Taking Stock of My Reading Loose Ends

Last year was a hell of a year for me in regards to reading, but as a result, I now have a very long list of books that I need to read so I can tie off the loose ends of series that I haven’t finished. Somewhere along the way I got caught reading the first or second books of a bunch of series without reading all the way through. It might have had to do with trying to keep things fresh while reading 100 books, or it might have been laziness. It’s probably a little bit of both if I’m being honest.

Going into 2014 I had series I hadn’t finished, then I added a bunch more, and now I’m sitting on a pile of… 24 separate series where I have at least one book, often more, that I need to finish in order to finish things. Some of these series are ones that are not fully published yet, but I want to be caught up with the most current book so it will be more manageable to stay current in the future. Across these 24 series are a total of… 67 books. Reading nothing but the books in this backlog could fill my entire 2015 on their own, leaving me with no room for new releases by my favorite authors or new books in series I am actually caught up on. It’s a very large conundrum for me. I don’t like leaving things unfinished in this regard, especially when I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read so far.

The real question is how I go about tackling such a bit list of books. I don’t really want to add to the backlog of unfinished series, so I’m working really hard at not starting any new ones that have more than one book currently published. So far I’m doing okay with that, but at some point I’m really going to want to read things like The Gentleman Bastards books, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I think the only feasible solution is to find some sort of middle compromise. If I can decide on some of the backlog I really want to read first and work to mix one or two of them into every month this year I think I can make some serious progress. For example, the following 11 books would catch me up or finish ten lingering series:

  • The Pillars of Sand by Mark T. Barnes
  • The Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
  • Fairest: Levana’s Story by Marissa Meyer
  • Symbiont by Mira Grant
  • Fragments by Dan Wells
  • Ruins by Dan Wells
  • Dragons of Spring Dawning by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  • iD by Madeline Ashby
  • The King by David Feintuch
  • The Mortality Doctrine: Rule of Thoughts by James Dashner
  • The Revenge of Seven by Pittacus Lore

If I were to focus my initial efforts on those ten books I would cut my unfinished series number by nearly 30% over just a few months. Sure, it isn’t like reading the last five books in a single series, which takes a lot more effort, but it would be measurable progress and put me in more comfortable position as far as numbers are concerned. After taking care of these one-offs I could just randomly pick a series with three or more books left and start methodically working my way through them.

Now, beyond the one-off books on the series backlog, there are a few series I’m very eager to actually get finished sometime soon.  Some of them have been on this list for a really long time, a couple of years in some cases:

  • The Unincorporated War by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin
  • The Unincorporated Woman by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin
  • The Unincorporated Future by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin
  • Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Third Lynx by Timothy Zahn
  • Odd Girl Out by Timothy Zahn
  • The Domino Pattern by Timothy Zahn
  • Judgment at Proteus by Timothy Zahn

Those books are ones that definitely got left behind because I was rushing to read other things and then never managed to circle back. I’m an unabashed Timothy Zahn fan and I loved the first book of the Unincorporated series much more than I thought it would be.

However, there are some series in my backlog that will simply take forever to catch up on, things like the entire The Dark Tower series after the first book and the entire second half of the Dresden Files from the eighth book onward. I really like the Dresden Files books, but they all melt together when I read multiple in a row and I’m still rather skeptical of The Dark Tower books after having read the first one, but I sort of want to see what happens as the series progresses.

I think my end goal for 2015 is going to be to trim the backlog by about 50% if I can manage it. That would leave me with about 10-12 series left to finish and most of those would be the bigger ones and I’d feel a lot better about tackling them more slowly. If I can pull off that type of a reduction in series backlog this year I will be so happy with myself. Maybe I’ll even have the chance to start one or two new series that only have a couple of books and be current with them so I don’t add back to the list at any point.

Advertisements

Lessons Learned by Reading 100 Books

In 2014 I had a reading goal to read 100 books. There are not a lot of people who can claim reading 100 books in a single year, and I count myself rather lucky to be able to include myself as one of those people. For a decent portion of 2014 I had real doubts as to whether I would reach my desired goal, but I did manage to pull it off thanks to a particularly spectacular month of reading last October.

