Ringing out 2020 and ringing in 2021

My final tally for 2020 stands at 203 books and 63,225 pages. When I initially set my Goodreads reading challenge, I chose 150 books as the goal for the year. Since 2013, there has only been one year – 2018 – when I read fewer than 150 books. That year clocked in at 134. Because of the early spring lockdowns, I met that 150 book goal in August, and upped it to 200.

Aside from the overall challenge, I didn’t participate in any specific reading challenges except for a small genre challenge in one of my GR groups. I don’t do a lot of tracking of my reading – every year I see people make awesome graphics about their yearly reading by things like publication year, male versus female authors, genre, etc., and I am always jealous. But, by the end of the year, the prospect is really too daunting to accomplish.

One thing that I did do this year, that has been really interesting, is that I’ve kept track of how much money I’ve saved by checking out books instead of buying them. I acquired a library card when the pandemic started and have been extensively using the electronic hold system to request ebooks – to the point that I have saved $568.81 by not buying a number of the books I read this year. This doesn’t even begin to account for the number of books that I checked out, decided I actually wasn’t interested in reading right away and returned them unread to be re-requested later, if the mood strikes me.

I have added a couple of challenges to the wheelhouse for 2021, most particularly the Back to the Classics challenge. But, aside from that, I intend to continue essentially as I have been doing: reading a lot of vintage fiction, a lot of golden age mysteries, checking out books (especially more recently published books) from the library, and reading as my fancy takes me. Fingers crossed that 2021 is a better year altogether than 2020, even if it means that I read fewer books!

 

Back to the Classics: 2021

I participated in the Back to the Classics challenge for several years, until I lost my challenge mojo. Karen, who blogs at Books and Chocolate recently announced that she is hosting it again, for the 8th year. This aligns beautifully with my plans for next year, which I will be discussing in a different post altogether.

My initial plans for the challenge, although, as always, they are subject to change:

1. A 19th century classic: any book first published from 1800 to 1899: I will either be reading Elizabeth Gaskell or Anthony Trollope for this category. I haven’t settled on a book yet, though.

2. A 20th century classic: This will be something by author Stella Gibbons.

3. A classic by a woman author: I have many choices for this one, but I think I will hold on to one of my two final Willa Cather novels to fill it. Probably Shadows on the Rock.

4. A classic in translation: The Wreath, by Sigrid Undset, which is the first in her Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, and was originally published in Norwegian in 1920.

5. A classic by BIPOC author; that is, a non-white author: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.

6. A classic by a new-to-you author: I’ve been meaning to read something by Margery Sharp for years.

7. New-to-you classic by a favorite author. Something by John Steinbeck for this one.

8. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

9. A children’s classic: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin.

10. A humorous or satirical classic: Something by P.G. Wodehouse.

11. A travel or adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction): A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

12. A classic play: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie.

Reading plans for 2021

It’s that time of year again – I start thinking ahead to next year’s reading plans and goals. I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I had hoped in this year of reading, although I read a lot. I started with a goal of 150 books, and have increased it to 200 books. I am sitting at 187 right now, having just finished rereading Gaudy Night.

I’m really excited about my plans for 2021. My favorite Goodreads Group is trying something new with some selected quarterly “authors-in-residence.” The schedule is:

First Quarter: Alexandre Dumas & Stella Gibbons
Second Quarter: John Steinbeck & Ursula LeGuin
Third Quarter: Virginia Woolf & Philip Roth
Fourth Quarter: Mrs. Oliphant & Isaac Asimov

In addition to the authors-in-residence, I will be reading a number of books by John Steinbeck, since I have adopted him as my next author study. I am still not quite finished with Willa Cather, but I’m so close that it’s time to pick a new one. Fortunately, he managed to make it into the second quarter author-in-residence slot, so I can do double duty.

I will also be continuing with my Agatha Christie monthly reads:

January: 1924 The Man in the Brown Suit
February: 1925 The Secret of Chimneys
March: 1926 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
April: 1927 The Big Four
May: 1928 The Mystery of the Blue Train
June: 1929 The Seven Dials Mystery
July: 1930 The Murder at the Vicarage
August: 1931 The Sittaford Mystery
September: 1932 Peril at End House
October: 1933 Lord Edgware Dies
November: 1934 Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
December: Murder on the Orient Express

On the Agatha Christie Centenary Celebration group on Goodreads.

I am not sure if I will be doing any blog challenges or not. For years, I did the Back to the Classics challenge on my blog, and I’ve sort of gotten out of the habit. I’m not even sure if the challenge will continue in 2021, but I’ll try to track down the information when it gets a little bit closer.

I will update my plans as I develop them further!

