Looking Back, Looking Forward (Yet Again)

JANUS  (from Vatican Collection)Photo Credit

I’ve used this photo before, but it seems so appropriate to this time of year. January is well named, indeed!

It’s been an interesting year, and in many ways an unexpected year. I had no expectation at the start of the year that I would finally have a new job, especially quite so quickly or easily. And it’s proven to be a wonderful place to work. The only downside remains the drive, but I’m sort of used to it. At least it’s a pretty one.

There have been some not-so-great parts of the year in terms of friends and family health issues, but we are all thankful for what we have, and for those who are still with us. And hopefully 2014 will be better–my mom has this crackpot theory that even-numbered years are better than odd-numbered! (Not to mention, any year not ending in ’13’ has to be an improvement… 😉 )

As far as reading, I can assess my year a bit quantitatively. I made a list of goals last year–more as guidelines than anything I actually expected to meet. However, I feel like I did pretty well, especially considering I hadn’t expected a job that would take up so much time!

  • I aimed for 26 books read–I only made 21, (err…20, one of those was a short story), but I’m in the middle of three.
  • I didn’t manage to read a book in Spanish. Alas. But I read a few pages, was surprised at how relatively easy it was (vs. my expectations), and I’ve been working on bringing back my Spanish vocab outside of reading. I’d make the same goal for 2014, except I don’t think I’ll have time. But I’m going to keep poking away at the general vocab.
  • I successfully completed not one but two challenges in their appropriate time-frame! The first was Venice in February, the second Austen in August.
  • I didn’t manage a book for all of my project lists, but I did make it through two from both Sensation! and Mysteries & Detective Fiction and a play from Shakespeare & Co. I’m also partway through Mansfield Park, which is on Realists and Romantics.
  • My non-bookish project finishing goal–major fail. I only finished two projects in my basket. I’m not worried about that, though. I’ve decided I’d rather just take my time and finish as I get to things. More relaxing that way.
  • And an even worse failure: my Cinematic Treasures project. I didn’t watch a thing. I didn’t watch too many films at all in 2013, actually.
  • I only read 6 books from my Classics Club list. No, wait–I read SIX books from my Classics Club list! Four of those would be in my top reads for the year…
  • And I only managed two books from Adam’s 2013 TBR Challenge. I guess I didn’t do a very good job of selecting books I would actually read this year. I’d say that this means there’s a reason these books are still unread, but actually it doesn’t. I have a very loooooong list of books to read.

Now, as to what I did read. Two themes seem to have unexpectedly crept into my 2013 reading: YA fiction and fiction touching on social (specifically economic) issues. Neither was planned, but interestingly they overlap rather well. Perhaps what this actually means is that economics (and poverty) have such a great impact that much of fiction touches on it in some manner, and I just happened to notice it this year. The poverty and desperation of District 12 that shaped Katniss’s actions in The Hunger Games and the popular uprising across the series. The proud poverty of the Bundren clan in As I Lay Dying. The uncomfortable truths of how poverty and wealth shape our interactions in The Casual Vacancy. Even in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, books ostensibly more about fantasy-adventure-romance than economics, venture into this territory with one character trying desperately to escape poverty on his own terms and another uneasy with his one wealth, conscious of the separation it can create between him and others.

Of course, there were other books as well–mysteries, children’s classics a couple non-fiction titles. Glancing down the list I seem to have read about evenly books by female and male authors (helps when one reads a series by a woman). Not a single book was in translation, however, as every book completed was either from the U.S. or Britain (and one I’m in the middle of from Canada). Assuming I actually read the Tolstoy I’m planning on, that will be improved next year!

As for my top reads for the year–a nebulous concept made up more of enjoyment and whim than anything–other than the first, in no particular order:

  • As I Lay Dying – while not my most enjoyable read, definitely the best book I read all year.
  • Little Women, Part 1 – A promising start to the year, a delightful return to childhood .
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles – I enjoyed it so much that I’m already contemplating a reread
  • The Casual Vacancy – For what it made me think about, and how it directed my thoughts on many of the other books I read this year
  • The Raven Boys & The Dream Thieves – The two books I most purely enjoyed this year. As book bloggers I think we can sometimes get caught up in reading to find something to blog about that we may forget that sometimes a book is just something to be enjoyed. Also, now I want to read mythologies from the British Isles and reread Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series…maybe 2015?

