Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Category: Reading & Reviewing habits (page 1 of 9)

Book Stats & Targets: 2015 in Numbers

Even if the results are not as varied as I might expect, each year I love analysing the stats of what I’ve read and potentially boring you with graphs. Thanks to my master spreadsheet that I’ve kept since 2007, I have all the data …  all the 2015 stats are correct as of Christmas Day!

Last year I ended up reading 127 books plus 3 DNFs. This year it was very similar in numbers of volumes 127 + 4DNFs + any books finished between Christmas and New Year. However, the big surprise was that I read more than 37,000 pages this year versus a final 36,000 last year. This really surprised me given the number of shorter books I read, but this is my highest ever page count. As always there is a quantity versus quality argument, but given that we all pride ourselves on picking good books to read most of the time, that doesn’t really enter the equation much.

Time for a graph… You know I’m addicted to new books – especially ‘Shiny’ ones – how did my reading this year compare when looking at publication dates?

2015 Books by Year of pub

Last year a whopping 56% of books I read were published in 2014. This year it’s down to 40% with books published since 2000 playing catch-up, and that 40% includes 40 books reviewed for Shiny New Books. What was lovely though was the number of books I read published before my birth-year (1960) – this was over double that in 2014 – but even without the ‘Simenon effect‘ which accounted for 7 of them, was still more than the previous year.

My target was  ‘I really MUST try harder to read from my TBR in 2015 when not reading for Shiny!’    DONE! I plan to keep this up in 2016.

Another of my 2015 targets was ‘To keep up reading books in translation’.  Here’s where my 2015 reading list authors originate from:

2015 books by athor nat

 

As in 2014, approx 100 books I read are by UK or US authors with the UK dominating; but a few more US ones this year. Novels published in French from France and Belgium dominated those from elsewhere, and again thanks to the ‘Simenon effect‘ the number of novels read in translation was up just a little on last year at 24  vs 22, so I achieved my target – just!

Moving on to categories. This is always fascinating to me. I try to read widely and enjoy including non-fiction and genre (beginning to hate that term) books in my reading list.

The shocking thing is that contemporary fiction – which is usually the mainstay of my reading is down from just over 50% to 30%. This year, I’ve read a lot more crime novels and thrillers, and also some more SFF/Speculative fiction. Obviously, again the crime count is bolstered by the ‘Simenon effect‘, but I’m enjoying (re)reading them so much that I plan to continue.  Non-fiction is up too at 13% from just over 10% – I’ve read some cracking books in particular for Shiny here.

The last graph for you now – it’s the male/female one:

2015 books by m-f

Upon discovering that I consistently read more books by male authors than female authors, I wrote (for me) an empassioned post trying to analyse that back in June, when my stats were nearing 70% male authors.  By year end, they had recovered slightly to just over 60%, but are again a little skewed by the ‘Simenon effect’ plus several Anthony Powells.  I still believe what I wrote in that post – that I don’t consciously choose male authors over female ones.

One last statistic – New to me authors. Last year around 60% of the books I read were by authors I’d not read before. This year that’s down to 40%, influenced by the many multiples from the same authors I’ve read this year.

In summary, I feel I’ve had the broadest year yet since starting this blog in terms of challenging myself in my reading choices – something I plan to continue in 2016.  More on plans for that tomorrow.

Reading Routines

Week two of a new academic year and life is yet to settle back into its normal rhythm.

reading in bed

Jessie Willcox Smith ‘The Bed-Time Book’ 1907

With a teenager in the house who likes her lie-ins whenever she gets a chance, the summer holiday has meant more time in bed for me reading every morning too. Luxury! If for any reason I woke up during the night, instead of struggling to get back to sleep, I’d read for a bit until Morpheus beckoned again. At night, I’d go to bed at a reasonable hour and read until I fell asleep.

After one week back at school,  my reading routine is not there yet – I can’t keep awake for long enough to read much at all at bedtime. Mornings are easier thanks to the alarm clock. On a good weekday I can quickly make a cuppa (and feed the cats) and then go back to bed for half an hour before having to get up, but I need to get back to getting that hour of reading before going to sleep.  Fingers crossed that I’ll get back in the groove very soon.

I realise that anyone who doesn’t work term-time only won’t appreciate my woes, but reading is such a great pleasure it’s makes me grumpy when I don’t get enough of it!

