Lists, Logs, and First Books of the Year

Lists and Logs:
I decided to keep a reading notebook for 2018. Handwritten, of course, and then share bits and pieces here and on Ink in My Coffee.

Not because I want to boast. But I want to see what I choose to read, whether for pleasure or because I’m paid to read it, or for research for a project. I also want to see how certain books lead to other books.

Some of these books will lead to a new, upcoming feature called “Conversations with a Book.” Sometimes, when I read a book, I feel as though I’m having a conversation with the book or its author. I plan to share some of these with you this year.

I couldn’t wait to start the book journal until January 1.

From December 22 to 31, I read 26 books. Doesn’t sound possible, does it, and I’m not boasting. I read a lot. I was hungry for words. I felt creatively tired, and knew that I’m on a brutal deadline schedule this year. I wanted to use other people’s words as fuel.

Three of them I am still reading — not yet finished. So I guess the actual total of completed reads is 23, not 26.

16 were non-fiction. That included two cookbooks (yes, I read cookbooks like most people read novels) and one biography that’s background for one of my novels.

One of the non-fiction books will result in a “Conversation with a Book” piece. I took extensive notes as I read.

8 were fiction. Of the fiction, 7 of the 8 were mysteries (the only non-mystery I read was re-reading A CHRISTMAS CAROL, which I do every Christmas Eve).

1 was digital, fiction, recommended by a friend. The rest were print books.

Four of the mysteries were a huge disappointment. In fact, one enraged me so much I don’t want to read anything else by that author, and I certainly won’t buy it. One of the others I liked a lot, one I thought was a lot of fun, and two I liked and respected, although I found them very sad.

11 were books I own; 5 of which were re-reads, 2 of which I bought because I wanted to, and 4 which were holiday gifts.

15 were library books.

What does that all mean?

I have absolutely no idea.

But several books led me to order other books, and we’ll see where that winds up.

First Book of the Year
For some reason, the first book of the year is important to me. I’m not sure when that started or why.

We usually give and receive books for Christmas and start reading them on Christmas Eve (we’re Icelandic that way). But the first book choice of the new year started mattering to me.

I remember living in Seattle in the mid-1980s and making a big deal of the choice. My first purchase and read that year was Gail Fairfield’s CHOICE CENTERED TAROT, which is still a favorite.

This year, in keeping with my resolution to read more poetry, my first read, shortly after midnight was LOCKSLEY HALL AND OTHER POEMS by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It’s a small, old volume that was a gift from a friend earlier this year.

I’d read Tennyson before, but this time the rose-colored glasses were off. I was surprised by my negative reaction. He’s supposed to be romantic, isn’t he? To me, the poems felt like the male narrator blamed the women in the poems for the narrator’s own weaknesses, while pretending to wrap it up in adoration for her. I want to do some more research — I think I may have another “Conversation with A Book” piece come out of it.

The book includes:
Locksley Hall
The May Queen
The Lady of Shalott (which, interestingly enough, was referenced in one of the mystery novels I read in the past few days)
The Lord of Burleigh
Lady Clara Vere de Vere

I plan to re-read them, several times, slowly, in the coming weeks, and research the questions that I came up with in response to the reading. I’ll let you know if I find any answers!

My first choice of novel was something that was given to me over a year ago, and I hadn’t had the chance to read it. I liked the title, and I was looking forward to it. Sadly, when I picked it up, I discovered it was written in the present tense. I loathe novels written in the present tense. To me, it’s the author standing there, screaming in my face, “Look at ME! I’m a such a great stylist!” instead of getting out of the way and letting me experience the book.

So I put the book down. I will give it to someone who can enjoy it. No, I’m not posting the title and author — I don’t believe in author bashing.

I picked up another novel I’d been given several years ago and not had the chance to read, LUNCH WITH ELIZABETH DAVID by Roger Williams, and I’m enjoying it.

Is your choice of first book of the year important to you? Why or why not? Have you read Tennyson? What are your impressions?

Do you keep track of what you read? What tools do you use? How do you find it helpful?

I’m asking because I’m genuinely curious!

First and Last Books of the Year

First and Last Books of the Year
by Devon Ellington

I always make a big deal about the first and last book of every year. I started doing this in my teens — I’m not really sure why. Choosing whatever book I wanted as the last book of a year, and choosing the first book to read in a new year feels meaningful to me.

Often, I will note on the flyleaf, where I write my name and the year I bought/read the book, if it is “the” book for December 31 or January 1.

The year I lived in Seattle, where I was so unhappy, I chose the “last” book of the year that still has significance in my life: Gail Fairfield’s CHOICE CENTERED TAROT. It’s one of the best tarot books out there (along with Janina Renee’s EVERY DAY TAROT and Rachel Pollock’s books on the Major and Minor Arcanas). That book not only had significance in the way I ended/started my year, but in the direction my life would take from that unhappiness.

I was wandering around Pike Place Market on New Year’s Eve, trying to talk myself out of being entirely miserable and hopeless. I don’t remember the name of the store in which I found it, but I remember seeing the title and the cover and feeling the significance: I wanted more choices. That particular book was a catalyst for me.

Both the last book of 2013 and the first book of 2014 were fiction, and both were gifts from a friend. The last book I read in 2013 was Val McDermid’s CROSS AND BURN, a breath-taking crime novel that doesn’t let any of the characters off the hook easily. My first book of 2014 was Robert Galbraith’s THE CUCKOO’S CALLING, another crime novel, and another one I enjoyed very much. (Of course, we now know that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for JK Rowling, giving her the freedom to try something new — it worked).

My second-to-last novel was Kim Edwards’s THE LAKE OF DREAMS — very different from the above, and quite lovely. She’s best-known for THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER, which I have not yet read, but now intend so to do. She doesn’t follow formula; she follows the growth of her characters. It was interesting to read this, as a writer, and see how being a literary fiction writer instead of a genre writer gave her a freedom with the organic character development she would not have otherwise had. Her protagonist, in particular, would have been forced into different choices by the genre if she’d been limited by genre. It showed the best of the freedom of the possibilities of literary fiction, without any of the pretensions.

I also started reading, on the first of January, ADAM BEDE, by George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans). A Victorian novelist who broke convention by living with her lover, this book is set in the late 1700s. I’d decided that I wanted to re-read Eliot over the winter, and catch up on the novels of hers I hadn’t previously read — I’ve only read THE MILL ON THE FLOSS and MIDDLEMARCH. So I read a biography of Eliot, and now I’m starting to read her novels in the order written. I’m fortunate because my grandmother gave me a complete set of Eliot novels published in 1887. I am turning the pages carefully, reading them slowly, savoring them.

A few paragraphs in the Eliot novel set me on a research course for what I think will be a new play. It’s amazing how the smallest anecdote can set off a spark of creativity.

First and last — significant, tone-setters for the year, even if we don’t see the patterns for awhile.

What was your final book of 2013? What will be your first book of 2014?