The year started out strong and I stayed at a pretty good pace of getting books read, finished, and out the door. However, in the middle of the year I started to fall behind, coming one or two books short of pace for a few months in a row and eventually saw myself nearly a full month of reading behind. As the year got into its later months I had to make a decision: Do I just give up on this now, or do I make one big push in October and see if I can get back on pace? I decided to give it my all in October, with the idea that if I could get 100% back on pace I would stick it out for November and December and get to the 100 books read mark. If I fell short in October, I was going to cut my losses.

Here is a chart showing how things went for the entire year:

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
7 9 9 8 6 7 8 7 8 16 10 6

Every single month in that chart should have had an 8 or higher, but you’ll notice several months where I only got 7 books finished, and a couple with only 6 complete. That’s why October had to basically be a double month of reading. I did a valiant job trying to stay on pace, but coming up just one book short over the first 9 months of the year really added up towards the end. Thankfully, I can say that October might have been a beast of a month where I came very near to never wanting to see my Kindle again, but the plan worked and I make it all the way to my goal.

Along the way to reading so many books I learned a few things. I thought it might be nice to share some of those lessons for anyone else looking at trying a similar reading challenge in the future. I won’t be trying it again in 2015, but you never know, I could see myself giving it another shot sometime down the road.

Lesson #1: Life Circumstances Play a Big Role

I consider myself to be a pretty lucky man. My wife is very supportive of my reading habits and my keeping this blog, so she makes sure if I ask for a little time to put towards those things that I get that time as much as possible. However, I do have a full-time job as a web developer, two small children (ages 3 and 5 at the time), a home to keep in good shape, social obligations involving friends and church, and other various hobbies.

All of that adds up to a lot of time already allotted to things that are not reading. I’m a quick reader, so I know I can read a 350-400 page book in about 5 hours, give or take, but it’s obviously easier to do that when those hours are in big chunks and not broken up into 20 or 30 minute increments.

If I had no wife, no children, a less demanding employment situation, and fewer social obligations I could have blown 100 books out of the water. I probably could have pushed 150 or maybe even 200 like I’ve seen other reviewers claim to have done. I like reading, and I like it enough that I will give up time towards other hobbies such as World of Warcraft, watching television and movies, or similar things, but I don’t love it enough that I’ll turn my back on spending time with my wife and children. I also don’t love it enough that I’ll put my job at risk to reach a reading goal.

There was a delicate balance that had to be met as I fit extra reading in around the other things I have to be aware of on a day-to-day basis. Trying to hit this goal really put some things into perspective for me as to what’s important to spend time on and what isn’t. For example, the last three months of 2014 saw me post nothing but my monthly recap on what I had read. The hour or so I would spend blogging at any point was better spent reading and trying to hit my goal.

Lesson #2: Choose Your Books Carefully

If you are anything like me, your reading list of books you want to read next features a heavy dose of books over 600 pages in length. I really wanted to read books from some of my favorite authors during 2014, but they were so long I just couldn’t do it. I needed to be able to finish two books per week, which meant if I could carve out 2 hours a day for reading (which was my average), I needed to read books closer to 400 pages in length as often as possible, sometimes a little smaller, sometimes a little bigger.

My average book length for 2014 was 396 pages per book. That’s lower than I wanted it to be, but time constraints led to making choices based on book length rather than genre, author, or other factors. I did still read some big books, Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign, Words of Radiance, The Garden of Stones, Cibola Burn, and City of Heavenly Fire to name a few, but I was also crushed to see books such as Red Mars, The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Thousand Names, and The Emperor’s Blades left behind because I simply couldn’t fit them in to the rotation.

Lesson #3: There Will Be Loose Ends

Due to my penchant for reading science fiction and fantasy, most books are part of a series, or at least a trilogy. That means if I want to read the first book, I probably need to read the second, third, and maybe fourth, fifth, and sixth books. Here’s the problem with that: Every series sees its books get longer and longer the further you read. As I mentioned above, the longer the book, the less of a chance it had of getting read.

As a result, I have a very long list of loose ends I need to tie up in order to finish off trilogies and series that I’ve started, but left incomplete. I’ll be writing a post next week taking a look at that big pile of loose ends in more detail, but suffice it to say for now that there is another entire year of reading to be done to clean it up.