Reading habits: Male vs Female Authors

Elle wrote a thought-provoking post a few days ago titled Am I a Sexist Reviewer? about how she actually reads a fairly even split of female:male authors, but doesn’t blog about all the novels by men, as she finds more to talk about in general in novels by women.

It got me thinking about the balance between the sexes in my own reading. That was easy to check thanks to my huge spreadsheet – time for a quick chart…

Authors

Note: 2012 was skewed by having hosted Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week.

*NB, before I go on to ramble about the subject, I want to apologise for any sweeping generalisations I may make below!*

I like to think that I choose the books I read in a gender-neutral way – choosing mainly by perceived content. Even if I consciously opt to pick a particular author, I don’t select them because they are male or female, I strongly believe that the author’s sex doesn’t come into it.Yet, I usually read more books by men than women, and often considerably more by men in a year. Am I subconsciously favouring male authors?

As a teenager, I read as voraciously as I still do now. I devoured fiction including a lot of novels by Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy et al, but what I enjoyed most were thrillers; Alastair MacLean, Hammond Innes and Desmond Bagley in particular, how I loved these manly adventures with token women. At the same time at school, I discovered SF through Brave New World, Day of the Triffids, 1984 and their ilk.  In fact the only book I can recall by a female author that we read in class was To Kill a Mockingbird.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m nothing more than a reading enthusiast. I have no literary qualifications beyond English Language O-level. My senior school at the time (1970s) had a progressive attitude towards English Literature. We still read lots of it, mostly classics, modern classics and plenty of Shakespeare, but didn’t over-analyse it in that way that off-puts many teenagers – we didn’t do the English Lit O-level, freeing us to find what we each liked reading the best. I chose Maths and Sciences for A-Level so never went further studying English, bar a journalism option in 6th form general studies.

I went on to study an applied science at a university college with twelve male students to each female one at the time. I was the only girl engineer in the factory in my first job and was the first female scientist on the team in my second, so I’ve always been happy operating in a male-dominated world – seeing myself not as a token woman, but rather as helping to break the mould (although I have exhibited some ladette tendencies on occasion, *ahem*). It’s more unnatural for me now working in a school with more women than men on the staff!

Am I set in my ways?

I still tend to pick a novel promising a good adventure; lots of intrigue; a black comedy; or something techy over domestic dramas. Give me dystopian societies, spies, quests, science (but not necessarily SF) and literary thrillers etc. These are all types of plot-driven novels that have tended to be dominated by male authors (although that is changing, as is the balance of male over female protagonists?), and these form a large part of my reading.

Conversely, when I do take a punt on a domestic drama or novel of family life, I often find myself picking an older one from my TBR and I admit it does make a refreshing change, although I won’t deny that they can be harder for me to write about. Although I can live without reading any more Anita Brookner novels – I was entranced by the Barbara Pym I read a couple of years ago, I want to read more Edna O’Brien and Penelope Fitzgerald too, and still have quite a few ‘Beryls‘ yet to be read, to name but a few. There are still acres of female crime and suspense authors to explore – types of books I do really enjoy too.

Where do I go from here?

As I skewed the figures towards equality in 2012 by reading loads of Beryl Bainbridge, so my male:female reading ratio will likely be strongly male this year due to my (nearly) monthly dose of Anthony Powell, and multiple reads like the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer; I’m about to start my third Simenon in a week too.

Having subjected my reading habits to some navel-gazing regarding gender bias, I still believe that I don’t consciously choose male authors over female ones. Instead it’s the world I’ve grown up in and as a resolutely non-girly girl I feel comfortable there. I don’t plan to make any big changes in how I pick the books I read, but I do have good intention to select more great books that challenge my preconceptions now and then, which should include choosing some more women authors.

Weekend Bits and Bobs

I was in the middle of drafting a post setting out my own stall about where I get my books from etc after all the toing and froing on the subject lately. But, Simon Savidge’s impassioned post, (written after Gav and he got attacked on Twitter over where they got their books from), beat me to it, and I decided that he’s already said most of it. Instead I’ll just add a couple of comments below on my personal stance rather than a full (and potentially repetitive and boring) post:

mostly_booksI buy more books than I can really afford from my local indie bookshop Mostly Books in Abingdon, whom I am always very happy to promote. However, I’m a single mum on a part-time salary – so charity shops, second hand bookshops, the supermarket, bookshop chains, and online through Amazon, the Book People etc. will all get my custom from time to time.

