The Big 1,000

Whoa, it’s been a year since I wrote on WordPress. Well, it’s because I was busy with grad school and work stuff. But let’s kick this return off!

I never really kept track of how many books I’ve read over the last quarter of a century I’ve been around. Reading has always been a regular habit with me, like breathing, so I never thought to actually count how many books I’d read over my lifetime. While I suspected it was a large number, it wasn’t until I finally started a GoodReads account this year that I realized just how many. My current GoodReads number is in the 800 ballpark, but the thing is, I’m not done backlogging the books I’ve read and I know there are a large number of books I’m not remembering off the top of my head (I’m kind of caught between if I want to root through physical/online/GR collections for missing books I didn’t tag or just letting it go at the current stat). Plus, books I’ve read that aren’t “officially published” but posted online is somewhere in the range of ~200 if my collection of links and tags is up to scratch. So, all things considered, I might have hit the 1,000 mark somewhere late last year or early this year.

The craziest thing is trying to wrap my head around it… 1,000 books?! ONE THOUSAND BOOKS. WTF?

My friends and family rolled eyes at my announcement, to them that was hardly a surprising turn of events. They asked if I was out of stuff to read and were offering suggestions, but the truth is that I don’t feel like I’ve read all the books I’ve set out to read. There are tons of books still on my to-read list (i.e. A Song of Fire and Ice, Mistborn, Wheel of Time, etc.). But now every book read will feel anti-climatic.

At the end of the day what does this number mean to me? I never cared before about how much I read and thought about my reading in terms of numbers. Maybe I’ll just work to 5,000 from here? I doubt I’ll be reading as much as I do now when other life factors come into play. But I did manage to read 1,000 books in about a quarter of a century, and considering I couldn’t read for the first three years, I’d say that’s not too shabby.

What happened in the year 2000?

Any good literary analyst can tell you that books are snapshots of the time period they’re produced in, in spite of whenever or wherever the book takes place.

I knew that the writing style of historical romances circa the 1970s/1980s was different than the 1990s and then the 2000s.  The 70s/80s romance novels (historical or contemporary) were post second-wave feminism.  The tales from the 80s were skewed more toward dark, violent and tragic.  The 90s retained this grittiness but riding on the third wave of feminism were less abrasive in their violence toward women, and more about making women into complex characters.  The 90s met the take-charge heroine, and so came the fall of the damsel in distress heroine.  In the 2000s, there was a shift to fetish virginity and attach it to nobility of character and a dire need to make a martyr of the heroine with her always trying to save orphans, poor people and fallen women in the most conflated ways.

These are the trends I’ve noticed in the pop fiction, which really says a lot about the evolution of the perception of women by other women over the last two decades.  The current trend skews toward martyrdom and I believe that comes with the more pseudo-sentiment of community we’ve been espousing for the last few years.  The virgin excitement may come from a generation that is used to people not being virgins and finding that era’s norm a peculiarity.

I found these little things worth noting, because they really offer an insight into how women perceive themselves and how the values of a culture change over time.

Reviews, reviews, reviews…

We’ve all been led astray by resounding numbers of 5 star reviews of a book, only to discover our own marks would be closer to 2 or 3 stars, or a rarer occasion of upping a 2 to a 4.  That’s a large reason why I take reviews with a boulder of salt, sometimes the book is positioned incorrectly for its genre and people have a knee-jerk reaction to take away stars for that or they see the story with rose colored glasses since it fulfills a specific fantasy they have.

There’s another way I judge reviews to figure out if I’ll try the book or not — how articulate are the most highly ranked reviews?  Sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have customers vote for the best reviews to make it to the top of the reviews, so it gives a sense of whether the there’s a flood of disingenuous 5 stars when most people feel it’s closer to 2.  I use those reviews to determine what kind of writing people that read the book like — if the top review is articulate, precise and well-written, I’m more likely to give it a try than a review that was written clumsily.  This isn’t fool proof of course, because sometimes a story just doesn’t strike the right chords with you, or there aren’t enough reviews (I’d say as long as there is at least one extremely low and one fairly high, along with three others, this method works well enough).

So I secretly judge writers by their readers.  It’s been a pretty effective method so far, so I’ll keep using it.