2011 in Review

I read a total of 172 books in 2011, including six books that I abandoned. Overall, I am very happy with my reading in 2011. I joined in many more read-a-longs this year, which gave me the space to discussion the novels I’m reading as I’m reading them. I tackled many classics I’ve been afraid of — reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (!!) and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The oldest book I read was published in 1598; the earliest was published in 2011. I also read a total of 57,828 pages in 2011. I feel very accomplished, indeed. Before busting out all my charts, I thought I would review the goals I set forth for myself in 2011.

  • Read More Classics: I read twenty classics in 2011. As I started above, I read many classics I’ve been avoiding over the years. It’s hard to pick a favorite classic because I enjoyed so many of the ones I did read but I think my favorites were Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4), Emma by Jane Austen, and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (Part 1 | Part 2).
  • Read the Bible: This was a complete failure. I didn’t start this project until July but lost interest before finishing Genesis. I either need to find a version that includes historical background information so I do not have Google so much or I need to give myself permission to read out of order.
  • ‘Visit’ More Countries/Read More Translated Works: I privately resurrected the Lost in Translation Challenge and encouraged myself to read six books translated to English from their original language. I reached ten before I stopped keeping track, reading books translated from German, Portuguese, Norwegian, Dutch, Hungarian, Polish, Hebrew, Japanese, French, and Catalan. Still very Euro-centric, though.
  • Other Challenges: I finished all of the challenges I signed up for!

Breaking it down from month to month, my reading was a bit of a roller coaster. My reading always takes a nose dive in February and September as I move into the new semester and am still trying to figure out my schedule for the semester. There is always an upswing at the end of the semester as I move into vacation time, particularly at the end of May when summer vacation begins.

I’m still not the kind of person who cares about the gender break down in my reading and I doubt I ever will be. But I find it interesting that 60 percent of what I read was written by females. Girl power, I guess.

Fiction still captured 58 percent of my reading in 2011 but this is closest I have ever been to a 50/50 breakdown. It will be interesting to see if I move closer to or further from a 50/50 breakdown in 2012.

Once again using the library and purchases make up the majority of how I source my books. I’ve contemplated breaking down “purchased” into “purchased used” and “purchased new” largely because many of my purchases come from used book sales. I haven’t done it yet largely because I think it would be a headache to keep track of. Those books I received as a free download either from iBooks because they’re a classic or from Amazon during their sales has captured 9 percent of my reading I think largely because I’m am reading more classics. ARCs continue to make up the smallest percentage of my sources which I am quite pleased about.

Despite owning my iPad for a year now I still read the vast majority of my books in print format. Picking up a title at a used book sale for $1.50 seems like a much better idea to frugal me! I have a hard time plunking down $15+ for an eBook I’m not even sure I’ll like. Print books can be passed along should I choose to abandon them. For the first time audiobooks as joined the breakdown as a category. I’ve found they are perfect for the gym.

Three seems to be the magic number for me when it comes to breaking down my books by category; if I didn’t concentrate on it, I usually ended up reading three books in that particular category. Of course, I do allow overlaps when breaking down my reading by category so many of my textbooks (the largest group) also ended up under China, Economics, and Food. I am very pleased to see that Chunksters and Classics encompassed much of my reading this year. With my plans for 2012 I imagine the categories of Reread, Economics, and Food will dominate next year. (At least, I hope they do.)

Thanks for indulging my nerdy self with all these graphs. But, most importantly, thank you all for your comments, messages, emails, “likes”, and tweets. I greatly appreciate every single one of who stops by and shares your love of books with me. Happy New Year!


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Part Four)

Fiction — eBook. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett. Project Gutenberg, 2010. Originally published 1877. 1441 pgs. Free download.

I finished Anna Karenina! I am both elated and relived as I managed to tackle a fear of Russian literature and finish a classic piece of (translated) literature spanning 1,441 pages. What a way to end 2011!

This post covers Part Six to the end of the final section, Part Eight, and will include spoilers because I cannot resist discussing the ending in this post. I will say this before moving into spoilers, please do not be afraid of this book. It is surprisingly accessible and my fear of Russian literature has been greatly abated by Tolstoy’s classic.

Am I the only one who thinks Tolstoy’s novel went out with a whimper? Part Seven ended with a “bang” in the form of Anna’s suicide whereas Part Eight ends with Levin deciding that he does not need a religious conviction to meaningfully orient his life towards goodness.

“I shall still be as unable to understand with reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.” (pg. 1440)

I understand Levin’s realization largely mirrors that of Tolstoy’s own struggle with religion but to not end the book with the title character seems an interesting choice to me. There was also no mention of Anna after her suicide despite the intertwining relationships of these characters. Odd choice, indeed.

Anna’s realization of her crumbling relationship with Vronsky was particularly poignant. There’s a particular phrase that came to mind while reading this – Anna has made her bed and now she must lie in it. Her flirtatious manner may have unconsciously aroused in Levin a feeling of love “yet as soon as he was out of the room, she ceased to think of him” (pg. 1239). She can wrap men around her finger and make them, and occasionally herself, fall in love. She realizes in Part Seven that she at one time felt something akin to love for Karenin but eventually stopped feeling this way for one reason or another and moved on to Vronsky.

“We are drawn apart by life, and I make his unhappiness, and he mine, and there’s no altering him or me. Every attempt has been made, the screw has come unscrewed.” (pg. 1343)

Now, her “love” from Vronsky has dissipated. She may appear to be jealous of him and worry that he has another mistress but it is really her jealousy that he has not lost his standing in society for the same actions. They both had an affair, they both had a child out of wedlock, and they both ran off together without obtaining a divorce. The cost for her, though, was much higher and now she has not only lost her access to the highest realm of society but also to her son, Seryozha.

