For the last several years, I’ve kept track of my reading habits via Goodreads. It’s a website for confirmed bibliophiles like me — you can not only track what you are reading, but what you might like to read, find reviews and recommendations, take literature-themed quizzes, and enter giveaways for free novels. (I’ve won five times!) Every year it also hosts a “reading challenge” competition, in which you challenge yourself to read (X) number of books, where (X) is the number you think you can read and/or will impress your friends on the site. They provide a handy widget for you that tells you how far along you should be in your challenge and how (inevitably) far behind you are.
You may not know this about me, but I have a competitive streak 8 miles wide. If I read 12 books last year, I need to read 20 this year. So any sort of automated counting competition is pure catnip for me. In 2012, I read 75 books, which was 15 books over my 60 goal. So for 2013, I set myself a (reasonable to some people) goal of 80.
Which I totally failed on. A major international move, being without my husband for most of the year, losing two dogs and the introduction of my mother temporarily into my household was shockingly (I know!) unconducive to reading. Towards the end of the year, I had to accept I was just not going to be able to beat my own record, a fact which propelled me into a gummy candy spiral.
Of the 68 books I did manage to consume some of them fell into The Bad (Part 2) and far fewer into The Good (Part 3). Most titles I read fell squarely into The Meh category – the kind of books that are inoffensive and maybe even enjoyable in the moment, but you don’t remember for long afterwards, until you look over your log and go “I read that?”
Part 1: The Meh
Death Comes to Pemberley – PD James
I feel terrible saying anything even remotely negative about PD James, the mystery novelist who gave us The Children of Men, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, and Innocent Blood. I was quite excited to hear that she was writing a sequel, of sorts, to Pride and Prejudice, setting a murder mystery amid the Pemberley grounds. More Lizzie! More Darcy! Murder! The resulting tale is a bit of a snore. Definitely not worth the use of three exclamation points. There is not nearly enough Lizzie in the book, who is largely left offstage during the investigation. The return of Wickham and Lydia is almost predictable and strangely unsatisfying. The murder has no real threat to either Lizzie or Darcy, nor does one think any author would write a sequel in which something terrible happened to either of them. An interesting exercise, but light on the re-readability.
The Bling Ring – Nancy Jo Sales
This one is probably my own fault. I’m a sucker for a good gossip. When Sofia Coppola released her adaptation of the real-life story of a gang of spoiled rich kids who robbed celebrities for fun and profit, I was reminded of Sales’ fabulous Vanity Fair story that turned into this non-fiction book. I was expecting a gossipy tell-all written in the style of Confidential, and I got a well-reasoned and well-intentioned book about a bunch of dumb kids who stole a bunch of shit for giggles. In 2009 the story seemed exciting and fresh. In 2013, I just felt alternatingly bad and bored by the travails of kids who did stupid teenager shit on a massively public scale and got caught because they weren’t particularly bright.
Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos, and Beautiful Redemption – Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
This is definitely a series of diminishing returns. I really liked the first book and its Southern take on magical traditions, as well as the female MC’s decision to literally rewrite her own fate. There was some charm in the two main characters’ relationship and interest in flipping the “girl pines over unavailable and cursed guy” trope. There was promise in the premise. But the resulting books fell into a common YA problem – sequel bloat, sky-high stakes that are always righted, an out of control cast, and muddled direction. I remember reading these and was surprised to find out that I read them all last year. I had completely forgotten about it. Not really a good sign that the books were in any way compelling.