Novel November

Twenty-Five Years of Reading

Part One

by Michael Channing

Twenty-Five Years of Reading by Michael Channing

I don't know what prompted me to start, but each year I keep a list of all the books I read. I write the title and author in pencil on a sheet of loose-leaf and clamp the growing stack of pages to a clipboard. I started in 1992, eleventh grade, did it again my senior year, then for some reason stopped. I started back again in 2000, which seemed like a thing to do at the beginning of a new millennium, and I've kept at it every year since. Through many moves, across three states, I've carried that same clipboard. I wouldn't call it miraculous that I managed to hold on to those lists for so long. I hate getting rid of anything, especially if it holds nostalgic potential.

Realizing the starting date was twenty five years ago (admitting six whole years are unaccounted for), I thought it might be fun to crunch some numbers and dissect my reading habits. Plus I’d get to write about two of my favorite topics: books and myself.

What Book Have I Read the Most Times?
PDF of the full list

What book have I read the most?

Gotta admit, I thought there would be a clear winner. I figured either one of the Hitchhiker books or a Hap and Leonard novel would be an absolute forerunner. I didn't expect a four-way tie. Lord of the Flies I read as a high school student then as a high school teacher. I taught it three semesters in a row, hence the three readings in the span of only two years. Understanding Comics and The Dark Knight Returns are just great books, and I'll probably read them again sometime in my life. I find it interesting that of the Hitchhiker books, the second one is the one that I have visited the most. I'm not quite sure how that happened. Actually, let me back that up. I do know how that happened. I read the other books, I'm sure, before I started keeping records and within that dark space where I dropped the ball. The one Hap and Leonard book that I read more than the others is Captains Outrageous, which makes sense, it being my favorite of the series. But I know I read Mucho Mojo at least three times, if not more. The missing years would probably also account for why the most times I read any book is only four. I feel there has to be a book, and it's probably one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, that I read more than four times. Hey, it's only been twenty-five years. I've got time still. (He says as he crosses over to the downhill side.)

Which Author Have I Read the Most?
PDF of the authors list

What author have I read the most?

No surprise here. I knew Stephen King would take the top slot. I even knew Lansdale would be the runner-up. That, of course, speaks to how much I love them both, but also to the constant output of these guys. They publish at least one book a year, often more. Now that Lansdale has hit a vein with his Hap and Leonard series, we've gotten a book a year and several novellas and short story collections as well. I'm fine with that. Keep 'em coming guys, and I'll keep reading. King has written some very bad books in his career, and a few of Lansdale's drift into the land of unnecessary weirdness, but they hit more than they miss, and I'm happy to call them my favorite authors.

I did notice that because of how their names paired with others, some writers ended up spread over a few entries. The only ones that would add up to possibly contend with the top two were Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. So I grouped their entries together and ran the numbers.

Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore

Turns out I've read Neil Gaiman 35 times and Alan Moore 29 times, putting them in the third and fourth place slots. Philip José Farmer rounds out the top five, having written a ton of books that I keep stumbling upon in just about every used bookstore I enter.

I'm sad to see the absence of Isaac Asimov. There's only one of his books on the list. I've read all the Foundation novels, several collections of his short stories, I, Robot, of course, as well as The Gods Themselves, and several of his non-fiction works. But apparently those were all before 1992. By then, I'd put down one of the greatest science-fiction writers and have only picked him up once in the ensuing 25 years. I'm disheartened by that revelation.

I do find it fascinating that, having written only seven novels, Douglas Adams dominates over more prolific authors. The Hitchhiker series is immanently re-readable, forever funny, and somehow repeatedly surprising. I know I'll bump that read count up a lot more in the next twenty-five years.

What Genre Have I Read the Most?
PDF of the primary genre list
PDF of the secondary genre list

Primary Genre Secondary Genre
Primary Genre Secondary Genre
Fantasy: 152
Science Fiction: 117
Horror: 115
Humor: 110

Genre is always malleable and hard to define. The Stand is definitely meant to be a horror story, but the military-created plague is a conceit of science-fiction, plus there's a guy who can shapeshift and visit you in your dreams, so isn't it also a fantasy? Isn't all supernatural horror also equal-part fantasy? And you can't deny the Hitchhiker books are laugh-out-loud funny and pretty inventive science-fiction. So when it came to categorizing my list, I gave a lot of books a primary and a secondary genre. I'm sure I was inconsistent and probably even wrong in some of my labelings.

But when it all boils down, I seem to have read a good deal more fantasy books than any other type. In my overall life, I believe I have actually read more science-fiction. As I noted before, I read many Isaac Asimov books that don't show up on these lists, and there are other science-fiction anthologies that are missing as well. But then there would be all the Lone Wolf and Dragonlance books to balance them out. Hmmm. Regardless, it's clear I'm an escapist. The real world can be so harsh and unforgiving. You can say the same for a Stephen King or Neil Gaiman book, but the villains there are monsters, deities, boogie men. The real world will beat you down with taxes, bad health, dumb politicians. If I'm going to have to face evil, at least give it wings and horns. Otherwise your enemies are just sad versions of yourself. And of course the trappings and spoils of a fantasy epic are so much more enjoyable than those of this world. In Landover and Middle Earth, you get to wield powerful magics and mighty swords, roam the world on horseback and right wrongs with a righteous weapon. Then bards compose songs and sonnets in your honor. The best you can hope for in real life is to file your paperwork on time and avoid eviction or firing. If you want to find me, I'll be in the corner, in a book, in a better world than this one.

What Book Type Have I Read the Most?
PDF of the book type list

What Book Type Have I Read the Most?

As I was transcribing the lists, I started worrying that I might have read more graphic novels than prose novels. But why should that worry me? Graphic works are not less than prose works. They are just as deserving of your your time and thought; they can be just as entertaining, certainly, but also just as literary, just as philosophical, just as deep as anything written by the literary greats. In fact, I hope Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and Harvey Pekar and many others are one day canonized along side writers like Bukowski and Dickens and even Shakespeare. I should never feel ashamed that I might have spent more time in my life reading graphic literature than I have prose. A guy who's read Understanding Comics four times should know this by now.

I do, however, feel ashamed that I haven't ready very many poetry books. I'll read individual poems in anthologies, websites, textbooks, but very rarely will I commit to reading through an entire book of poems. I need to do that more often. Especially if I'm going to write my own.

I will also admit to feeling weird about listening to audio books. This year was the first time I ever did. My instinct tells me that because I didn't hold the physical books in my hand, I didn't actually read them. I listened to them in the car. Distracted by traffic, thoughts of work and home, did I catch every word? Probably not. But how many times have I fallen asleep in bed with a book, eyes blurry, mind foggy? That's no better way to enjoy a book than listening to someone read it to me. The key word here is “enjoy.” Yes, I consider reading as part of the job of being a writer. But it's also fun, and that should always be part of the meal, no matter how the book is consumed. The two Neil Gaiman books were read by Neil himself, so he obviously advocates and recommends the medium. There's no better champion than that. So I will definitely be listening to more audio books in the future. Now it's so much harder to decide what to play on the drive to and from work. Music, podcast, or book? I guess that's a good problem to have.

To Be Continued...

Check out part two where I'll take a look at some of the individual yearly lists and fondly cast back to what was happening in my life as I discovered or re-read some of these books. Maybe I'll have more to say than, "That was a time. Wish it was again."

Keep reading. Post your own lists if you'd like. Or like your own posts if you read.

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Some of 2017's Books

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Chokes and Warbles
Now Available

Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing

November 17, 2017