Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Garden gate - Charleston South Carolina
Where might the garden gate–and the New Year–lead us?

Happy New Year!

I know many people are happy to see 2016 gone. It wasn’t kind to many of us–well to be honest, I knew in Dec. of 2015 that 2016 would never be a great year. Personally, however, I don’t believe it was quite the worst year I’ve had, as despite the negatives–and there were plenty–there were plenty of positives as well. And while there may be reasons to be concerned about what 2017 may bring, I find that I’m an optimist at heart, and have observed that although at times life may seem bleak, if we look hard enough we may find something to hearten us. While I don’t believe that it is wise to hide ourselves away from negative news, nor do I think it is healthy to focus solely on what distresses us, but better to look for the good as well and for what we may do, no matter how small. At unexpected times, I was reminded last year of how something as simple as a smile or holding out a hand to another can uplift someone when they are feeling down. And while I will lay out plans and goals for the coming year below, if I can just remember this, if I can endeavor to be always kind, even to those I dislike or cannot trust, then I will have accomplished something more meaningful than plowing through a list of books.

But, much the same as opening a new package of notebook paper has long inspired me, turning of a calendar page and dropping of a ball inspires in me an excitement for what this coming year holds. I was determined to end 2016 neatly–cleaning, organizing, finishing. Well not everything. I wasn’t going to make myself crazy/stay up all night just to finish a recently restarted knitting project. But I finished the two books I most wanted to finish to end the year, I finally put away papers that have been piling up since last January! and recycled/shredded others, I finished off reading the last week’s worth of local papers. (Wow–there are so many great things happening locally, including some wonderful building revitalization projects.) And so, despite lacking a fresh coat of snow to give the world a “new” feel (rather, it’s all melted at the colors are muted browns and greys, warmed by winter sun), everything feels fresh and new. I pulled out a couple books this morning, eager to make a start on my upcoming projects and goals.

But first, I really should remember last year–I had quite a few goals and challenges, but how did I do?

2016 Goals:

  • Read at least 25 books this year Met! (Just how many books I read depends on how you count; I only counted books I both started and finished in 2016, and grouped all of the Beatrix Potter 23 Tales into one for the count.)
  • Resume the Reading Ohio project – Met! (Five books)
  • Focus more on my Classics Club list – Met! (I read eight titles off the list. Sure, there are still plenty to go, but…)
  • Start adding in some contemporary translated fiction. Oops. I didn’t read any translations more recent than the 1960s, while I wanted to read at least one that was no older than 2000.
  • Plenty of Children’s Classics! – Met! (I hosted the Classic Children’s Literature Event in April, for which I read Emil and the Detectives, The Jungle Book, and a number of Beatrix Potter tales. Later in the year, I finished off the Potter tales and added in some Susan Cooper and Tuck Everlasting. By my count, a total of 28 different titles.)

2016 Challenges:

  • o’s Reading England 2016. Goal: level 1 (1-3 counties). – Met! I didn’t write posts for these books (yet…), but I did read two books.
  • The Classics Club’s Women’s Classic Literature Event. Goal: min. 4 classics by a woman author (not counting contemporary). – Met! (Counting the Beatrix Potter’s as one title.)
  • Karen at Books and Chocolate’s Back to the Classics Challenge. (All books must be at least 50 years old.) Goal: hit all 12 categories. – Fail! Well, I did read books that would fall into six of the categories, but I only wrote posts for five. And I hadn’t thought to ask, but someone did for this year’s edition, and a poetry collection wouldn’t actually count, so…five books, with four posts. It was a fun challenge, regardless. (Actually, I may have read an acceptable 20th century classic–Silence–, but that depends on whether the cut off is any book written before 1966 or including 1966. Whichever interpretation, again, no post.)
  • Keely at We Walked Outside and Saw The Stars’ Ancient Greek Reading Challenge. Goal: level 1 (1-4 texts). – Fail! I didn’t read a single one!
  • Jen at The Introverted Reader’s Books in Translation Challenge 2016. Goal: Conversationalist (4-6 books). – Met! (Four books)
  • Samantha’s Shakespeare 400: The Bardathon Challenge 2016. Goal: Mix-and-match Shakespeare (min. 5 Shakespeare experiences: read/watch/listen/perform/play). – Met! (Read four plays and watched three)
  • o’s The Pickwick Papers readalong. Runs from March 2016-November 2017.  – Yeah…I failed to keep up with this one a long time ago.

So not too badly, I don’t think. (If you really want to know which titles I read for each goal/challenge, the complete list is here.)

