Favourite children’s books of 2013

For the second year running, Bridget, who’s now seven, helped me review some of our favourite kids’ books of the year for my Journal column. (Finn, her two-year-old little brother, also makes a cameo.)

The SEO version: this story contains secret pizza parties, steam engines, naked crayons, uncomfortable porcupines, sentient nightmares, and drawings of wheat.

Read the whole thing here.

(NOTE: The above picture does not show my children. It was supposed to, but Bridget got cold feet at the last minute. Now I think she’s a little jealous.)

Hindsight: What I read in 2013 (so far)

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As of today, I’ve read 55 books in 2013. Pictured above are the survivors.

About 18 months ago, I was clucking about the brand-new shelves in my office and how great they were. Yeah, those are now overflowing. So are the non-fiction shelves in my dining room. As a result, I’ve had to become even more vigilant about the books that graduate from the to-be-read pile to the permanent collection. Plenty of titles that I read and really liked this year do not appear above, because, statistically, I knew I wouldn’t be returning to them any time soon. They are all now living on a farm, happily ever after. (The one exception is Lemony Snicket, whose latest I just plum forgot to include in the picture.)

I was swamped with work-related reading this year, but still came across so many fascinating books. (Seriously, have you read Decoded yet?) Fortunately, I was able to write about lots of them; you’ll see links in the full list below. A couple of particularly unruly books really slowed me down this month, but I’m raring to make up some lost ground as we round the corner into July.

You can see previous years’ reading lists here: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

Also note that (CDN) designates a Canadian author; (CDN)* designates an Alberta author.

Okay. Here we go.

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Hindsight: What I Read In 2012

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One hundred and ten.

There are more important numbers below, but let’s start with this one. I’ve never read so many books in one year in my life. I’ve never even cracked triple digits before. Either I’m getting a little better at this, or else a little more disciplined, or else my taste just skews towards the very short novel—I suspect it’s a combination of the three.

So, for the fourth year running (see: 2011, 2010, 2009), here’s a complete rundown of my reading year.

Following the big list are the usual statistics; the big takeaways there are that I got my translation number up to 30%, and that the female author one is down to 25%. These figures are connected, actually—and if you look only at books reviewed for a newspaper/magazine, my male:female ratio gets substantially better—but the latter number is something that I really need to keep a better eye on in 2013.

That’s one big resolution for the coming year. Others? To read in more detail, and around fewer subjects. To work my way through the works of Flann O’Brien, Muriel Spark, and Richard Russo. And to find a niche I can call my own. Maybe two.

Plus, somewhere in there I have to finish my own book. I’m not vain enough to add that to my own reading list, but hopefully a few other people will.

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What I Read In 2012 (So Far)

Here’s a spooky fact: in the past six months, I have read more books than I did in all of 2009. Fifty-five! Pure lunacy.

Pictured above are the survivors.

As in years past, I’ve cobbled together a complete list for all you completists out there, with links to full reviews whenever applicable (which is most of the time).

One important note: I usually save the number-crunching for year’s end, but since the topic of gender imbalances in Canadian book reviews has been in the news lately, I did want to look at how well I’ve done in terms of writing about male and female authors.

Historically—for as long as I’ve been keeping track—I have been absolute garbage at this. So I’m happy to report that of the 21 titles I’ve reviewed for newspapers or magazines in 2012, 12 were written by men, and 9 by women (and 4 have been in translation).

This isn’t quite 50-50, but it’s way better than I was expecting. I can only chalk it up to my recently self-imposed rule, which I came up with after reading those CWILA statistics and deciding to shut up and become part of the solution for once: namely, I will read any new book by a female author that comes across my desk. This is the only way to broaden my admittedly limited horizons, and I’m starting right now.

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Hindsight: What I Read In 2011

For the past three months, all of my books have been in boxes. The reason was simple enough: my partner and I bought a house, and we agreed that there were more pressing issues to attend to (eg. a yellow living room). I thought I’d hate not having my books visible and easily at hand, and at first I really did. But eventually it felt kind of freeing. The Great Unread wasn’t scowling down at me for a change. And I hardly needed to consult them at all. Instead I could start from scratch, and read in peace.

Then I got antsy again. So flash forward to a few days ago, and the shelves finally went up. Seventeen boxes’ worth were then freed from their stacked confinement and released back into my daily line of sight, all in one fell swoop.

I was thinking about those stacks while polishing up the list below, and two things are clear to me. First, I read a lot this year: nearly 90 books, plus a bunch of comics. This makes me not smarter, maybe, but at least disciplined. More importantly, I finally—finally—started to feel like I’m getting past the obvious books, and finding my own little niche of idiosyncratic fiction to snuggle up against.

So, for the third year running, here’s what I read in the past 12 months. It’s all here—I promise. Links to full reviews are provided wherever possible, and at the end you’ll find a bunch of statistics to skim past.

My resolutions for 2012? Stick with Shelf Defense; read more science and history; stay vigilant; stay ambitious; keep pushing into unknown territory; work hard. The usual stuff, I guess. I hope you stick around and hold me to it all the same.

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Hindsight: What I Read In 2010

The late comedian Mitch Hedberg had a great joke about do-not-disturb signs on hotel room doors, in which he argues that it’s time to change them to “don’t” disturb. “‘Do not’ psyches you out,” Hedberg says. “‘Do’—all right! I get to disturb this guy! ‘Not’—shit! I need to read faster.”

Well, earlier this year—and for completely different reasons—I reached a similar conclusion. I need to read faster. In 2009 I managed an average of about a book a week, which isn’t bad, by any stretch. But fully half of those were for review. I decided that if I was ever going to make a dent in my growing to-read pile, I’d have to drastically step my game up.

By that measure, 2010 was a success. Somehow I cleared 90 books this year (compared to just 53 last year), nearly half of which were for review. I’ve been staying up later, watching fewer movies, and deleting most of my social networking profiles. This is as close to on point as I will probably ever get.

So just like last year, here’s my reading list for 2010. For all my new followers, consider this a crash course in what I’ve been up to for the past 12 months. For everyone who knows me offline, consider this a belated excuse for why I never leave my house.

And, as always, unless otherwise specified, I read everything listed here for the first time.

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Hindsight: What I Read In 2009

Last week I covered my favourite books released in 2009. And I don’t know how it works for most critics, but those books—great as they may be—are hardly representative of my reading year. I won’t lie to you, dear reader: there are tons, and tons, and tons of great, essential books that I’ve never read. Tons of authors, even. So whenever I’m not reading for review, I’m frantically trying to make up for some of that lost ground and time.

You never get there, sure, but it’s important to keep the delusion alive.

So here’s a list of everything I read over the past 12 months. Call it full disclosure on my part. Hopefully it’ll give you some insight into where my tastes and expertise lie, or at least the kind of headspace I’ve been in lately. You’re more than welcome to call me on my blind spots; I recognize that they are embarrassing, and they are legion.

And unless otherwise specified, I read everything listed here for the first time.

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