curvy_bookshelfNow that 2012 is through, it’s time to look back over a year of reviewing books. I said early in the year that I wanted to review at least 40 books and analyze my reading habits according to certain criteria.

In particular, I wondered how I would rate print books compared to eBooks, and books by male authors compared to female authors. I’m taking a look at the numbers later on in this post. To start with, here’s a list of this year’s book reviews, as well as a handy spreadsheet with each book and its rating out of 5 stars.

First, though, we need an overview. What were my thoughts about the books I read in 2012?

My Favourite Reads of 2012

To me, appreciating entertainment is different from enjoying it. Appreciation involves acknowledging an author’s or director’s craft – their facility with tone, characters, plot, etc. Enjoyment involves having fun with the story. There are books and movies that I’ve appreciated without enjoying and vice versa.

Luckily, my top 3 books of 2012 left me both happy and appreciative. They are…

The Steel Seraglio by Mike, Louise, and Linda Carey – How can a book in which a group of concubines form their own independent city-state not be awesome? You’ve got assassins and djinn and a woman who weeps tears of indelible ink. How can anyone not enjoy such a delightful stew?

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord – I love Redemption in Indigo for how much it confounded my expectations when I first read it, and for how re-readable it is. Almost every chapter or scene leaves me happy and giddy, delighted with the author’s light touch and deep understanding of human emotion.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – I loved this book’s main character and the author’s unique but thoroughly thought-out take on dragons. Seraphina featured propulsive plotting, realistic politics, and an amazing depth of detail. This book wins out because of its world-building.

Authors take note: all three of these books pass the Bechdel Test. If you want my seal of approval, you know what to do.

My Least-Favourite Reads of 2012

The best I can say about these books was that I was glad when they were finally over.

The Terror by Dan Simmons – This one was a slog. A huge slog. In some ways, it became my benchmark for the rest of the books I read this year: well, at least it’s not The Terror. Simmons’ characters and attention to detail were good, but, dear God, this book needed to be a lot shorter.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor – I’m mystified by the fact that this won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. The characters were unsympathetic, the pacing was poor, the plot holes were numerous, and the political underpinnings were sophomoric. Most damning, though, is this: there was not a single passage or line of this book that left me in awe.

Thought-Provoking Books

This type of book has to do more with appreciation than enjoyment, I think. Which books challenged my thinking, or brought existing topics to light in new and unexpected ways?

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – This was the first book of the year that I needed to read a second time to fully understand. I think I’ll need to read it a third time to make sense of all the literary allusions, but the connections that Bechdel makes between great literature, herself, and her father’s life are both astonishing and humbling.

The Universe Within by Neil Turok – This book is about quantum physics – of course it challenged me. It stretched my brain in all sorts of weird ways. Unfortunately, I think I’ll need a degree in physics to understand all this book has to say.

And now, we’ll actually take a look at the statistical breakdown of all the reviews.

Ratings Overview

Average rating for all books in 2012: 3.5/5 stars

  • Number of 5-star books: 6
  • Number of 4-star books: 11
  • Number of 3-star books: 20
  • Number of 2-star books: 3
  • Number of 1-star books: 0

For those of you wondering about the dearth of 1-star books, my policy is that if a book is bad enough to earn 1 star, it’s not worth finishing.

Rating statistics according to book format

  • Number of print books read: 21
  • Average rating for print books: 3.66 stars
  • Number of eBooks read: 19
  • Average rating for eBooks: 3.32 stars

Rating statistics according to author gender

  • Number of books by male authors: 20
  • Average rating for books by male authors: 3.25 stars
  • Number of books by female authors: 19
  • Average rating for books by female authors: 3.68 stars

Note: These statistics do not include The Steel Seraglio, which was written by 2 women and 1 man.

Rating statistics according to Type/Genre

  • Number of novels read: 20
  • Average rating for novels: 3.55 stars
  • Number of non-fiction books read: 14
  • Average rating for non-fiction books: 3.64 stars
  • Number of short-story anthologies read: 6
  • Average rating for short-story anthologies: 3 stars

Note: The anthology figure includes The Bone Spindle, which was a collection of both short stories and poetry.

Final Thoughts

There isn’t a big spread between all the various averages – my ratings appear to be pretty consistent across the board. I think this had to do with the fact that I was conscious of my book choices because I knew I would be doing this statistical analysis at the end. I wanted to make sure that my books were distributed evenly between different formats, author genders, etc. Sometimes I felt like I was trying to fill out a quota.

Overall, I think I succeeded in evaluating each book on its merits, and not just on name recognition or some other quality which leads to biased reviews. I may not have the clout of an organization like VIDA, but at least I know that I tried to stay honest.

What about you? What books did you think were notable (or notorious) in 2012?