As far as the reading itself, I really felt 2016 was excellent. Just a few months ago, I wasn’t so sure, but as I read more to finish off the year/recalled what I had read earlier, I’m really happy with the titles I finished.

I read quite a wide variety this year, pushing my boundaries a bit: 5 plays, 1 poetry collection, 2 non-fiction titles, 4 translated titles, 3 short story collections, 3 works by African-American writers, and my first ever Japanese novel. Most were good or better; the only title I really was disappointed in was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which did feel a bit more like fan fiction, but I will acknowledge that it might give a different impression when watching it staged, as it was written for. Although there are 13 different male authors compared to 9 different female authors I read this year (I think I counted correctly), part of the reason for the gap is that one book (Above the Shots) was co-written/edited by two men and Harry Potter was a joint effort between J.K. Rowling and two male collaborators. So much for stats.

My Top Books of 2016

The two books I read this year that I believe will stick with me longest are both translated works. I still can’t believe how well I remember Miguel Ángel Asturias’ The President [El Señor Presidente], the story of a small group of people just trying to live their lives under a tyrant. Highly recommended. And I only just recently finished Shūsaku Endō’s Silence, a novel investigating faith and belief in the most difficult of circumstances. It has already proven a most thought-provoking read and I imagine I will be still thinking of it months from now.

Less thought-provoking, but wonderful to read as well was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I found absolutely delightful. I am keeping my eye for any local productions of this play, which is now one of my favorite Shakespearean plays (along with Much Ado About Nothing). Also delightful was my reread of Pride and Prejudice–I really had forgotten how much I simply enjoy reading Austen.

I had not expected to read any nonfiction in 2016, but I am really happy with the two titles I did read. But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman was a bit of a mind-bender and Above the Shots: An Oral History of the Kent State Shootings by Craig S. Simpson and Gregory S. Wilson I found excellent as my first experience reading oral history. By comparing and contrasting the points of view of so many people who were in or around Kent in May 1970 (as well as official records), I came to a better understanding of how any story can be a matter of perspective, and how even those who witness an event my find their own understanding changing over time. This was actually a topic touched on But What If We’re Wrong? as well, so they proved excellent companion reads.

Looking Ahead

I’ve already posted about the two year-long challenges I’m planning on participating in for 2017: Deal Me In and Back to the Classics. I didn’t really see too many challenges I was interested in this year–thankfully! I have some areas I want to focus on as well. After a decent Reading Ohio year, that project will likely be on the back burner as I try to get to some more of my Classics Club titles and (really, this year, I mean it) some contemporary translated fiction.

  • Since I made my goal of 25 books last year–and it feels like a reasonable number for me–I’d like to hit 26 this year. One every two weeks should be doable.
  • I’d like to match my 2016 total of at least 8 titles from my Classics Club list.
  • To define “some” – let’s make it 2 works in translation (written in +/- the last 25 years).
  • Plenty of Children’s Classics! – so YES, I do plan on another edition of the Classic Children’s Literature Event, likely again in April.
  • Actually blog about most of those titles in a timely manner.

I also have some non-bookish goals that I’d like to work on this year:

  • Learn how to properly use my camera. I bought a DSLR last May, and while I have the automatic settings down pretty well, I’m still in the dark on anything else. Fortunately, I have a DVD series to go through to help.
  • Finish 3 decent-sized knitting projects. I’m thinking a sweater and two shawls.
  • Resume trying to regain my lost high school Spanish. I started using the Duolingo app; I’d like to make it through all the Spanish lessons this year.
  • Properly go through all my files/folders/papers. For example, I still have school notes that I, reasonably, saved to study for the Architectural Registration Exam, but then just stuffed them in the closet when the studying was done. It’s been years; I’m not likely to need them again–time to purge.

Here, with the optimism of the first of January, it all seems reasonable. Right?

Happy Reading!


4 thoughts on “Looking Back, Looking Ahead”

  1. What a fun post to read! You’ve given me some books to put on my TBR list (don’t you always! 😉 ).

    I’m surprised at how many of us want to improve our photography and/or learn/improve another language. It’s inspiring to see people focused on creative improvement instead of the immediately practical.

    I’m looking forward to the Children’s Literature event!!

    And I hope you have a great reading year in 2017!

    1. Thanks, Cleo! Dare I ask which books you’ve added to your list?

      I suppose I need to start thinking about this year’s Children’s Lit event…which book for a RAL…what the logo will be…it will be here before we know it!

      A great reading year to you as well!

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