2020 Reading Journal and other thoughts

If you aren’t interested in my personal thoughts on the U.S. Presidential election and the pandemic, skip to where it says TL/DR for the book commentary.

Like many people in the U.S., I’ve been struggling a lot with the two (related) calamities of 2020: the pandemic and the Trump administration. I am not a fan of President Trump (to put it mildly) and watching him weaken, and in some cases dismantle, government institutions that I naively believed to be bulletproof has been extremely disillusioning. The last few months have been a roller-coaster ride. I had hoped for a resounding and thorough pummeling of the authoritarian agenda being pushed by a Republican party that is in thrall to the maintenance of power over all other agendas, including that of saving American lives.

There was no resounding and thorough pummeling, although there was a solid Biden win that has, since, been continually undermined by Trump-style Republicans in the weeks since the voting concluded. My obsession with the election results and my dismay over the behavior of professional men and women who have decided to prey on the partisan gullibility of a group of Americans in an effort to overturn a legitimate election is just overwhelming. And the utter failure to meaningfully address the pandemic on a national scale is frankly unforgiveable.

This isn’t a political blog and I don’t want it to become a political blog. I will delete comments posted in an effort to defend Donald Trump because I’m not interested in a political debate here – there are a lot of places I am happy to engage in political debates. This isn’t one of them. I’m only including these first two paragraphs by way of a lead-in to the rest of this post and to explain my state of mind. Because my state of mind is…not good.

I’ve thought a lot about how to deal with my negative state of mind. A plan to completely ignore the world is both unrealistic and, while it would be possible for me to do this, is only a possible plan because I am an incredibly privileged person. So, I will not be taking this route. Having said this, I cannot continue to mainline dysfunction. I’ve put into place the following guardrails for myself: I have set up monthly donations to various organizations, including Planned Parenthood and Stacey Abram’s Fair Fight organization in Georgia which is working to turn out voters for the Senate run-off elections in January, and the Yellow Hammer Fund, which is an abortion access fund in Alabama; I have renewed my subscription to The Washington Post, and I read The Guardian as well, to get an overseas perspective. I am going to be turning off television news, and I am stepping away from social media for a few months. I did this last year and it dramatically helped my mental health.

TL/DR: the state of American politics and the unrestrained community spread of Covid is getting me down.

Now, on to books. My plan is to engage in some bookish hibernation this winter. Every year in September and October, I focus my reading on books that are atmospheric for the spooky season – mystery, suspense, horror, and supernatural. That time of year is over, however, and I’m ready for some bookish comfort reading. So, I’m going to indulge myself.

Right now, I’ve decided to revisit the Harriet Vane cycle of the Peter Wimsey books. Gaudy Night, third in the sequence, is one of my favorite books of all time! I started Strong Poison last night, and it’s already provided me with a figurative shot in the arm. I’m not sure I’ve ever read Busman’s Honeymoon – if I’ve read it at all, certainly I haven’t it read more than once.

My comfort reading is older fiction. So my plan includes reading some titles that have been published by Dean Street Press and that have been sitting on my kindle for a while.

In addition, I plan to dive into a few new projects very soon, including a Stella Gibbons project. This is fortuitous because, as it happens, DSP is reissuing five previously out-of-print books in January. One of the wonderful things about DSP is the price of their kindle editions. The typical price point is $3.99 a book, which is just incredibly affordable. I literally want to buy them all.

Look at those beautiful covers!

On top of those Furrowed Middlebrow titles, I will be dipping back into my collection of vintage mysteries, which are also comfort reads for me. There are a number of British Library Crime Classics that I am excited to read. I am also want to get back into my collection of Patricia Wentworth mysteries – I’ve read the first 18 Miss Silver mysteries, and I’m ready to move onto The Ivory Dagger. I have several of Wentworth’s standalones available on my kindle as well. And, of course, Agatha Christie’s mysteries are a perennial source of comfort for me – it’s all rereads at this point, but when all else fails, the Queen of Crime usually succeeds.

Posting to this blog can be very helpful to my emotional well-being, and when I stop posting for long periods it is usually a sign that things are not going particularly well with the various aspects of my life. We’re all struggling right now. I hope that everyone who reads this is finding a way to cope.

Throwback Thursday: 2013

I have started migrating a lot of posts and other bookish stuff over here from other places, including my challenge lists for the last 7 years, starting with 2013. They are currently in one of two places: Booklikes or Goodreads. With the Booklikes instability, I feel like I need to get whatever I want to save over here before it is too late.

