Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year Dawns

2011 ended, for us, with a burst of fireworks from Taipei 101. Our new apartment is within easy walking distance of plenty of decent places to watch the 101 fireworks from, so we and a couple of friends departed at roughly 11:45pm to join the droves of people walking north along Daan Rd, to the intersection with Xinyi Rd which offered a clear line of sight to Taipei 101.

The crowds were happy and boisterous. Plenty of people of all ages watched the fireworks display, and there seemed to be a marriage proposal taking place just a few feet from us.

But nobody seemed surprised, or too disappointed, when half the fireworks were obscured by huge clouds of smoke that were generated.

From the direction the smoke clouds appeared to be drifting, I would guess that people watching from Keelung Rd, where Jenna and I watched the show a few years ago, found themselves engulfed by the smoke fairly quickly. It's probably nothing that a Taiwanese person who has attended temple fairs with firecrackers hasn't experienced.

By the time we reached our apartment near Daan Rd's southern terminus, the air had grown noticeably smoky as the effects of the 101 fireworks dispersed. We continued to hear assorted random fireworks being set off into the night. Happy 2012!

One year ago, I made a New Year's Resolution that, in 2011, I would work my way through 40 novels and 40 non-fiction books, and write about them here. I wrote,

I have no plan, no set reading list. My 40 nonfiction books and 40 novels will consist, in part, of my working my way through the dozens of books on our shelves that I haven't read yet. They're sitting there now, waiting for that as-yet-undetermined future date when we move, when I find myself wondering which unread books I want to ship overseas and which I want to sell or donate, unused. And every time I visit a used bookstore, my impulse buys exacerbate the problem.

When I say 40 nonfiction books and 40 novels, I mean 80 physical, bound paper, full-length books. I'm a big fan of long-form journalism, and lately my iPod Touch has made it pretty easy for me to polish off several newspaper or magazine articles while I'm riding the bus or on the subway. (Here is where I rave again about InstaPaper, and web sites like and Give Me Something To Read.) I'm also a big fan of short stories, particularly SF/Fantasy/Horror, and I follow several podcasts that feed my addiction. They don't count. I plan to keep consuming shorter content alongside my 80 full-length books.

Now, let's be blunt about it. I didn't make it to 40 for either fiction or non-fiction. I made it to 34 novels, and I probably would have hit 40 if not for the four-week ultra-intensive course I took in September and October, and the experience of moving house in December which turned out to be far more stressful and time-consuming than I could have predicted.

I think the goal of 40 novels was an admirable one, and it got me reading at a somewhat faster clip than I would have managed otherwise. So I'm going to repeat it. But I'm going to modify it a little.

I'm going to aim for at least 25 novels. Any genre. A collection of short stories counts as a novel, if all the stories are by one author.

In addition to that, I'm going to read at least 10 older novels. Classics, if you will. My definition is one whose author died before 1950. I read zero of those in 2010.

And in addition to that, I'm going to read at least 5 short story anthologies. I plan to get plenty of short stories in podcast form, but there are some collections on our bookshelves I'd like to read through.

25 + 10 + 5 = 40.

As for nonfiction books, I honestly believe my original goal was just plain somewhat screwed up. I read a lot of nonfiction, largely in the form of longform journalism that mobile apps like The Browser and Instapaper make easy to read. 40 additional full books is not a worthwhile goal for me to set for myself. Especially since I seem to have the bad habit of reading trendy contemporary nonfiction books that are basically just padded magazine articles.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I definitely aspire to read more full-length nonfiction. I''ve become an avid reader of The Browser's Five Books series, in which various experts recommend five books to become better acquainted with a particular topic. I intend to start following some of their recommendations, probably as soon as I get an e-reader.

But for now, setting the goal of 40 nonfiction books is silly and unproductive. I still want to give myself a goal, so I'm lowering it to 20 nonfictions. I'll probably easily read more than that, but I want to make sure I don't let myself get lazy.

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