Lesson #4: Consistency Means Everything

If you are going to read 100 or more books in a single year you have to be consistent. You need to create habits around when you are going to read, for how long, and where. It cannot be something that just sort of “happens” whenever you feel like it. Times need to be set when you can sit down for an extended period and hammer through some pages.

I struggled with this for the first few months, but finally found a routine that worked for me. Once I had that done I was able to be more comfortable in staying consistent with how many books I read each month, but even then I was a little behind pace. You can’t just read every third day, it needs to be a daily thing or it becomes too easy to put off until the next day and then you’ll find yourself behind all over again.

Lesson #5: It Can Get Expensive Very Quickly

Borrowing books from the library is not really my thing anymore. I did it a lot when I was in middle school and high school because I didn’t have money to blow on books and I didn’t have a Kindle. Last year I discovered my Kindle is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it makes it easy to read anything, anywhere, but libraries don’t have most mainstream books available electronically yet, so if I had designs on reading something by an established author I was out of luck. Instead, I needed to buy the ebook for myself because I really do not like reading hard copy books very much anymore. I did it a few times when I was in a pinch last year, but I did not prefer it by any means.

One lifesaver for me was the Kindle Daily Deal. Up until they announced the Kindle Unlimited program, the Kindle Daily Deal could be counted on getting me anywhere from 2-5 books a month that I was actually quite interested in reading. At $.99-$1.99 each, that saved me a lot of money, but I still spent a lot more cash than I should have on books.

Lesson #6: You Will Find Wonderful New Authors

As a direct result of my reliance on the Kindle Daily Deal and also as a result of writing this blog on a regular basis (at least for the first few months of 2014), I managed to get exposure to some fun new authors (new to me at least, but also newly published), many of them self-published. I had never read books by established authors such as Scott Westerfeld, Brian McClellan, Michael J. Sullivan, Brandon Mull, and Jim Butcher until last year. I also discovered new talent such as Michael McCloskey, Pierce Brown, Myke Cole, Alex J. Cavanaugh, Rhett C. Bruno, S.L. Dunn, and Cassandra Rose Clarke.

If nothing else, reading 100 books in a year broke me out of my established reading habits and showed me how very many great things there are to read beyond what I already knew to be a vast expanse of genre fiction.

To wrap things up, all I can say is that reading 100 books in one year was amazing, tiring, uplifting, frustrating, and ultimately, fantastic. I applaud those reviewers or general readers who can do that sort of thing year after year after year. Some of which read twice that number in a single year. I learned a lot about myself as a reader and so very much about how different authors operate within the same genre that I’m glad I gave trying such a reading goal a chance.

If anyone wants to see a complete list of what I read in 2014, you can find a dedicated page right here that will give you titles, authors, and page counts, along with a link to any of the books I wrote a review for, which are the book titles shown in blue.

As for commentary on books I did not find the time to review in full, most of them are mentioned at least briefly to some degree in my monthly recaps from last year:

It was a fun year of reading and I hope all of you who may be looking at trying such a lofty reading goal for yourselves can get some benefit by seeing the lessons I learned while doing it myself.

An Update on the 100 Books Read Goal

A week or two ago I wrote a post that discussed whether or not I would actually manage to read 100 books this year. I laid down several statistics, a few arguments for and against my accomplishing the goal, and provided a list of the 28 books I had “planned” to read and get me to the finish line. I also mentioned that October was basically going to be the “make or break” month regarding my progress. I need to reach about 85 or 86 books read by the time November 1st rolls around because I have a full November and I promise I won’t have time to play catch up in December.

