Reflecting on 2016 and the books I read

2016 sucked in a lot of ways. I have referenced the above comic so many times I’ve lost count. [Thank you David Sipress for speaking my reality.] War, deaths, devastating and disgusting politics…and that’s just in the public arena. I started the year with a broken wrist and that threw off so many of my normal routines that I never managed to regain, even once healed. (I’m hoping my 2017 New Years resolutions improve this.) Disappointments, existential angst, warbly family finances and employment questions, not to mention colds, flu, strep throat and just life at its low points. 2016 sucked in so many ways.

But you know, those caverns of outrage and disbelief and fear weren’t all there was to it. I mean, they stand out when you think back, sure, and some of it’s carrying over to the new year, but a closer look at 2016 reveals a lot of happy moments too, both public and private. And for me, reading was definitely a shining example of splendiferousness. (Yeah, ok, I just wanted to use that word.)

Admittedly, in a lot of ways I hid in fictitious worlds when the real one became too much for me. But as coping mechanisms go, that’s not a bad one. Right? RIGHT? Even with that caveat, I think 2016 was a success in the reading department.

Maybe not everyone thinks of reading in that way, like it’s quantifiable and loggable and therefore worthy of being considered an accomplishment. But for me it is; reviewing too. I get a lot of joy out of setting reading goals and finishing them, creating To Be Read lists and marking books off it, seeing the stack of read books grow from nothing to overflowing. For me, reading is more than just the physical act of passing pages or the imaginative process of visualizing stories in my mind. For me it’s also about gathering possibilities and creating orderly columns of read and to-read and sometimes never-read. But all of that collating is part of the fun. And in this, 2016 was totally gold star worthy.

To borrow Goodreads’ images, my year looked like this:

Yeah, that’s 364 books, 76, 695 pages! Well past my goal of 300 books, which I’d thought was especially high when I set it; since one of my goals in 2016 was to read as many of my short stories, novelettes and novellas as possible. Decluttering my To-Read shelf, as I think of it. Those numbers give me a feeling of accomplishment and make me happy, even outside of the hours of enjoyment I got from the actual reading. I just like looking at the image, if I’m honest.

Ahh, see, that makes me smile. I’m so easy to please sometimes.

To break the reading year down a little more, it’s been an odd one for me. Like I said, I made a goal to read a lot of shorts because they were making my TBR look much longer than it really is (and it’s plenty long), but also because of the pesky broken wrist. I couldn’t type, so I wanted reads that would only require short, snippy reviews and shorts fit that bill nicely.

This decision to concentrate on shorter works was a departure from the norm for me. I generally consider anything under 100 pages a waste of my time. When done well a short story can blow my mind, but in my experience and suiting my personal tastes, only a slim portion of shorts are done well and those that are not always leave me feeling bereft of the time it took to read them.

So, I knew going in I would spend a lot of time disappointed. And I did. But a surprising number of shorter works rocked my world this year. Nash Summers’ Maps, Alex Gabriel’s Still Waters, B.R. Sanders’ The Other Side Of Town, Amy Rae Durreson’ Emyr’s Smile, Amy Jo Cousins’ The Rain in Spain and Alexis Hall’s In vino all got a rare five star rating from me. I only gave out 20 all year. 20 five stars out of 364 reads and a whole 6 of them were shorts! This was a pleasant surprise for me.

Now, I’ll admit I tend toward a middle bias. When I use star ratings, which I don’t on this blog (because I prefer people concentrate on the content of a review over the numerical ranking), I don’t give out a lot of five stars or a lot of one stars. That makes sense to me. Most things I read I don’t feel strongly about. I neither love nor hate them, so a middle of the road, OK rating fits and it is by far my most common. Here, check this out.

If you discount the no-star books, which could be anything from a DNF (of which I had a few in 2016) to something I felt uncertain of a ranking, that’s not too far off a bell curve. (Yes, I know it isn’t really a bell curve. Thank you, S.) There are more one stars than five, true. But considering I just finished telling you shorts don’t light me up, that’s to be expected. This is about what I like my rating spread to look like. Of course I want to read more stellar books, but if we make a pretend effort toward randomization (I choose books based on what I want to read at the moment) then I like this dispersement. I’m ending the year happy.

Not everyone agrees of course. One commenter on an Amazon review stated,

The Vast majority of this reviewers’ reviews are very negative and nasty. Why bother to review if you hate the books?

