2015: By the Numbers

Another calendar year is in the books, and in just three more weeks, I will mark the completion of nine years of Book Chase blogging.  I am really looking forward to 2016 and the completion of a tenth year online talking about books, publishing, bookstores, libraries, and any other bookish topics that might come up.  I have greatly enjoyed the last nine years, and I truly treasure all of the friends and contacts I’ve made over the years.  Without you guys (and the wonderful internet that allows us to so easily find kindred spirits) none of this would have been possible – or nearly so much fun. I thank you.

As always, I enjoy looking at my year-end reading numbers because that process brings back such great reading memories – and 2015 was another of those good years filled with remarkable books that I will remember for a long time.  2015 will most be remembered, I imagine, as the year that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman was finally published – be that a good or a bad thing.  And, sadly, it was a year in which some of my favorite authors passed from the scene, something that seems to be happening to me with increasing regularity as the years fly by.

I’ve previously posted my Top 10 lists in fiction and nonfiction, but this is what the rest of the year looked like for me:
Number of Books Read – 118
Fiction – 84:
Novels – 75
Short Story Collections – 9 
Nonfiction – 34:
Memoirs – 10
Biographies – 3
Books on Books- 3
Sports – 3
Travel – 4
True Crime- 2
History –  3
Science – 3
Sociology – 3
Written by Men – 73
Written by Women – 41
Multiple Authors – 4
Audio Books – 2
E-Books – 32
Library Books – 46
Review Copies – 37
From My Shelves – 33
Translations: 6
Pages per Day: 100
Total Number of Pages Read (Excluding audio books) = 36,642 

I’m disappointed (as usual) by the small number of works by foreign authors that I read in the past year.  I did manage to read 17 books from other countries but 11 of those were published in either the U.K. or in Canada, and that seems too easy.  In addition, I read four from Italy, and one each from the Netherlands and the Philippines, but that’s something I really need to increase in 2016.  Yeah, we’ll see how that works out…oh, and I see a huge jump in the number of e-books I’m reading these days…32 of 118 means that 27% of the books I read in 2015 were of the electronic type.  That’s something I never thought I would see happen, and I’m not quite sure what to think about that.

Now it is time to move on to 2016…let’s do it!

Book Chase 2015 Fiction Top 10

2015 was a good year for new fiction.  My fiction reading ended up being a nice blend of some of my favorite fiction types: serious westerns, baseball stories, detective fiction, literary fiction, and great series additions from a couple of longtime favorites.  
2015 Fiction Top 10

1.  The Essential W.P. Kinsella – W.P. Kinsella – It is a difficult concept to explain to non-fans of the game of baseball, but there is a strong feeling of kinship between hardcore lovers of the game.  Kinsella is one of those people,and it shows in the beauty and sweetness of his baseball stories.  The man is a master short story writer and, thankfully, many of his stories are about baseball.  This collection covers the entire Kinsella range of writing – and it is wonderful.  Not just for baseball fans.

2.  Epitaph – Mary Doria Russell – I doubt there is a more familiar story from the Old West than that of the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”  It has been written about almost since the day it happened and has been the subject of successful movies from time to time.  Russell’s Epitaph offers the story behind the story by humanizing the main players on both sides of the gunfight.  Readers may be surprised to learn that almost everything they “know” about the incident is wrong…the truth is even better.

3.  House of the Rising Sun – James Lee Burke – Burke is one of the masters and his new addition to the Holland family saga is destined to stand as one of his best.  Hackberry Holland is a good man who sometimes does some very bad things while trying to correct the ills of the world.  House of the Rising Sun is his story, the story of a man right on the cusp of old age who wants to undo some of the wrongs he has done to others before it is too late to salvage some of the good he deserves.

4.  The Hot Countries – Timothy Hallinan – This latest Poke Rafferty novel is an especially nice addition to the series for fans who have followed Poke’s adventures from the beginning.  What makes the Rafferty series special is how Hallinan has allowed Poke and numerous supporting characters to evolve naturally over time.  Readers know them so well by now that reading a new Poke Rafferty novel is like catching up with old friends.  This one, though, features an unlikely cast of heroes that may surprise even longtime readers.

5.  Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff – Groff is a darling of the critics and it is easy to see why.  Fates and Furies tells the story of two people who seem to have always been destined to find each other.  Almost from the moment the two university students meet, they know that they will spend the rest of their lives together.  But that is only the “fates” portion of the story.  When Groff turns to the “furies” part, the reader is forced to wonder whether any two people ever really know each other.  Certainly, these two did not.

6.  The Fifth Heart – Dan Simmons – Simmons has done it again.  This one is another blending of fact, fiction, and magical realism that combines real life literary figures, like Henry James and others, with fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes.  James reluctantly works with Holmes in an attempt to find the truth behind the apparent suicide of the wife of Henry Adams.  But there’s more, much more to this literary thriller.

7.  Twain’s End – Lynn Cullen – Based upon historical fact, Twain’s End speculates about the mistress who was so important to Twain in the final years of his life – and why he and Clara, his daughter, suddenly decided to do everything they could to destroy the woman’s life.  Mark Twain was a carefully constructed persona that Samuel Clemens constructed to sell books and keep the money rolling in.  Twain’s End offers some insight into the real man behind that fictional character.