So, here is that list of 28 books I planned to read with the ones I’ve read so far crossed out as a way to show my progress:

  1. Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
  2. The Dresden Files: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
  3. The Dresden Files: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
  4. The Dresden Files: Death Masks by Jim Butcher
  5. The Dresden Files: Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
  6. The Dresden Files: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
  7. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  8. The Trilisk Hunt by Michael McCloskey
  9. The Trilisk Revolution by Michael McCloskey
  10. Insidious by Michael McCloskey
  11. Industrious by Michael McCloskey
  12. Ingenious by Michael McCloskey
  13. Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos
  14. Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos
  15. His Fair Assassin: Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
  16. Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno
  17. iD by Madeline Ashby
  18. vN by Madeline Ashby
  19. Dragon Wing: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  20. Elven Star: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  21. Fire Sea: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  22. Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.
  23. Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.
  24. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
  25. Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  26. Dragons of Spring Dawning by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  27. The End is Nigh (Anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey
  28. Autocorrect Stays by Holly Flanagan

As you can see, I’ve managed to cross 10 books off the list, leaving me with 18 remaining. I stand at 82 books completed as I write this post and hope to have at least 85 complete in the next nine days. I’ll be tackling the two Romulus Buckle books and then hope to have enough time left in the month to enjoy Ancillary Sword without having to rush.

It’s been a long month of reading for me in October, completing one book every 36 hours on average for the most part. That’s a very strange zone to be in I’ve discovered. However, if I get to that magic number of 85 books finished I’ll upgrade myself to an 80% chance of reaching my goal as planned.

Will I Actually Read 100 Books This Year?

At the beginning of 2014 I set a goal for myself to read 100 books by the time 2015 rolled around on the calendar. My previous best was in 2013 when I read a total of 84 items over the course of the year, but a portion of that number was short stories and novellas. For this year I really wanted to set a goal that focused on only novel-length works. That means anything that counts towards the total needs to be at least 150 pages long (it’s an arbitrary number, I know, but it works as a decent cutoff point).

So, am I going to accomplish the goal? The short answer is: I really don’t know.

The longer answer requires a little bit of digging, so let’s take a look. At the time of my writing this post I have 72 qualifying books completed. That leaves me with 28 books remaining as of October 8th. Along with those 72 books I’ve read 8 items in the short story, novella, or magazine categories which don’t count towards the total. I could easily argue that reading those additional non-qualifying items has made reaching my goal more difficult, but the total page count for them is 432 pages, or basically the length of one book, so the impact reading them had on my goal can be considered rather negligible in my opinion.

Having read 72 books I am confident in declaring that I will at the very least beat my total from 2013 of 84 items read. Regardless of how close I get to 100 books finished, I’ll definitely manage to complete another 13 to beat the previous mark by at least one. On top of that, all of them will have been novel length, which means I’m even more well off.

As a side note, in 2013 I read 31,512 total pages and at the time of this writing my count for 2014 clocks in at a healthy 29,709 pages read. It’s apparent I’ll also easily beat my pages read mark from last year as it will only take about five or six more books to do so. I did have a secondary goal for 2014 to read at least 40,000 pages, which may possibly be within reach (I do count the short fiction, etc as part of the page count as is it seems fair), but I’ll need to average at least 367 pages per book for the remaining 28 books. I know at least a few of the books I have on deck meet or exceed that number, but there are also a few that fall just short. Reaching 40,000 pages is secondary to reading the 100 books though.

So, let’s look at a few numbers involved with the home stretch of 2014 and how it impacts my ability to reach the 100 book goal. Not counting today I’ve got 84 days left in the year. With 28 books to go, that means I need to average… one book every three days to succeed. That is a pretty tall order no matter what I’m reading. Now, for me to even come close to getting one book finished every three days, I’m going to need a very specific list of books to read because anything over 400 pages is going to be tough while still working, doing husband/father things, and other life time sinks. If I get in a groove every so often for a few days at a time when I have extra time I can easily read a book a day, which can leave me a little bit of wiggle room, but no matter how much I do that, it’s still going to be tight at the end of the year.

On top of that, October is my month to make or break this goal for a couple of reasons. At the moment I’m basically done with World of Warcraft until the expansion in the middle of November. I have no family coming to visit, I’ve settled into the routine at my new job, and our new home is pretty much all set up. So, not a whole lot in the way of distractions. November is going to be full of distractions however, what with my family coming into town for a week and a half at Thanksgiving and the new World of Warcraft expansion being released. As much as I’d love to have the self-control necessary to ignore WoW until January 1st, I don’t. I just don’t. So, while 28 remaining books makes it seem like I could just read 10 books each month for October, November and December, I don’t think November is going to work out that way as it currently stands.