(I’m gonna let that question at the end go, because I could write a whole post as an answer.) My point is that even my nice bell-like curve isn’t good enough for some people and reviewers take their knocks too.

In fact, I had a disappointing number of nasty comments on reviews this year. Including one review that seems to get attention almost every 3 months with commenters commenting not on my review anymore, but on my interactions with other commenters. Basically chastising me for having an opinion. One commenter said,

If you are not here to share your opinions freely with other people, and only want to hear from people who agree with yours, you should write them in a PRIVATE diary that only YOU can read. That way, you’ll know for sure that everyone who reads it will agree with you.

This because I didn’t immediately agree with the man who wished to correct me on my opinion rather than have an open discourse on interpretation of a text. (I rather suspect it was the author, if I’m honest.)

So, yes, like the rest of 2016, the reading and reviewing year brought some shocks and disappointments. Both the above quotes are from reviews of books I gave a 3-star review to. But six five-star shorts! I can’t complain about that. Neither can I complain on my own personal reading challenges, which I did several of throughout the year.

My first, as mentioned above, was with Goodreads and that was to read 300 books. I surpassed it. Second, as always, I did an alphabet challenge. I read a book written by an author for every letter of the alphabet. And the third year long one was through the Action Heroine Fan group, in which I committed to reading 20 books with action heroines. I read a lot of paranormal and urban fantasy, many of which had female leads. So, this was no real hardship for me. I finished the year with 40 books matching the challenge’s specifications.

As usual, I also set a number of smaller challenges for myself throughout the year. I did the BloodMoon challenge in May. I read 7 books with that title. I always find it especially amusing to see several books with the same title lined up in my read pile. I completed this one.

I did Alpha and Omega challenges in March, in which I set out to read all the books I had with alpha or omega in the title. I finished the Omega one, but didn’t quite make it through all the alphas. (There were a lot more) And of course I’ve since downloaded more of both. I’m such a sucker for shifters.

I found this experience really interesting because, though I knew many shifter books followed the same tropes, I hadn’t realized that it had been named and was official. I discovered the Omegaverse and was quite pleased with myself.

And then, lastly and maybe most importantly of the challenges, I did a #DiverseRomanceBingo challenge. The goal was to increase the diversity in the books I read. I discovered that unless I’m really paying attention, the characters in the books I read tend to be very white, western, heterosexual, able bodied and cisgendered. Seriously, in August I went through all the books I’d read this year up to that point, and despite thinking of myself as someone ‘woke’ and aware, my reading habits DID NOT SUPPORT THIS view of myself. Good intentions are not enough. Conscious and deliberate action is required.

So the timing of the  Diverse Romance challenge was stellar. I started in September, which is when it came to my attention. I wish I could say I completed the board. But there just wasn’t enough time. Of course, it’s bingo. The goal is to complete a row, which I did. I just would have liked to read a qualifying book for every square.

If I cheated and counted from the beginning of the year I could come close. But even then I couldn’t say I managed a Middle Eastern or Muslim main character. I will try harder next year. But more importantly, I intend to keep the pressure on and remain vigilant of when my characters start to all look the same.

Before moving on to my Best of 2016 (yeah, lets put that hard choice off as long as possible), the last category of books notable enough to pull out of the whole 364 is books I read by request of the author. (Not counting Netgalley ARCs, as I request them.) I read or attempted to read 29 books sent to me by authors. Here is the list:

Ok, I’m committed to ending this post with a list of my best reads of the year. And, oh man, isn’t that tough? When push comes to shove I’d have to choose, in no order, B.R. Sanders’ Ariah, K.J. Charles’ Think of England (or Jackdaw, I can’t decide), Adrienne Wilder’s In the Absence of Light, Chrys Cymri’s The Temptation of Dragons and E.E. Ottoman’s Documenting Light.

I’m pretty sure only one of those (Temptation of Dragons) actually came out in 2016. But I go by when I read them, not when they were published. I can think of several runners up, anything by Santino Hassell, for example. But if I let myself start down that path it might never stop.

I can’t say I’m sad to see 2016 go, but I sure am looking forward to all the wonders 2017 is going to bring (and ignoring all my fear about the state of the world going into the new year). I’ve got more books than I know what to do with and I anticipate time to read, read, read.



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