Saturday, January 1, 2011

When an era is not a year

Last year I mentioned my increasing boredom with end-of-the-year lists. I mentioned my main dislike of them. I did not mention an additional unease I have with them: what exactly is a reading year?

Despite my online presence, reading for me is something entirely personal. It's marked by personal events, is dependent on personal emotions, and happens when I personally have the time for it. Our lives aren't dictated as much by years as we'd like to think, they're dictated by personal occasions and eras: when I had that job, when I went on that vacation, when I took that course, when this major change in my life happened...These time periods can be as short as a few days, or as long as several years.

I was reminded of this last year, when I was surprised to discover that my first book of 2009 had been The Master and Margarita. Until that point, when I'd tried to summarize my year, I'd been naming completely other favorites - and yet The Master and Margarita quickly turned into one of my all-time favorites. It was just read in a different time period so I kept missing it. The same applies to this year as well. The books I read during Sci-Fi Month (and in the weeks after) don't belong to this year - they belong to the era before February (and started in December 2009). Just like there is one book that belongs to the February era. And then dozens belong to the March through October era. And then the post-November era.

I couldn't give a top-ten list of the year. Or top five. Or even just top 1. Every small era that officially existed in 2010 (some rolled over from 2009, some will continue to 2011) is its own "year". The reader I was at that time was completely different, goals were set, reached and reset, and my reactions to some of these books were entirely altered by the personal settings I may have been in.

So I'm not looking forward to my 2011 "reading year". That does not exist. I'm eager to continue with my "Post-November" reading era, because so far it's had one spectacular book, two wonderful books and a few pleasant ones. I am not certain when this particular reading mood will shift, but I'm confident that 2011 (for all its worth) will contain some interesting reading eras.

*Happy 2011!


  1. I really like your fresh, completely honest, opinions. Have added you to my bloggroll and look forward to lots of great discussions to come.

  2. I know what you mean. I too associate books and my feelings about them with whatever was happening in life at the moment. That said, I like consulting others' lists for possible new-to-me books, which I'm always looking for.

    And yes, Master and Margarita is one of the best books of all time!

  3. Hi Bibliobio! Interesting thoughts on what truly defines an era in reading-I think my reading would probably be more accurately defined by semesters than years (as I'm still in school), but the calendar year doesn't feel too awkward for my purposes.

    I followed your link from Boston Bibliophile and am adding you to my blogroll.

  4. I have to agree with you - I hate end of the year lists (though, in the interest of full disclosure, that didn't entirely stop me from planning a 2010 post this year). But until reading your post I was never able to verbalize why. I think you hit the nail on the head - they feel contrived. Not just in terms of an artificial timeline, but who and what goes on them.

    I've never understood what goes on a Best of List...Would a best of 2010 list mean only books I'd read in 2010? or only books published in 2010? do re-reads count? and what about repetition of the same names on multiple lists? Because, seriously, how many times can you see the name Philip Roth or Jonathan Safran Moers before you stop caring?

  5. I liked this post, it was very true. As much as "resolutions" make us believe that changing the date on our calendars will make us different people, it is more personal alterations that compartmentalize our time. And since I'm still in school, reading is very much dependent on what classes I'm taking and whether or not I have free time.

  6. Three cheers for this post! Of course, private (as opposed to school/studies-based) reading's strictly personal - and so it should be. I rather despair at all the 'read-a-thons' and 'this-book-must-be-read-as-it-is-shortlisted-for-X' etc. All serve to introduce pressure into what should be pleasurable. I've always felt it is best to discover and savour books at your very own pace.
    Love Bulgakov's 'The Master & Margarita', which I've read a couple of times and am planning to do so again (with trepidation, as it is so very long ago that I read it that I have a tiny but niggling fear of disappointment!). Am duly encouraged.
    Bonne année.


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