  That's the stupidest question I've heard in a long time."

Okay, I don't actually say that last line to guests who visit the library in my basement, but believe me, I'm asked that question--"Have you read all of these?"--nearly every time someone comes down and stops, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, when they see the bookshelves which line all four walls of the main room, spill over into the furnace area and continue around the perimeter of what used to be my office.  They are dazzled by the infinite platoons of book spines and I suppose those are the only half-sensible words they can croak out.  My library is indeed a shining example of American greed, overconsumption and obsessive-compulsive collecting.  It is simultaneously pretty and not-pretty.  According to my Library Thing account, I currently own 8,253 books (which doesn't include several hundred I haven't yet catalogued in LT).  I could cut off my book intake right now, live seven more lifetimes, and still not have enough time to read everything in my collection.

But every year, I try my damnedest to make a sizable dent.

In 2013, I made more than a dent--I made a small crater.  Tallying up the book log statistics, I came up with--drumroll, please--81 books read in the past twelve months.  That pales in comparison to the high school girl who, after a Fobbit presentation I gave at her school in May, came up to me and boasted she read 500 books in the past year.  I'm happy for her, but I could never get up to that level of reading consumption.  Unless, maybe, I was laid up in bed all year with consumption.

Nonetheless, I'm pretty proud of the 81 titles I read this year.  Going deeper into the stats, I see that equals 18,744 pages, for an average of 231 pages per book.  Compared to last year's figures--56 books and 14,524 pages--that's like shifting into high gear and pressing the accelerator to the floor.

The page counts ranged from 32 for a children's book about Billie Holiday (Mister and Lady Day by Amy Novesky) to the 544 spine-tingling pages of Benjamin Percy's epic werewolf saga Red Moon.  Well, if we're going to be precise, I guess The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries takes the prize for Most Pages (650).  Even though I haven't finished Otto Penzler's anthology of Yuletide murder and mayhem, I'm going to add it to this year's count because even if I don't finish it by the time I'm sipping New Year's Eve champagne, the vast bulk of it will have been read in 2013.  So it counts.  My blog, my rules, my math.

There are still a couple of unfinished books on the bedside table: the annotated Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and The Complete Short Novels of Anton Chekhov, for instance.  Those will just have to go on next year's tally.

There's also a long list of books I wanted to get to this year but didn't--the old Eyes Bigger Than the Stomach Rule.  That roster includes Victoria Wilson's biography of Barbara Stanwyck, Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (hell, ALL of Tart's books, for that matter, since she's been a permanent residence of my TBR mountain), The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, Schroder by Amity Gaige, and--well, you get the idea.  There are a lot of books still waiting for my attention.

Lest you think I never took my nose out of a book this year, you should also know that I hold down a regular, 40-hour-per-week Day Job (apart from writing novels and feeding/ watering this blog).  Not only that, but my wife and I opened up a vintage mercantile here in Butte, Montana this year, I continued to jet from city to city on an extended book tour for Fobbit, and we undertook a couple of major home renovation projects.  I was--and still remain--a busy guy who is only able to embroider the edges of his life with a couple hours of reading each day (if I'm very lucky).  Still, there are few things in life more pleasurable than coming home after work and, in the short span of time before I start to cook dinner, settling in with a good book and tumbler of whiskey--all while casting an eye to the other 8,252 books on the shelves in the basement library, reassuring them, "I'll get to you soon."


My Year of Books is the annual backward glance of my literary life.  All this week, I'll be posting lists of the best things I read in 2013.  Be sure to visit the rest of the series (links posted as they're published):

Monday:  By the Numbers
Tuesday:  Best First Lines
Wednesday:  Best Cover Designs
Thursday:  Best of the Backlist
Friday:  Best Fiction of 2013
Saturday:  Publisher of the Year


  1. I absolutely love this concept and theme of week-long posts. I might have to borrow a bit of your idea when I do my own annual look back (usually just 1 long list, and then the top 10 published later that week). Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. I thought I had a lot of books. Your movers must really hate you.

    1. James: Yes, I've had my share of dirty looks and under-the-breath curses from movers. Fortunately, Jean and I hope we're done moving and have settled into this house in Butte, Montana like it's our Forever Home.

  3. So glad to have discovered this blog! I love your writing, and your book lists.

    1. Thanks, Valorie!
      And stay tuned for even more lists all this week.