And what of next year? I know enough to know that I really can’t say. My goals aren’t so rigorous as last year; I have joined only one challenge. But such as they are:

  • To participate in The Classics Club’s Jan. 4th readathon–a fun way to start of the reading year.
  • To have fun reading as many children’s classics as possible in January. The must-read is The Wizard of Oz, but I should also a least have a post on Anne of Green Gables and a book with an Ohio link.  (It’s a tease–I’m not going to tell you what yet!)
  • An Ohio link because once February rolls around, it will be all mostly Ohio-based reads (authors from Ohio, either living in or grew up in) for a good stretch of time. I won’t post a list, but I have several “definites” I would like to get to. Some of these may even tie into The Classics Club’s Twelve Months of Classic Literature, but I’m not going to force it.
  • Actually manage a book in translation (downside of the Ohio project: it’s ALL from English) by reading something for o’s Russian Literature 2014. That book of Tolstoy  stories I showed off in the last post? Purchased just for this challenge.
  • If I have time, and I’m not still immersed in Ohio-lit, join Richard in reading Don Quixote at the end of the year.
  • I’d still like to make some sort of return to the Cinematic Treasures project. I actually did create a little bit of a plan last year that I could go with, or I might just continue with the Ohio theme and go that direction–to give you a hint what that might mean, I’m currently sitting about 20 minutes away from Lillian Gish Drive. I’m not going to aim for a particular number, however.

And that’s almost it. 2014 is to be the year of low-key, no pressure reading. I’m over self-created non-necessary deadlines. It’s not worth the artificial stress. Hopefully, this won’t mean I go so low-pressure I don’t get anything read–I’d still like to average about two books a month, so I guess that’s a background goal!

But one last project before wA Year of Masterworkse go. A fun one, I hope. Not one I may blog much about–for I’m not sure I’ll have much, if anything to say. But I have a Photoshop habit, so I created a button. I’ve been wanting lately to become better acquainted with Western Art Music–or classical music of the Western culture–my “Understanding Music” textbook in school used the former term as being more accurate. I have a decent familiarity with most of these already, actually, thanks not only to the above-mentioned course, but also years of piano lessons  and growing up in a house that listened to a lot of classical music. I’ve been to quite a few symphony concerts and have a decent classical CD collection. But I don’t feel I know it as well as I should like. So I’ve decided that 2014 shall be the year of deeper exploration. Get to know the pieces that are familiar in sound by name. Listen to some of the best recordings. Learn more about their histories and their composers. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to listen to just about anything. And thanks to my long commute, I have plenty of time to listen to anything I can download. To save myself time, I’ll be using The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection as my primary resource in selecting works to “meet,” going through each section in chronological order. This will be a background project, but I hope a fun one.

And with the goals finished, the old year fast fleeing, I wish you a Happy New Year! Welcome 2014!

8 thoughts on “Looking Back, Looking Forward (Yet Again)”

  1. I’m all for no-pressure reading, it makes the experience enjoyable, as it should be.

    I surprisingly read stories this year that had an economic focus, which is not something I am used to in SFF reading. Much of it was written by Daniel Abraham, who has a passion for economics. What I found was that I enjoyed it. Wouldn’t have expected that.

    Glad you enjoyed Hound. I haven’t read a lot of the Holmes stories but have liked what I’ve read and would like to eventually read them all.

    1. I think one of the reasons I enjoyed some of the books I read this year as much as I did was because there was no pressure attached. Just a book I’d picked up.

      I was surprised myself when I realized how many books this year seemed to touch somehow on economics. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the stories you read this year with economics in them. As a topic on its own, economics sounds like it would be dry, but when integrated into a story, it can become compelling.

      I’m working my way through the Holmes stories–I read Hound and Memoirs this year. I think Hound and The Sign of Four are my favorite so far.

  2. It sounds like you had a pretty good year (and I think that short story counts!). I think goals are like that; you aim high and if you don’t reach them, at least you will have done better than if you were more conservative. I have overloaded myself for 2014, so we’ll see how I do. If I make it, I’ll be surprised!

    I have the same goal for French as you do for Spanish. I hope to read a French children’s book this coming year …… or perhaps part of a French children’s book …….?? 😉

    Oo, a Photoshop expert! Is it as difficult to use as I hear? Do you have Elements, or the whole she-bang? Okay, back to books ….

    Happy New Year, Amanada! Hope you have a great one!

    1. When it comes to my reading, my goals are usually more guidelines, so aiming high is always a plus. Having said that, I AM stepping back a bit this year, but that’s partially because I know that there’s every potential my Ohio project could fill up every bit of reading time–there’s so much to chose from. I’ve noticed all your goals for 2014–so many that they would overwhelm me, I think! But a great list to strive for.

      Children’s books seem a good way to practice a language. I’ve heard that some students learning English read the Beatrix Potter stories for practice.

      I’ve known Photoshop for so long, I’m not sure if I could say whether it’s difficult or not. I learned it in school and use it both at work and for personal projects, so it’s become very familiar to me. I have the full version, but I’ve used Elements and it has most, if not all, of the tools I actually use. I think the most difficult part, at least as far as photo-editing goes, is knowing what the image actually needs–adjust the contrast? Lighten it? Adjust the color? And those things are more about practice and experimenting. At least, in my opinion–I’m imagine at least some true photography experts would say otherwise!

      Thanks, Cleo–A Great Happy New Year to you too!

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