Since 2014 I have kept a text file in my writing folder which documents all the books I have read each year. I list the title, author, publishing date, format, and a review/summary. And then – here’s the tricky part – I compile this data by going in to Google Drive and creating a survey which asks for each of these pieces of information. I fill out the survey for each book and then click to see the graphs and pie charts that Google Drive has created for me.
I think this book listing is a leftover from grammar school when we had an assignment to keep track of the books we read over the course of the school year. As a kid who loved both books and making lists, this was the best assignment ever. It’s just so satisfying to list things, especially when each item represents some sort of finished project or achievement. When I began listing all my books it was just a fun way to look back at what I had read and what I thought about each book. It was a form of journaling. Then I started thinking about my reading habits. How much fiction or non-fiction was I reading? How often was I going to the library? What kinds of things was I reading? This year I started looking the authors I am reading as well. Am I reading a range of authors who will have different perspectives than I do? Am I reading underrepresented authors who get lost in the mainstream advertising shuffle?
I didn’t start doing the survey part until 2016 when I had the vague idea of putting together an infographic of all this data I had collected. I’ve never gotten around to doing the infographic, but it’s interesting to see how my reading habits stack up from year to year. As a bit of a book snob I regard books at different levels of mental quality. My grandmother could read a bestselling thriller that contained 109 chapters, each two pages long, in a day. She kept a list of titles just because she couldn’t keep track of which of these formulaic books she had already read. This is cotton candy on my quality scale. It kept my grandmother entertained, but I aim a little higher. I want to read books that expand my worldview, give me information or are just really well written. I also think that reading high quality stuff helps to improve my own writing. Still, there are always some cotton candy books on my list.
So a good reading year by my criteria has a mixture of learning stuff, being entertained, being inspired, and reading a range of authors. Let’s see how I’ve stacked up this year compared to past years.
Number of Books
- Only 16 books finished this year. This is actually better than in past years, but way below the 38 books I read in 2016. What was I doing that year that I managed 38 books when every other year I come in under 20? I have no explanation for this. In the fall of 2016 I was working two jobs and taking an online class that I needed to finish my degree. Pretty bad showing for 2018, then.
- Most of what I read is fiction. I only read 3 non-fiction books this year. That’s the typical percentage. I’m surprised that I only read 1 fantasy book this year. That’s a genre I really like, but this year I went through more ‘literary’ fiction and I made a distinction between fantasy and horror/supernatural, which means that I read 5 horror/supernatural novels this year because I read 2 by Shirley Jackson and decided to count A Christmas Carol as a ghost story.
- This year I went through 12 paperbacks, 3 hardcovers and 1 ebook. Ebook numbers are typically low. I thought keeping books on my phone would give me the ability to read them anywhere, but the digital format just isn’t real to me. Except for 2014, when I living in San Francisco and getting most of my books from the library, I generally read more paperbacks than hardcovers.
- Last year I read books by 9 male authors and 5 female. This year I flipped it and read books by 9 female authors and 5 male. Overall in the past five years, I’m consistently even on the gender divide. As a woman I do like women authors because they have female protagonists that are emotionally strong or have an interesting story to tell.
- My diversity stats are too low. In 2014 I was wrestling with a thesis idea about teenagers and reading. I ended up reading a higher number of diverse YA books than I normally would because I was thinking a lot about cultural representation. That was my best year with 5 out of 12 authors. Since then it’s been mostly caucasian authors. This year I read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh and two books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, (2 out of 14 authors) and that’s it for cultural diversity.
In 2019 it looks like I have to put some more time into reading and less time watching youtube cat videos. I have a number of unread non-fiction books on my shelves that I should sit down with in an attempt to raise those numbers. What I’d really like to do is add some diversity to the authors. A subgenre I had not heard about until recently is Afrofuturism, which blends sci-fi elements with explorations of black culture, community and visions of the future. I’ve already picked out a few titles to try out, but first I’ll have to read Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi because my friend is very excited about it and graciously lent me her copy. I promised her that it’s at the top of my list.
So, I suppose I should go grab a book and start reading.