How do I overcome this? By reading my tail off between now and November 12th. I’m thinking if I can get myself to the point where I’ve only got 12 books left to go after that I can make it work. That means 16 more books over the next few weeks. If I can hit that mark, my confidence in reaching the 100 book goal will go up a fair amount, to the point where I’ll be about 80% sure I can get it done. If I don’t reach that 16 books before the WoW expansion, things are going to be pretty bleak and I might be tempted to throw in the towel early. On top of all of this is the return to blogging I’m trying to make by getting a post up on the blog for MWF of every week again. That’s a lot of stuff to pack into the remaining weeks of 2014, trust me.

So, how do I feel at the moment? A little overwhelmed, but also rather determined to at least make a good run at completing my goal. Right now I feel like I have about a 50% chance of getting it done, but with every book I read in less than 3 days that percentage will creep up a little bit. I may not have blogged as often as I planned for this year, or written as many reviews as I wanted, but if I can still make a run at reading 100 books, I’ll give it a shot. Will I do it again next year? Good heavens, no! But, it will be a pretty cool bragging point for me personally if I do pull it off this year.

If you are interested in following along with my progress as December 31st rolls nearer, feel free to keep track on the Books Read in 2014 page, or follow along with daily updates I’ll be posting to Twitter at 20four12.

Oh, and because I’m the kind of guy who likes to advance plan things to death and make a bunch of lists, if anyone is curious as to what I plan to be reading over the final 28 books, here is a somewhat lengthy and possibly handy list:

  1. Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
  2. The Dresden Files: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
  3. The Dresden Files: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
  4. The Dresden Files: Death Masks by Jim Butcher
  5. The Dresden Files: Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
  6. The Dresden Files: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
  7. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  8. The Trilisk Hunt by Michael McCloskey
  9. The Trilisk Revolution by Michael McCloskey
  10. Insidious by Michael McCloskey
  11. Industrious by Michael McCloskey
  12. Ingenious by Michael McCloskey
  13. Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos
  14. Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos
  15. His Fair Assassin: Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
  16. Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno
  17. iD by Madeline Ashby
  18. vN by Madeline Ashby
  19. Dragon Wing: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  20. Elven Star: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  21. Fire Sea: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  22. Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.
  23. Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.
  24. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
  25. Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  26. Dragons of Spring Dawning by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  27. The End is Nigh (Anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey
  28. Autocorrect Stays by Holly Flanagan

Granted, this list may change on a whim if something catches my eye, but that’s my rough plan for now on how to get through the final 28 books I need. The last one on the list is actually not a science fiction or fantasy novel, but rather is the book my wife wrote and self-published this year. I’ve avoided reading it because a lot of her influences while writing it came from life experiences we’ve shared and that I’m very familiar with which makes it difficult for me not to get thrown out of the story and I’m a staunch supporter of the “family and friends are the worst people to give you opinions about your book” camp, but I’m going to do my wife a solid and read it as the last book of the year if I manage to get that far with enough time.

Looking Back at April 2014

Another month, another look back at how my last month of reading went. April was a pretty busy month for me personally as I made trips to Denver and Los Angeles to see family for various reasons, but thanks to a couple of plane rides, I still managed to stay on pace towards my 100 books read in the year goal. This month I had a book to read provided by a publisher, the chance to finally finish one of my incomplete series, a couple of unknown authors, and a couple novels by a favorite.

The list of books I finished in April:

Somewhat surprisingly, Fortune’s Pawn was probably my favorite book of the month. I love all of the books in The Seafort Saga, but Fortune’s Pawn was an awful fun time while I was reading it. I think I really had been starved for some light-hearted sci-fi action and didn’t really know it. The same could be said for Crimes Against Magic, it was good fun, exciting characters, and off the beaten path for me personally. Looking back on the month, I have to say none of the books were disappointing, which isn’t always the case. Usually I have one or maybe two that really didn’t do it for me, but not this time.

I was really happy that I managed to finish the final books of The Seafort Saga after so long of trying to get that series completed. Those books might not be for everyone, but I really liked them a lot, and now I can say I’ve read them, and that I’ve finished off one of the bigger uncompleted series on my list. It’s all smooth sailing from here now, right?