In total nerd fashion, I keep track of what I read every year. I've been doing this since 2001, believe it or not. Back then I was a busy college student and I started by only tracking novels I had read that year. Two. I read two novels in 2001. Embarrassing, I know. The following year I did a bit better, both in terms of what I read and how well I tracked it. I stick to keeping track of things I read in their entirety. I also wanted to branch out and make sure I was reading a variety of things. As a result I added a lot of categories like short stories, non-fiction books, and audiobooks.
As I look back on 2016, I definitely got to read some good books and stories. I read Aldous Huxely's classic sci-fi/dystopian novel, Brave New World. I know, I know, I should have read that ages ago, right? Well, yeah, sure. But then there's always going to be some book I "should have read already." It's never too late, and I'm not about to hide behind some sort of pretension that I'm as well-read as anyone out there. There are plenty of people far more well-read then me. The exciting thing about reading something like Brave New World at this point in my life is that I think I'm able to experience it with a more seasoned mind compared to my reading in my teens and twenties. For this reason, Brave New World stands out to me as my favorite novel I read for the first time this year. I say, "favorite I read for the first time," because I did revisit some old favorites this year. While I worked for endless hours, often alone, over the course of several months on the emergency renovations my house required, I needed to disappear into a different world where I knew I'd experience something worthwhile. So I took Ron, Hermione, and Harry along with me on my adventures in becoming a general contractor by necessity and they in turn distracted me from the crushing boredom of hanging drywall, laying tile, painting, and so forth. Nothing like hanging drywall alone and bawling your eyes out when a character you've grown to love (again) meets their untimely end. That was actually my fourth jaunt through the Harry Potter audiobooks. I also revisited The Hobbit. Yup, cried at Thorin's dying words to Bilbo too.
My favorite non-fiction work I read this year has to be Sarah Ruden's incredibly insightful, engaging, and challenging book, Paul Among the People. Ruden draws from her literary/historical background to bring about what strikes me as a far more appropriate reading of Paul's words in the New Testament. And since the guy wrote the majority of the New Testament, it's kind of an important thing to try to really understand where he might have been coming from and what he might actually have been getting at. Ruden goes to great lengths to make connections traditional theologians lacking in the depth of cultural context she has can only hope to bring to any discussion on Paul's writings. In my notes I make after reading each book, I put down, "Completely changes how I read the NT." And I mean that in the best possible way. It can be so challenging to read Scripture with any real sense of original context. I'm so often encumbered my by thoroughly modern lens that I can miss the truly powerful, progressive, subversive, and revolutionary message undergirding Paul's contributions to Scripture.
My favorite short story of the year is a sci-fi short by a friend of mine, Frank Wu, called "In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary". Frank and I met a few years back when I was out promoting a short film of mine on the streets of Boston. He reached out to me via email and eventually we worked together on a different short film on which I was serving as cinematographer. We've kept in contact ever since. So when I saw that Frank had written a short story that was being published in my favorite sci-fi magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, I just knew I had to grab a copy of that issue. I ended up grabbing both a digital and physical copy. I was not disappointed. In fact, I was blown away! Frank has managed to craft one of the very best sci-fi short stories I've ever read, and I read a lot of sci-fi shorts and novellas. "In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary" is a beautiful and haunting story of a seemingly sentient ocean-researching robot (a more reflective Wall-E who swims) who has fallen in love with his programmer. But the story expands from there into a powerful and chilling tale of what life on Earth beyond (maybe in spite of) humans beings might look like. I was incredibly moved. I'm also crazy jealous that Frank managed to get published in Analog, a magazine I have submitted to in the past but have yet to manage to get a story into. Frank, your story has lit a new fire in my heart. Excellent work! Okay, so what does the breakdown of my year look like? Here's a look at general categories:
So I didn't read a lot of graphic novels this year and I read no screenplays. To be fair, the only screenplay I read in 2015 was the draft of a feature script a friend wrote and asked me to read and give him some feedback on. But I'm planning on reading some screenplays in 2017. I got my hands on an older draft of Arrival I'm looking forward to reading at some point.
Just for fun, here's a look at how I did in 2015:
My favorite novel in 2015 was A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins. My favorite revisit was the audiobook for The Martian. My favorite sci-fi short story was "How to Get Back to the Forest" by Sofia Samatar. And my favorite non-fiction book was What is Relativity by Jeffrey Bennett.
One of my objectives in tracking my reading and looking back at what I have and haven't read is to try to strike some sort of long term balance so that I'm not only reading novels or non-fiction books, or even just the same types of novels or non-fiction books. I want to get back to reading more plays (I've got a whole book of Arthur Miller plays on my shelf calling to me). This also allows me to go back and consider what I'd like to revisit at some point. After all, one of the most influential non-fiction books I read several years back was C. S. Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism in which he strongly advocates for the value and importance of rereading books we really connected with. Okay, time to get going on 2017. I think I finally have time to sit and read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.