Starla Pointer - The year of 100 books
We’re four days into 2013. Read any good books yet?
I have. I just finished Tana French’s “Broken Harbor,” the first of dozens of novels and nonfiction titles I’ll be reading this year. I’m looking forward to them all.
In 2012, I completed 105 books by 73 different authors. Many were strangers to me until I stumbled on their names in the library or heard about them from friends.
They took me to Ireland and Sweden and England and China, as well as all across the U.S. They introduced me to different cultures and religions and ways of thinking. They entertained me and taught me and challenged me.
I’ve always read a lot, but this was the first time I ever tallied the number of books I read.
I did so because I wanted to be part of the McMinnville Public Library’s Centennial Reading Challenge. Twenty-two adults, 33 teens and 50 children completed the challenge, which required kids to read for at least 100 hours and teens and adults to finish at least 100 books.
A year ago, 100 books didn’t sound like that many — less than two a week, after all. But time wasn’t always on my side — I breezed through 39 books in the first four months of the year, when the weather made it easier to stay indoors reading; during the tomato whispering days of August and September, I averaged only six books a month. I had expected to complete the challenge by the end of October; in reality, I finished the 100th book on Dec. 16.
Work limited my pleasure reading, of course. I read, write, hear and consider thousands of words every day, and sometimes — not often — opening a book containing still more words was not appealing.
Mostly, though, I took my current book wherever I went, stealing time for a few paragraphs as I waited for the school board chairman to tap the gavel or the dentist to call me from the waiting room.
If you carry a book, you’ll reap a great reward: People will recommend other titles and other authors. I was three-quarters of the way through Carl Hiaasen’s “Basket Case” when I arrived at the dental office; my favorite hygienist, Dee, gave the Florida author a thumbs-up and suggested some of his other works.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by avid readers who are generous with their recommendations — and often, with loaning books. Jennifer handed me Ha Jin’s “Waiting” and said, “You’ve got to read this!” Racheal passed on one of her recent favorites, “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes. I loved both.
Sometimes I go looking for books about subjects that interest me.
For instance, I wanted to learn more about various religions, so I sought out titles though the library’s online catalog. I also asked for recommendations on Goodreads.com, a website on which readers can keep track of their books and find out about other users’ choices.
Those two sources helped me find novels such as “Kaaterskill Falls” by Allegra Goodman and “The Ladies Auxiliary” by Tova Mirvis, both about Orthodox Jewish communities; and memoirs such as Ira Wagler’s “Growing Up Amish” and Carolyn Jessop’s “Escape.”
Through the library, I ordered another book that fit this genre, “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” by Deborah Feldman. I was really looking forward to this one, probably more than any other book I ordered all year (local library card holders can easily order books from any library in the Chemeketa regional system). It was OK, but not great.
Not every one of my choices gets five out of five stars. But I enjoy most of my picks, and some make my all-time favorite list.
That list is getting a bit unwieldy. So I’m splitting it into two sublists, one for fiction and one for nonfiction.
From the 78 novels I read in 2012, it’s hard to select just a few. But the Mirvis and Goodman books stand out, as do “Care of Wooden Floors” by Will Wiles and Poppy Adams’ “The Sister.” And I can’t forget “Cop Killer” by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, “The Leftovers” by Tom Perrotta and the chilling “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis.
But best of all, fiction-wise, were the books by Henning Mankell. The Swedish writer is best known for his Kurt Wallander detective series; I happily worked my way through several installments. But he’s also written dark, moody general fiction, such as “Italian Shoes,” which I can’t leave off my lengthy list of favorites. Naturally, I went to the M’s when it came time to choose one last book to complete in 2012 — “The Man Who Smiled.”
As for the nonfiction sublist, several of the 27 books I read in 2012 are among the all-time greats. Steven Ujifusa’s “A Man and His Ship” made me consider the engineering that goes into building huge vessels. “Straphanger,” Taras Grescoe’s look at public transportation around the world; Andrew Blackwell’s “Visit Sunny Chernobyl”; and Erik Larson’s “Isaac’s Storm” helped me think about our impact on and interaction with the environment.
My top pick from the nonfiction list, though, is “The Devil in the White City,” also by Larson. He interweaves the story of one of America’s first serial killers with the details of the construction of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair — both interesting subjects on their own, but elevated to fascinating by Larson’s writing.
Starla Pointer is a News-Register reporter who covers education and the arts and writes about people. Her book reviews often appear in the Connections section on Fridays. Her 2012 reading list can be found on her Goodreads page — go to the “find friends” search area and hunt for “LikeTheDog.”