Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 In Review

So. 2014, huh?

I began the year with one main reading goal: to wallow in awesome. Since I loved 53% of what I read--an astonishingly high number for me--I'd say I did pretty durned well with that. I also really liked a goodly number of books, while most of the rest at least tied into things that entranced me.

This was particularly true of comics. While some entries in a particular series or crossover event didn't wow me, they almost always added something to other stories that did. Good times.

Comics also ensured I ended 2014 with an insane number of titles on my reading list. Turns out, it's easy to devour hundreds of books in a given year when you get caught up in a couple of manga series and/or rediscover the joys of superheroes. I did both, with prolific results.

But the stats, they come later. Let's move along to the main event: my 2014 Top 5.

Memory's Top 5 Books of 2014

As always, these are books I read in 2014. Not all of them were published last year. They're also listed in the order I read them, rather than my order of preference.

Cover art for A Game of Swallows by Zeina Abirached

A GAME FOR SWALLOWS by Zeina Abirached

This is the best memoir, and one of the best comics, I've ever read. Abirached's account of one tense night during the Lebanese civil war is so gripping I forgot I was reading a book. Certain aspects of the ending still haunt me.

Cover art for Ember by Bettie Sharpe

EMBER by Bettie Sharpe

Best Cinderella retelling ever. Sharpe's version of the tale is dark, complicated, and brimming with women who help each other. It's very much a story about choice--choosing who you'll love, who you'll let inside your barriers, and how you'll conduct your life. It's a fairy tale through and through, but when the magic is as nasty as it is here, there's no guarantee of a happy ending.

Holy tension, Batman.

cover art for Saga Volume Three by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

SAGA, VOLUME 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I'm pretty sure Vaughan and Staples are trying to kill me. Like, I'm reading along, delighted and scared and totally engaged, when all of a sudden I'm bawling my fucking eyes out because of something Lying Cat said. And Lying Cat never says anything other than, "Lying."

Fucking Lying Cat, man. Best animal companion in comics, right here.

I'm scared to read Volume Four because I've Heard Stuff. I've been hoarding it until I basically have no choice. Maybe I'll have myself a SAGA readathon today, just so's I can start the year off with pain and heartache.

Cover art for The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman


THE MAGICIAN'S LAND isn't just a powerful ending to a series that utterly entranced me; it's also a great big "fuck you, buddy" to the Death of Magic trope. The second I finished it, I turned to Murchie and said, "This is it. I've found my best book of 2014."

It doesn't get much plainer than that.

Cover art for Warchild by Karin Lowachee

WARCHILD by Karin Lowachee

But I was wrong! THE MAGICIAN'S LAND is only the second best thing I read in 2014. WARCHILD, like A GAME FOR SWALLOWS, pulled me in so completely I forgot I was reading a book. It became my world. It hit me so hard I could not start another novel after I finished it. I had to take a few days to focus on comics and short stories because no other longer work could compare.

That never, ever happens to me.

I'll be happy if I read anything as good as WARCHILD in all of 2015. Seriously.

Cover art for The Summer Queen by Joan. D. Vinge


Until the moment I drafted this part of this post, I thought I had a nice, neat Top 5 for 2014.

My paper reading journal says I gave THE SUMMER QUEEN five stars, but I only entered a 4.5 rating into LibraryThing. The latter appears to have stuck, both in my memory and during my review-writing process, but damned if I can leave the book off the list. There were times when I thought I hated it, but that was mostly because I was trying so bloody hard not to care. Fiction hurts less if you don't care.

Thing is, it also means less if you don't care. THE SUMMER QUEEN means a hell of a lot.

I can't get it out of my head.

Additional Shout-Outs

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, sits beside a white Kobo with the cover art of Hawkeye 18 on its screen

First and foremost: L.A. WOMAN by Matt Fraction and Annie Wu. (Yeah, I know Murchie appears alongside one of the RIO BRAVO issues. That is Kate's villain, though, so we're gonna roll with it.) I couldn't include it above because I haven't been able to read the ending, but I'll be shocked as hell if it's not a 5-star read. You can probably look for it on my Best of 2015; certainly the Long List, if not the Top 5.

This arc forced me to add Kate Bishop to my (Highly Exclusive) List of Favourite Literary Characters. Kate Bishop is amazing and wonderful and I will not hear a word spoken against her. Not a word.

Also? Lucky, aka Pizza Dog, is the second best animal companion in comics. If you don't love Pizza Dog, there is something wrong with your soul1.

Murchie lays beside a paperback copy of Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.

Second and leastmost: BOY, SNOW, BIRD by Helen Oyeyemi. It was my best book of 2014 until the last twenty pages, when it devolved into a transphobic mess that tainted the whole damned thing.

I will never, ever, ever stop being angry with BOY, SNOW, BIRD.

