January 20th, 2008

Relax!  Grab a Book!

2007 Book Recap

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Page count: 9,517 of targeted 12,500.

We're more than half a month into the new year and I've got two-going-on-four books under my belt already, so I suppose I ought to recap my reading from 2007.

I didn't set myself a number of books as a goal last year (as I did the year before, when I exceeded my goal of 50 by 1). I thought that would be a slight cop out, because I could always pad the list with slimmer books or quicker reads. I didn't want to do that, and I didn't want any excuse not to tackle some of the longer books that have been sitting on my shelf. I thought instead I'd set a number of pages as a goal, figuring 250 pages per book as a reasonable average.

I fell well short of my goal of 12,500 pages. It wasn't an unattainable goal by any means, but I spent about a month and a half watching movies in my spare time more than reading. And I didn't do as much reading as I could have during my exile from Britain. I documented 36 books and 9,517 pages. There was more reading I didn't document.

I began to read the Bible cover-to-cover last year. I've only gotten 475 pages, a little more than 10 books, into it. Hadn't documented it because, frankly, I didn't know how to count it. Does one count the Bible as one big book? Two books? A collection of books and epistles? I suppose one could make the argument that each of the first ten books (except maybe Ruth) is book-length, especially when one considers the tiny font squished into two columns on huge pages. By that reckoning, my total for 2007 is 46 books and 10,062 pages.

If I really wanted to pad my numbers, I could add about 40 or so pages of manuals and language books, about 200-300 pages in Beauty, and 20 or so in another book I'm reading, all technically part of 2007. That would be silly, though, and wouldn't get me that much closer to my goal.

Which of my 2007 books did I like the most? I'm thinking this might have to be a three-way tie between Catch-22, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The least? Probably Symbols of the Church. Which had the deepest impact on me? Without question, Dark Night of the Soul, for, while I can't claim to understand a lot of what is in it and found so much of it tedious reading, it actually changed the way I think about and approach certain things.

Of the 36 books (not counting the Bible), there were 32 unique authors. (I'm not counting editors and I'm certainly not counting the Fab Five.) Of those, 23 were new to me. Of the new authors, my favorites were Clarke, McCarthy, Heller, Lee, Day, and Endo; my least favorite were Bellairs, Clement, and Jones. I don't think there's any danger of my reading any more works by the latter, whereas I've already read a new novel by one of the former and look forward to more.

I've decided not to set any specific reading goals for 2008. I simply have too many things on my plate, with singing, work, languages, and more, to be concerning myself with reading quotas. That said, I will always have a book in hand, as usual. I thought about setting other sorts of goals, such as making sure every third book was non-fiction or having a certain number of books recommended to me by others. I decided, though, that I don't want to predefine my 2008 reading in any way. I will continue to catalogue what I read, because I enjoy doing so (and one or two of you might even enjoy reading these posts) and it helps me keep tabs on my reading, but I do so with no quantified goals in mind.

Now, on to 2008…

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 1

  1. Matheson, Richard — I Am Legend (161 pages)

Page count: 161.

This wasn't supposed to be #1 on my list for 2008. In fact, had my holiday gone as planned, this would have been #38 or #39 for 2007. But I didn't get as much reading done on my flights or in the US as I'd planned, and then I went and left Beauty in a restaurant in Cambridge (and haven't been able to find a copy in any library or bookstore in the UK, especially frustrating since I was within about 80 pages or so from the end), so I Am Legend slipped to #1 by default.

I hadn't really intended to read I Am Legend this time of year. I had been thinking for a couple of years that this would make good Halloween reading. But then the movie came out and I wanted to see it, but no way was I going to see the movie before reading the book! I finished the book in just a couple of days on Wednesday and saw the movie on Thursday.

What a fantastic book! I must say I was put off a bit by the way the book was marketed, but it is so universally praised I felt I must pick it up at some point. I'm glad I did. It's not at all what I expected. I Am Legend was being marketed (at least here in the UK before the movie was being talked about) as an action-packed horror story where the hero valiantly struggles against vampires at every turn. Instead, it was a marvellously crafted, intelligent, thought-provoking, dystopian psychological study reminiscent of Earth Abides.

The movie, on the other hand…. Well, I often wonder why Hollywood bothers to adapt books into movies if the film they're going to make is completely different. The only similarity, really, is that both feature one Robert Neville as a human survivor of some epidemic, besieged by blood-thirsty creatures that come out only at night. The movie makes no reference to vampires or biological adaptation or new societies and changes other essential elements of the story in small but critical ways. I am all for making changes in a movie adaptation as long as the book's integrity is respected (The War of the Worlds, The Lord of the Rings, The Virgin Suicides), but I cannot stand it when Hollywood changes the story significantly enough that the movie shouldn't bear the same name.

And why, oh why, does Hollywood feel the need to give I Am Legend a happy ending??? Let's completely pervert the meaning of the title by taking away Matheson's deliciously ironic ending and sticking in a vapid, Marley-enhanced, feel-good twist that completely undermines one of the central themes of the story!

I had No Country for Old Men with me at the theater, as I want to see that movie, too. Much to my chagrin, they showed a preview for it; fortunately, most of the scenes shown were from the first few chapters which I'd already read, but they showed just enough to annoy me. However, the preview gave me the impression that this movie respects the integrity of the book, unlike I Am Legend.

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 2

  1. Matheson, Richard — I Am Legend (161 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — No Country for Old Men (307 pages)

Page count: 468.

I didn't know what to expect of No Country for Old Men. All I knew was that (1) there's a movie out based on the book, and (if it's something I'm at all interested in reading) I always try to read the book before I watch the movie, (2) I enjoyed McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Road, and (3) McCarthy's books, aside from The Road, have a reputation for being excessively violent.

I was blown away by No Country for Old Men! (No pun intended.) McCarthy's style is essentially the same as in The Road — Is that good (consistent)? bad (manneristic)? neither? — but the story is completely different. (Well, at least in the sense that The Road is an account of survivors in a bleak, dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, whereas No Country for Old Men captures a sense of helplessness in a mad, dysfunctional, modern world.)

I was afraid that No Country for Old Men would devolve into bloody action-thriller pulp. It doesn't. Yes, it is extremely violent, but the violence serves a purpose. In a stroke of genius (which I at first found baffling until I realized I had been missing the point of the novel), McCarthy practically omits the climax of the story, underscoring a central theme by alluding to the novel's pivotal violent event almost as an afterthought rather than describing it with the same painstaking detail as elsewhere. The overall impression after reading these two novels is that McCarthy is an important writer and I should be on the lookout for more of his stuff.

One thing bothers me ever so slightly about McCarthy's style. In both novels I've read, he seems rather arbitrary in his use of apostrophes and quotation marks. While he seldom (if ever) uses quotation marks, he will go 50-100 pages without apostrophes (neither in contractions nor possessives) and then suddenly allow us a few punctuated pages. If this is supposed to serve some purpose (some way to illustrate character or scene, perhaps?), I don't know what it is. I don't want to believe that it's some sort of editorial oversight or stylistic inconsistency.

I am now very much looking forward to the movie. The previews looked promising, and the story lends itself well to the big screen, so I am hopefully Hollywood will get this adaptation right.