Having been blogging for several years now, I’m lucky enough to be sent books from publishers and authors, and I review for Amazon Vine – Thank you.  I’ve only ever requested two books directly from publishers and felt guilty about doing that. These days, I purely respond to titles offered for review, only picking those I’m genuinely interested in reading.  I do not sell on any review copies that I receive. 

I have monetized (horrid word) my blog, with affiliate links to Amazon and The Book Depository.  I hope I make the links clear, and I am not forcing anyone to click through – it’s just there if you want to.  In nearly five years of blogging, I’ve received £29.80 in Amazon vouchers through referrals resulting in sales.  Part of me says I should drop the affiliations, as they promote the company only making treat- money for me, but if I find it useful to click through occasionally elsewhere so may others – I’m undecided on this though…

Mini-rant over now …

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I’m still working on gradually updating my blog’s indexes, but I’ve been toying with the sidebar too lately.  I discovered a great new widget to highlight posts I’ve ‘liked’ elsewhere. See the ‘Posts I Like’ section over there.

Sadly it only works with other WordPress powered blogs, so please, all my Blogger, Typepad and other service blog-friends don’t feel left out and see my bookish blog-roll for lots of other great blogs.  (Arrow image credit)

* * * * *

crane wifeLastly, I’ve just finished reading The Crane’s Wife by Patrick Ness.  It was a lovely book and my review will follow.  It did make me cry (again – something Ness is good at!).

I often shed a little tear when watching TV or films and reading – am I over-sentimental, or is it something you do too?

Do tell me about the books that have made you cry …

* * * * *

Enjoy the (long in the UK) weekend.  

Cheers!

My New Reading Chair

YIPPEE! My new reading chair arrived this afternoon (with matching sofa, from the sales at Furniture Village).

It’s a ‘smuggler’ chair – one and a half seats wide, so plenty of room for feet and wriggling and cushions – and a cat when we get one.  Meanwhile my daughter is pleased with the sofa because it is longer than our old one and she can lie on it, (just 3 months and she’s a proper teenager!).

New Chair 003

I’m now going to baptize it with my current read – The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers – I’m going to hear her talk next week (more info from Mostly Books).

I was slightly surprised that we ended up choosing a neutral grey-brown colour sofa though for there was red on offer (I love red), but I shall save that for winter cushioning.  But thinking about how I’d describe the colour – it’s minky – and that’s the name and colour of our much beloved hamster!

Mostly Minky 046 compressed

 

So that’s my new place to read.  Why don’t you tell me about your reading chairs and reading places …

Rewarding YA reading for Grown-ups! Let me persuade you…

I’m in my early fifties prime (!) and I’m not afraid to say that I love reading modern YA books now and then … but only good ones, naturally.  By using the term ‘YA’ here, I’m distinguishing them from those books we usually call ‘children’s classics’ (which still appeal to readers young and old alike).  I’m concentrating on contemporary novels specifically aimed at older children/teenaged readers, usually 12+.

I passionately believe that the very best of modern YA writing can be as good as books for grown-ups, and equal to that of the children’s classics that we remember from our youth.  Many remain to be converted to this way of thinking, so I’d like to explain a bit, maybe encourage you as a grown-up to give a YA book a go, and offer a few suggestions for reading.

There’s an incentive if you make it all the way to the end of this post.  You may disagree with me too, and I don’t mind that at all. We each find our way to the things we like to read, but I’m trying to encourage an open attitude to at least try reading something different.  I will, however, be the first to admit that as an adult reader of a YA novel you do have to be a bit more picky …

That black cover!

One barrier is making your way past all the formulaic black covers of all the ‘Twi-likes’.  The paranormal romance genre has been the big marketing success of recent years in teen fiction, spawning werewolves, witches, angels – stories featuring all kinds of undead following in the vampires’ wake, (paralleled to a lesser extent by zombie mayhem aimed at boys).  Twilight wasn’t the first teen vampire novel by a long shot – L H Smith’s The Vampire Diaries were there way before for instance, but it was Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (my review here) that became the publishing phenomenon and really kick-started the whole shebang.  I’ve read a good variety of these paranormal high school romances; more than enough to know that although they can be enjoyable fun, they are for teenagers.  As an adult reader, I don’t need to read any more of them, even the rest of the Twilight series, (I have watched all the films though).

Now we’ve got that out of the way …

What are the differences between adult and YA literature?  

