First off, a little bookkeeping. I have been using Goodreads for years now to track my reading. It’s still a pretty good platform, but it’s also just a lot. A lot of ads. A lot of features I don’t use, like “Reading Challenges,” and a lot of the “Community” stuff.
One of the things I’m going to try to do over the next five years, though, is attempt to self-host as many applications as I can. I found Jelu. I set it up a few days ago and so far, it’s been a pretty good experience. I’ll have some more thoughts on it below, but something you should know is that the data I brought over from Goodreads did not have everything in it I wanted. This is probably my fault, but I’m still in the process of cleaning things up. As a result, the books I’m looking at that I’ve read this year might not be all the ones I actually read this year.
Another thing I’ve been doing more of this year is starting books and then not finishing them, or at least taking a very long break from them. I probably have more books “in progress” right now than I ever have before.
The best fiction I read this year was The Lord of the Rings: Special Edition by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Jachin, what? How have you not read that before?” And the answer is… kind of… no, I haven’t. When I was a child, my parents read it to us kids, I think, just once. When I was a little bit older, I got the audiobooks from the library. Of course, I watched the movies as they came out, but I had never actually read the book. This year, I got to read it to my kids. It was a fantastic experience. I kind of wish Brennan had been a little bit older, but Imogene really enjoyed it. A couple of things jumped out at me this time through the book(s).
Even though I remembered all the major plot points, there were a few minor ones I had forgotten. I really thought I remembered it better. For instance, one of my favorite parts of the book is the journey from Bag End to Bree. I had completely forgotten they met with a party of Elves that kept them safe for a night.
I did not remember how much of the book is devoted to describing the landscape. I think a couple of things are going on. The last time I “read” or listened to the book, I had done almost all my traveling up and down the middle of the US, not spending a lot of time in mountains, for instance. There’s also a big vocabulary that Tolkien uses to describe the landscape, words that are not used very often. I’m guessing I just tuned a lot of it out because I didn’t understand much of it.
I started the series called The Murderbot Diaries. It’s a lot of fun. I did need to take a break from it, though. The social anxiety of the main character is a little exhausting. It does make “them” more relatable, and human… I guess. But after the first five books, I needed a break. There’s an Apple TV adaptation in the works. I’m excited for that.
I read and finished another Anthony Ryan series called The Covenant of Steel. It felt very much like an Anthony Ryan series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I had managed to take a break from other fantasy which I’d put in the same category… with, you know, a flawed protagonist, dealing with a lot of trauma and living a violent life, featuring lots of grittiness and pain.
There’s a lot of this kind of fantasy out there, and much of it is good. “Game of Thrones” is what led me down this path originally. I just need to remember that I enjoy it more in moderation.
I did not read very much non-fiction in 2023. I need to try to course-correct in 2024. But in fairness, I do get a lot of good non-fiction content from podcasts like In Our Time hosted by Melvyn Bragg. I don’t miss an episode (although I’m still wrapping up the 2023 episodes). I want to give my self some credit for that.
However, I don’t want that to detract from the best non-fiction book I read in 2023, which was Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple by Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett. It was great—one of those books I didn’t really feel like I was “getting” until about halfway through.
This is the third time I remember receiving profound instruction on the book of Revelation. The first was a Biblical Studies class back when I was at Augsburg, fulfilling my graduation requirements. The second was a long sermon series at Hiawatha Church. Both of those previous experiences helped set me up to get more out of this book than I otherwise would have. Revelation is a very strange book. Of all the books in the New Testament, I think Revelation highlights the differences between myself and the original audience the most. There’s a lot of value in getting some “outside” help in understanding it.
Next.. I mean This Year
Hopefully, with my new tools at my side, I’ll do a better job of tracking my reading this year. I need to keep chipping away at cleaning up my reading history. I’ve been surprised at how often I look back at it.
I’ve got a lot of those kinds of projects to do this year. Lots of digital house keeping.
I almost forgot though, a couple more notes on Jelu, it’s close to exactly what I want. An app for keeping tracking of what you have read, what you are reading and what you want to read next.
There are some rough edges though, for instance, square “covers” for audio books don’t look right in the layout. If your someone who really like the a detailed and exact catalog of the books in your library, it’s not there yet.
I could not get book covers to show up automatically when I imported my library. As I go back through and clean things up I’ll have to make my self some tools to make that easier.
The one thing I think I’m going to miss from Goodreads is the book recommendations. But while I was writing this post it occurd to me that I should try to use use ChatGTP for that.