So, over on the sidebar of the blog, you can see a widget that will ultimately house the more or less complete record of my reading since 2013 – it’s currently a work in progress. I say “more or less” because I’ve never been all that diligent about making sure that I keep my challenge completely up to date. But even a good record is better than no record at all.

So, for Throwback Thursday, I’ll be selecting some older posts or book updates to repost over here. Today, I’m going all the way back to 2013!

Title: Burial Rites
Author: Hannah Kent
Published on September 10, 2013
Read: November 2013

What I wrote then: This was my favorite book of November. I really recommend it. It is a historical fiction set in Iceland in the 1800’s, and is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, a woman who has been convicted of murder and is scheduled for execution. There is no place to house her, so she is sent out to a farm to live out her final days before execution.

Hannah Kent based the book on the true story of the last woman who was executed in Iceland in 1830. There is no happy ending, of course, but the book is well-worth reading. It is a bleak tale, but is well-written and compelling.

What I think now: I stand by this recommendation and I still remember this book. It has stayed with me.

Title: Death and the Girl Next Door
Author: Darynda Jones
Published October 2, 2012
Read July, 2013
What I wrote then
: A decent beginning to a new series.

Stronger at the start than at the end. I enjoyed the characters a lot, I really liked Brooklyn and Glitch. The family dynamic with the grandparents was delightful. No DLT.

I am not, however, a huge fan of angel stories so I’m not sure if this will be sustainable for me. The ending, with the reveal of the Sanctuary, which is a bit too cultish, and the whole demon possession thing didn’t really work for me.

I snagged this one for 2.99 during a sale period. It was definitely worth the $3.00 I paid for it, and I will read the sequel. I hear really good things about Darynda Jones’s adult series, so maybe I’ll try that one next and see how they compare.

What I think now: I have never read another book by Jones, so I guess I wasn’t that interested.

Title: How To Lead A Life of Crime
Author: Kirsten Miller
Published on February 21, 2013
Read June, 2013

What I wrote then: A stand-alone! This is an Oliver Twist’esque tale with a snappy and brilliant protagonist named Flick. The grownups are all venal hypocrites, the students manipulated jackasses. Over all, though, it was an entertaining read.

Surprise ending. Nice.

What I think now: I barely remember this book, but I do remember that it was a fun read.

Title: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Published April 2, 2013
Read June, 2013

What I wrote then: Are there really people like this in the world? Because I may be from a small town, but frankly, there wasn’t a single character in this book who wasn’t a self-absorbed, materialistic, pain in the ass. It’s a fantastic read, very involving, but they all suck. Except the detective. He actually seemed pretty nice.

What I think now: This was one book in a long trend of authors writing about awful people with no redeeming characteristics, started by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl. I’m over the trend and have forgotten everything about this book except that I hated nearly everyone in it.

Classics Spin #22

This will be my first spin from my second Classics Club list. The Rules for Classics Spin:

The rules for Spin #22:

* List any twenty books I have left to read from my Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 22nd December the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book I need to read by 31st January 2020.

So, my list:

1. Possession by A.S. Byatt
2. Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
3. The Semi-Attached Couple by Emily Eden
4. Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
5. Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer
6. The Rising Tide by Molly Keane
7. Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamund Lehmann
8. The Towers of Trezibond by Rose Macauley
9. Beloved by Toni Morrison
10. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
11. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
12. The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West
13. The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
14. Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp
15. Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey
16. At Mrs. Lippincotes by Elizabeth Taylor
17. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
18. Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim
19. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
20. The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns

Reading Plans for 2020

For the first time in ages, I’ve decided that I am not going to participate in any yearly challenges, and I’m just going to read what I want, when I want. I wasn’t particularly successful with last year’s challenges – and I haven’t posted to this blog in more than six months.

I still generally love the kinds of books that are the subject of All The Vintage Ladies, though, and I’m going to move forward with my existing reading projects, so long as they fit into what I want to read! I will keep plugging away at the Century of Women project, and I’ve whittled down my new Classics Club list to 75 women authors. I will start the clock ticking on 1/1/2020, and aim to finish by 12/31/2024.

Re-Joining the Classics Club!

I previously joined The Classics Club back in September of 2012, with a list of 50 books to read by December, 2017. I easily hit that goal, back on August 30, 2015. At that point, I was blogging on a different blog, which was self-hosted. I recently shut down that one after republishing everything onto a free blog. You can find my challenge list here, as well as my finish line post, which identifies all of the books, and a short recap of the project.

When I was considering projects for this blog, I decided to rejoin the Classics Club, with another 50 classics to read in 5 years. The project officially commences on 12/1/2018 and will finish on 11/30/2024. You can find the list of classics under the tab at the top of the blog, which you can also find here. In keeping with this blog theme, they were all written by women.