Well, they share the three major common elements of plot, character and writing style of all novels.  Many adults tend to favour writing style to dominate over plot or character – a debate that was the subject of a great post a while ago at Stuck in a book. What use is a great character or story if you can’t get into reading it after all.  Well, the same is true of YA books too,  but the balance between the three elements is often different.  I realise that by necessity I’m having to generalise here, but using my daughter’s reading experiences too, so go with me if you can …

Writing style in literature for younger readers does tend to be more direct.  Authors have to take great care with their language,  not using bad language unnecessarily, but keeping it appropriate to their audience.  Difficult subjects such as sex, drugs, alienation and all the good and bad bits of growing up – all these emotive issues need to be tackled with tact and sensitivity, again appropriate to their audience.  Sometimes I wish more adult books would moderate their language a bit – you can get fed up of too many profanities and graphic sex scenes.

What would a novel be without strong characters?  Pretty uninvolving, I think.  The only difference here is that the main protagonists in YA books tend to be younger, older teens themselves – an age their main readers can identify with.  This shouldn’t be a problem for the adult reader either.  There are so many adult novels with child or teen lead characters – the ‘coming of age’ novel in particular being its own sub-genre (see some of my reviews of these here.)  YA characters can, however, can often be defined by their actions, rather than their thoughts.

Plot though, does tend to come more highly up the scale for teens.  Younger readers need action.  They need things to happen all of the time – they can’t cope with pages of descriptive atmosphere or scene-setting.  This can sometimes make a YA novel seem rather relentless, you wish for a break.  The clever YA author will build in descriptive elements throughout whilst keeping a cracking plot going and coming up for breath now and then.  As we progress up the age scale, the action-quotient typically decreases a little to let the setting speak, and allow characters to pause for thought more too.

So, are you willing to have a go yet?  If yes, what could you read?

For starters, you won’t go far wrong if you pick one of the books that have been awarded the Carnegie Medal – an annual prize in the UK made to a writer of outstanding fiction for children. The medal is awarded by CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.  Admittedly, many of these winning books are for older children rather than teens – but they’re all great books.

The real King Arthur ...My favourite Carnegie winner from 2008 is Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve.  It is a very different and brilliant take on Arthurian Legend with Merlin as a spin doctor.

I’m also a big fan of Patrick Ness, who won in 2012 with A Monster Calls (and 2011). It’s a simple story of a boy whose mother is dying of cancer, who can’t accept what’s happening, and a monster comes to help him through. As our book group found, this one wasn’t universally popular as an adult read, but did provoke good discussion.  You can hear Patrick talking to Simon Savidge about his writing for adults and children in a podcast at You Wrote the Book!.

This year’s Carnegie Shortlist (award in June) has some brilliant novels on it; I’ve read three so far, plus several that were longlisted that didn’t make it onto the shortlist. Some previous thoughts on the longlist are here, but the highlights for me are:

  • Blood red snow whiteMidwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (review coming soon).  Sedgwick is my favourite YA author. Many of his novels have a magical edge to them, they nearly always have a darkness at their heart and are based on folktales and folklore. My favourite book of his though, is his fictional account of Arthur Ransome’s years in Russia Blood Red Snow White.  I particularly enjoy his writing style which seems ‘ageless’. My fingers are crossed that he may win this year.
  • A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle.  A bittersweet novel about dying which tells the story of four generations of women with great empathy and humour, and is typically Roddy Doyle too!
  • The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner. A complex and fantastical philosophical novel for teens. While The Double Shadow didn’t make it onto the shortlist; another of her novels did however – Maggot Moon is narrated by a boy with dyslexia, which Sally suffers from. I shall be reading it soon.

Some other authors of YA books that I’ve read and reviewed include Sally Nicholls, Charlie Higson for ‘zombie mayhem to scare your pants off’, Matt Haig creator of the crossover vampire family The Radleys, Cliff McNish.

These are just a few of the contemporary authors writing primarily for teens that I’ve read and enjoyed on an adult level; authors I will be returning to again and again.  There are so many more for me to explore, not least Diana Wynne Jones who died in 2011 and who has an army of adult fans, Meg Rossoff too, and, and, and … the list could go on for pages.

Which contemporary YA authors & books would you recommend to me?
Would you consider reading a YA novel?

As a final incentive, I’m offering one copy each of Here Lies Arthur, and Midwinterblood as a GIVEAWAY – open to any country to which the Book Depository delivers to.  To enter – just recommend any children’s or YA novel that makes a rewarding read for adults, ancient or modern.

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