Third and finalmost, and sans picture: I compiled a Long List of the 46 books I rated 4.5 stars or above in 2014. It includes notable rereads as well as new-to-me titles.

Memory's 2014 Reading Stats

A few notes on methodology, first. I normally use Nicki's glorious and useful reading spreadsheet to calculate many of my stats, but a computer error wiped out both my working copy and my backup late enough in the year that I didn't want to retype all my information. I had much of it in hardcopy, since I also keep a paper reading journal and a running tally of certain stats, but I find it all too easy to make mistakes in that format. I double checked my POC and gender tallies in early December, but errors may still have crept in.

So far as ethnic diversity goes, I counted novels with POC authors, anthologies and literary magazines with at least one POC contributor, and comics where either the writer or the penciller was a POC.

By "comics" I mean "trade collections," not individual issues.

I handled gender a little differently this year. In the past, I've included books with authors, artists, or editors of multiple genders on both my female/non-male and male tallies. This year, any book with a female byline on the cover appeared only on my female tally, mostly because that's how my late, lamented spreadsheet did it.

Okay. Stats time.

I read 409 books and 107,259 pages overall. 199 of the titles were comics, so my prose totals remained about the same as always.

257 were e-books, 107 were library books, 26 were keepers (paper books I admitted to to allowed to remain in my personal collection), and 13 were sellers (books I passed along to others when I'd finished them).

There's some overlap between the e-book and library categories. The sellers category is smaller than usual this year because I made an effort to purchase only books I was reasonably sure I'll want to keep forever and ever until I die. Or books I couldn't get from the library; whichever. I also acquired far more e-books than paper books throughout 2015, due in large part to the Hugo voter packet and a 90% off sale at Kobo.

I reread 64 books. I abandoned 4 past the 100-page mark and a much larger number before that. (I only count a book on my yearly reading list if I made it at least 100 pages in.) I read 64 chunksters, 152 books with significant queer content, and 53 books in translation.

218 books earned 4-star ratings or higher, with 4 stars being my "I loved this" rating.

I read 205 books by POC authors, but only 147 books with POC protagonists. A definite imbalance there.

257 of my total books were by non-Americans.

Finally, I read 240 books with female/non-male bylines and 168 books with solely male bylines.

Genres and marketing categories break down as follows, with some overlap between them:

  • Fantasy - 221
  • Science Fiction - 174
  • Young Adult or Children's Lit - 59
  • Historical - 53
  • General Fiction - 33
  • Short Fiction - 33
  • Romance or Erotica - 26
  • Nonfiction - 13
  • Horror - 12
  • Poetry - 4
  • Crime Fiction - 3

My SF reading exploded this year, partly because of the comics and partly because I read little else in the month after I finished WARCHILD. Once I was reading things again, I mean.

2014 Goals In Review

My 2014 goals were pretty simple. First and foremost, I wanted to read awesome stuff and ignore anything that wasn't awesome. There were a few hiccups, especially once I got back into superhero comics and had to read through some dull arcs to get the full story, but for the most part I read great stuff and abandoned anything I didn't like. Usually within the first hundred pages.

Second, I wanted 25% of my reading list to be by chromatic creators. My numbers slipped a bit late in the year as I caught up some white authors I'd been neglecting, but my final total still came up to 50%. Reading diversely doesn't have to be hard if you dig around, ask for recs, and follow authors and artists whose work you've come to love.

Third, I wanted to use my library as a proving ground whenever possible. This worked brilliantly. If the library owned my desired book, I borrowed it instead of buying it. If they didn't, I bought it from a charity booksale, a local indie, or when it was discounted on Kobo. Consequently, I saw a dramatic reduction in both the amount of money I spent on books I didn't end up adding to my library (or even reading in their entirety) and the number of books I passed along to other people.

Fourth, I read only female (or non-male) bylines in January. It was a great success, and I'd like to aim for a similar month at some point in 2015.

Fifth, I wanted to read more crime fiction. I failed miserably. Maybe 2015 will be better.

2015 Reading Goals

Read awesome stuff. Ignore anything that isn't awesome (with the possible exception of comics I've gotta wade through for more stories about my faves).

Read at least 35% POC in 2015. (Aiming low often helps me achieve stellar results. I figure I'll increase my actual goal by 10% per year for the next few years in the hopes I'll end up beating it by a large margin. It worked well on the non-American writers front.)

Read some frickin' crime fiction. Appearances to the contrary, I love crime fiction.

Destroy la TBR once and for all. I want to read intuitively, slipping from book to book with nary a care for the dozens lying unread on my floor because I won't have dozens lying unread on my floor. To this end, I'll let myself add a maximum of two books for every five I knock off of there, with two major exceptions: I'm allowed to add as many comics as I like, and I can add additional novels by POC if I find my numbers slipping. My 2014 reading left la TBR very white.