8.  The Hummingbird – Stephen P. Kiernan – The Hummingbird is a beautifully crafted story that combines three separate storylines to illustrate the impact that wars have on those forced to endure them.  While a hospice nurse tries to ease  the pain of an irritating old man, her husband struggles with the memory of what he did in Afghanistan.  But it is when the nurse begins to read a short book to the old man that it all makes sense to her – and to us. 

9.  Beautiful Trees – Nik Perring – This is the second book in a trilogy that will eventually include Beautiful Words, Beautiful Trees, and Beautiful Shapes.  It is so “beautifully” illustrated that it can be described as a picture book for adults, one that tells of the lifetime love one couple has for each other and the trees which so marked their time together.

10.  The Nature of the Beast – Elizabeth Penny – This is the eleventh Inspector Armand Gamache novel and it just may be one of the best in the whole series.  Gamache is struggling with his retirement and finds himself tempted to go back to work, maybe even to rejoin his policeman colleagues in Quebec.  But, in the meantime, the world will not allow him to rest.  Now, practically at his own doorstep in tiny Three Pines, he is faced with solving one of the most horrifying crimes ever.

Book Chase 2015 Nonfiction Top 10

2015 is one of those years when the bulk of my nonfiction reading was made up of memoirs and biographies…and, as you will see from my Top 10 Nonfiction list, I found some really good ones.

2015 Nonfiction Top Ten

  1. The Undertaker’s Daughter Kate Mayfield – an intimate look at what it’s like to grow up inside a small town funeral parlor.  Kate Mayfield explores the formalities of American funerals and body preparation as seen through the eyes of a little girl who had to know when to disappear into the background completely and when to be herself.  Surprisingly (or not), overnights at her house were prized by her friends.
2.  The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson – Notes from a Small Island, the big breakthrough book for Bill Bryson, is now twenty years old.  In this 2015 road trip, the author revisits many of the stops he made in Small Island and hits a few new places that he missed twenty years ago.  Bryson tries mightily to avoid comparisons, but that proves impossible and inevitably a little sad as the past can look so good when compared to the present.
3.  Deep South – Paul Theroux – Theroux, another veteran travel, this time focuses on America’s “Deep South.”  This is a region I’m very familiar with, and I was curious to see what a world traveler in Theroux’s league would make of it.  The author found a lot to like and a lot to wonder about.  I agree with most of his conclusions, but I also think that Theroux shortchanged the South’s residents a bit, too, especially when commenting on the number of readers, books, and bookstores there.  
4.  The Art of Memoir – Mary Karr – Mary Karr is best known for her previous memoirs (The Liar’s Club, Cherry, and Lit).  I have long believed that she is one of the very best at her craft and that she has been instrumental in making memoirs as popular with readers as they are today.  In this new book, Karr explains exactly how she does it and offers tips to aspiring memoir writers everywhere.  The best news is that she adds a good bit of new detail to her own story, one that has long intrigued readers like me.
5.  Dangerous When Wet – Jamie Brickhouse – Yes, it’s another memoir, and yes, it’s written by another former Texan who has moved to the East Coast.  And it is wonderful.  This one has its moments…and some of those moments are guaranteed to shock readers unfamiliar with the lifestyle that Brickhouse lived for so long in New York City.  But Brickhouse is first and foremost a great storyteller, and readers will find themselves lost in his world before they know it.
6.  Comin’ Right at Ya’ – Ray Benson & David Menconi – Ray Benson, a favorite son of Texas and Western Swing music, is in reality, as he himself puts it, is a “Jewish Yankee hippie” who reinvented himself to such a degree that his story reads more like fiction than fact.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, of all places, Benson first came to Texas at the invitation of country music’s Willie Nelson.  And the rest is history.  Music historians are likely to say that no one has done more than Ray Benson & Asleep at the Wheel to both preserve and to give new life to Western Swing.  Texas loves the guy…and claims him as its own now.

7.  Lights Out – Ted Koppel – This is the scariest book I read all year – bar none.  In it, Koppel explores what would happen if just one of America’s three large electrical grids were to fail for an extended period of time, and how easy it would be for one of the country’s enemies to make exactly that happen.  It is remarkably more likely that America’s next all out war will be a cyberwar almost invisibly waged rather than one involving ground troops.  This one is not for the faint of heart.

8.  Missoula Jon Krakauer – This is Jon Krakauer’s exposé of a problem plaguing college towns all across America: the rape of female students by men they see every day on their campuses.  Often these rapists are longtime friends of their victims…and often the rapes go unreported.  Colleges tend to protect male athletes accused, the entire college town usually rallies to the defense of these rapist-athletes, and prosecutors let it all happen.  This book will infuriate you.

9.  The System – Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyan – Touching on some of the same problems covered by Missoula, this is another indictment of big time college football.  Sadly, a university’s football team has more to do with a school’s public image than academic standards have to do with that image .  And because college football pays all the bills, not only for the rest of a school’s athletic program but for much of every other program, football is now a very big business – a business with all the corruption and cheating one would expect it to have.

10.  Lives in Ruins – Marilyn Johnson – Lives in Ruins is an inside look at modern archaeology through the eyes of someone just like the rest of us, one of the dreamers who wish they had somehow made a career digging into past lives and civilizations.  It is both eye-opening and inspirational in the way that it reveals just how difficult it is to break into the field – and to make any kind of real living from it.  Bottom line on this one is that it will make all the wanna be archaeologists out there want it even more.  And that is a good thing.