“I thought, too, that I loved him, and used to be touched by my own tenderness. But I have lived without him, I gave him for another love, and did not regret the exchange till that love was satisfied.” (pg. 1343)

She claims that she love Seryozha more than her daughter with Vronsky, also named Anna. This may or may not be true to the realization that her relationship with Vronsky will never be enough to overcome that sacrifice of her son and the loss of her good name proves to be too much. At first, she turns to opium to alleviate her pain. Then, she decides suicide is her only escape. Interesting enough, though, it appears that she changed her mind during her (successful) attempt.

“And at the same instant she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. “What am I? What am I doing? What for?” She tried to get up, to drop backwards; but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and rolled her on her back. “Lord, forgive me all!” (pg. 1350)

And that’s the end of Part Seven. No clear moral message just a massive amount of commentary on hypocrisy, faith, fidelity, family, society, marriage, carnal desires, peasants versus elites, and religion. The translator of the Penguin edition, Rosemary Edmonds, wrote that one of the novel’s key messages is that “no one may build their happiness on another’s pain”. Anna tries to build her happiness with Vronsky on the pain of her husband and son; Vrosnky tries to build his happiness with Anna on the pain of Karenin and Anna herself. It’s a vicious, repetitive cycle. And thus we are brought back to the beginning of the novel:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (pg. 1)

Read-A-Long at Unputdownables:

I read this book for Wallace of Unputdownables’ read-a-long, which ran from October to December 2011. The book was divided into twelve sections to be discussed over twelve weeks. Each week, on Friday, participants were urged to share their thoughts about the previous week’s reading. The selection for January 2012 is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sign-ups are now up!

Anne Frank by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón

Don’t make the same mistake I did; this is not the graphic version of Frank’s diary. Rather the book is a graphic biography starting with her father, Otto, serving in World War II and ending with Otto’s death in Switzerland in 1980. When the book does follow along with the diary, it steps back to provide the broader historical context of what was occurring outside the annex.

The illustrations themselves are interesting as they change throughout the novel. Some are translated from pictures of the Frank family and their friends while others are drawn from text when available or the authors own imaginations. Those copied from pictures are grainier and fuzzier than those Jacobson and Colón thought up for themselves. The graphics illustrating the horrors of the Holocaust accurately reflected the differences in the camps and showed the progression of Anne and Margot’s deteriorating health.

Some of the paneling for this graphic biography did not flow properly. There were parts where the dialog straddled two panels but was interrupted by more dialog within the panels. And in other sections were the dialog was written over multiple boxes, I wasn’t sure what the correct order to read the book in was. Some of the dialog seemed misplaced and I would occasionally end up reading it out of order.

However, the book does not replace Frank’s diary and is simply a new way to experience the story of Anne Frank. Many of her poignant observations are not included in this graphic biography. But the historical context does add new depth to the Frank family’s story that people may not know when they start the original diary. The reader is able to understand how and why the Nazi party rose to power and why Frank and her family moved into the annex, which is something I find is lacking for those who use Frank’s diary as the basis of their knowledge on the Holocaust.

Book Mentioned:

  • Jacobson, Sid and Ernie Colón. Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010. Print. 160 pgs. ISBN: 9780809026845. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Hill and Wang. Retrieved: December 29, 2011.

Scene of the Blog

Today, I’m over at Kittling: Books sharing where I blog for Cathy’s feature entitled “Scene of the Blog“. The idea behind the feature is to let readers get to know bloggers on a more personal level by seeing their work/blogging environment.

Because I spend roughly half of the year in New England for university and the other half in Montana, I have two separate locations where I blog and read. Cathy was kind enough to let me share both locations as well as the respective views out my windows. Head over to Cathy’s blog and check out my Scene of the Blog!

Museum of the Missing by Simon Houpt

Whereas coffee table books typically focus on a particular artist and the breadth of his/her works, this book focuses on those pieces that have been stolen from museums, action houses, and private homes around the world.

The title of this book comes from the mythical museum of all the stolen works of the world known as the “Lost Museum” or the “Museum of the Missing” to those who investigate art theft; the picture on the cover comes from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston where the largest art theft in the world remains unsolved.

Gardner, when she turned her collection into a museum, required that nothing about the collection be charged – paintings cannot be sold or moved. Empty frames of the stolen works have hung in the museum since the theft beckoning visitors to ponder over the whereabouts of these missing works. Having visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I can attest that it gives the whole museum an eerie feeling. I was constantly distracted from those paintings that remain by the empty frames.

Subtitled “A History of Art Theft”, Houpt does a wonderful job tracing art theft throughout history from wartime plundering to the modern-day heists we’re used to seeing play out in the movies. Not only does Houpt examine why art disappears but he also explains why paintings, statues, and antiquities are not returned when found. The British Museum wanted to return art stolen from Jews by the Nazis but the British Supreme Court said the cultural value of this art outweighed any moral obligation to right the wrongs of the world. Of course, righting this wrong means the British Museum might be compelled to return antiquities plundered from Egypt. Interestingly enough, when I visited this particular museum, there was a large display about how the museum is working to prevent wartime looting from Iraq.

I certainly recommend this book if you are at all interested in art theft (or art history). It’s a great overview of the problem, summarizing historical and contemporary aspects with equal attention. I really appreciated the glossary of missing works (at least, those known as most thefts go unreported) with colored pictures and information on where and how the works were stolen.

Book Mentioned:

  • Houpt, Simon. Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft. New York: Sterling, 2006. Print. 192 pgs. ISBN: 1402728298. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Sterling. Retrieved: December 26, 2011.