How was your 2014? What were your top reads of the year?

  1. It's okay if you don't like Pizza Dog! I was being hyperbolic! You're free to love or hate whoever you want to hate.

    As long as you don't hate Pizza Dog. Or Lying Cat. Or Nighteyes (who is the best animal character in all of fiction).

    (No, no, that's hyperbole again. Hate whoever you wanna hate.) (Or do I really mean that?)


  1. Love reading your stats - I need to start keeping track so thank you for the link to the spreadsheet. And I am SO in awe of your reading powers. You read so many books! Wow. I'm aspiring to a fraction of your total reads in 2015, and I'm already wondering if I made the number too high :)

    1. That spreadsheet is pretty well the best thing ever. I was devastated when I lost my 2014 data.

      Like I told you before, comics and audiobooks are basically the big secret behind how much I read. I listen whenever I do anything hands-on--cleaning, crafting, cooking, etc--and whenever I walk anywhere. (Walking/listening time dries up in the winter as it's too cold to be outside for long.) And comics generally take me less than an hour per trade, depending on how densely each page is populated. Manga and superhero comics generally use lots of action-oriented panels and splash pages, so I can get through 'em pretty quickly.

      This year, I want to keep one tally with comics and one without. I imagine my gender stats, in particularly, will differ wildly between the two lists.

  2. I really want to read The Magician's Land but I read the first two in audiobook and really want to read the third that way, too, but the library isn't really cooperating! I shall have to find a way to do it.

    I also need to read A Game for Swallows! I had never heard of it before this week and now it's the second time I've seen it at the top of a list.

    1. Libraries, man. They can be so recalcitrant.

      I get the feeling A GAME OF SWALLOWS spreads mainly by word of mouth. I heard about it from Lu, who I know has encouraged others to read it as well.

  3. I'm not sure my one 5 paw book in 2014 was the absolute best either. There were others that I rated just a tad lower that have stuck with me more--mostly because they touched something inside of me.

    I have The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge in my TBR to read one of these days. Then maybe eventually I'll get to The Summer Queen. :-)

    I enjoyed reading through your stats, Memory. I hope you have a wonderful New Year!

    1. Same to you, Wendy!

      I think you're going to love THE SNOW QUEEN. It's one of my favourite books of all time.

  4. Nobody could hate Pizza Dog or Lying Cat. That would be madness. I too have resisted reading more Saga because I have heard that bad things happen. One bad thing in particular. I am trying not to believe it but it sounds horribly true.

    1. I wonder if you and I are scared of the same bad thing? I didn't end up reading (and rereading) the series yesterday, but I'm going to make a real, honest attempt to do it this weekend.

  5. You're doing such a great job when it comes to diversity - I'm hoping to do the same in 2015! I'd really like to have 50% diversity and I'm working on it. But that does mean reading less books from my own shelf, which is, sadly, very white. I'm also going to do better about buying books by POC. And buying comics. I want to increase my collection, but decrease my collection of books. I always thought the dream was having so many unread books so you never run out of things to read. Turns out THAT IS NOT THE DREAM. For some reason, they just feel like a chore! I want to read the books from the library! One day I will have read all the books I own and then I can just go to the bookstore and pick up my next read! Or go to the library! THAT is the dream.

    A Game for Swallows made my year end list, too. It was so powerful. I'm also very intrigued by Ember! Putting it on my list.

    1. Yes! Exactly! I used to assemble huge piles of unread books, but I realized that was far more stressful than not because I feel tied to them; like I have to read them all before I can have any more. So I ditched as many as I possibly could, and I aim to finish off all the rest so I can grab whatever I want at the library without feeling like I'm ignoring other obligations.

  6. I thought you'd like to know you've done terrible things to my Mt TBR and wish list this year. :)

  7. Great short list and long list! I had a similar experience with Warchild--I rarely love books as much as that one and I'd be happy to read one book in a year that I loved that much.

    1. Like I told you on Twitter, I've already discovered a book I love maybe two or three hairs less (THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB by Genevieve Valentine.) I'm happy.

  8. 409 books! I'm fainting with jealousy.

    Crime fiction!! Can I recommend Queenpin by Megan Abbott? It has flappers and gangsters! And, like, murder-y lesbian overtones?

    1. Almost half of them were comics, and comics take me very little time to read. :) (Plus, at least half of those comics were me desperately trying to get my money's worth out of Marvel Unlimited. Mission accomplished!)

      Ooh, I am 100% on board for flappers and gangsters and murdery-y lesbian overtones, and my library has it! I shall read it at my earliest convenience. Which, um, might not be too early, given everything else that's piled up, but it will happen.