Every year I like to review my reading activity over the year and square it against any set goals. This year, I read precisely 150 books, which was exactly my goal! Here’s a little retrospective on my year in reading.
Some graphs, for the people who come here for my book graphs. Here’s how many books I read by month.
And then cumulative pages over time.
There are some pretty clear plateaus around some deadlines and busy travel I had, which I marked off. Obviously, I can’t spend all my time reading,1 but I feel like I maintained a pretty even slope of pages accumulation aside from those breaks.
You can also maybe tell when I started my 45-minutes-each-way internship commute, which I got through with strong support from audiobooks. I like my audiobooks to be either: narrated by the author or nonfiction written in a casual, straightforward style (i.e. business books), and this year I exhausted many of my library’s online audiobook offerings.
Because I read ebooks, physical books, and audiobooks, I was pretty curious about how that split plays out across book type:
Most of my audiobooks were nonfiction, but a few were fiction (and they were very enjoyable!). I think podcasts have trained me to enjoy a well-read nonfiction audiobook, which conveniently allows me to read a lot of books I meant to read but couldn’t make reading priority for.
I didn’t listen to any poetry audiobooks, which is a bummer because I really love poetry readings, especially when poems are read by the author. I discovered one of my favorite poets, Jenny Zhang, on a podcast where she read a poem, and would really like to enjoy more poetry that way; so please let me know if you have any favorite poetry audiobooks, especially read by the author!!
Looking at a split across genres, I’m pretty happy with the distribution (mostly expected, but a pretty long tail of genres here!):
Some new-to-me genres:
- romance, which started as a free-KFC-themed-romance-novel joke but is looking to become a growing part of my reading distribution in 2018
- children’s, which started as a “picked up an interesting book in the bookstore and turns out children’s books are really easy to read fast” but has become my new strategy for vetting presents for my little cousins and nieces and nephews
- philosophy, which it turns out feels very accessible when presented via audiobook
This graph was not something I would have planned to include of my own volition, but it was suggested to me by Voyager, the Vega-based tool I used to generate all these graphs and I thought it was kind of interesting. According to the visualization, I read many long fiction books, but I also read some long non-fiction too, which is hard for me so good job to me! The three longest nonfiction books I read were Hillary Clinton’s HARD CHOICES and WHAT HAPPENED, and Steven Levy’s HACKERS2. The three longest fiction books I read were THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolfe, and NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl.
good and bad
Here’s the distribution of how much I enjoyed these books.
I read a bunch of good books and some bad ones. Even though there are more poor books on this list than past years, it’s worth noting that only 5% of books were lower than 3 stars, and 17% were 5 stars which I consider the “amazing perfect put this book in everyone’s hands”.
Something notable compared to prior years doing this book retrospective is that I really shirked use of the book logging tools I’d created in past years. As a result, there’s a bit less data to “consider” than usual. A few challenges came up: I’m not always by my computer, sometimes I really want to add a book from my phone, during my internship I had tons of idle time but didn’t feel like downloading all of my little scripts and services to putz with book lists on my work machine.
There is also some types of resistance in maintaining these lists that I am still working out how to reconcile: a preponderance of services for managing different library book lists, comparing those lists with books I already have, coming up with a simple and portable way to add books that I hear about in different situations (at a book reading, in the middle of another book, etc). It seems that Goodreads is the grudging solution3 but I am toying with ways to make my life managing the never ending deluge of written word easier in some ways.
how i did it
When I tell people who are not as aggressive of readers “oh, I just reached my goal of reading 150 books!” they often respond incredulously, so here are some thoughts on “how did I do that”:
There aren’t really any secrets on “how to read more” except, well, read more. For instance, if you get carsick on a long bus commute you can listen to audiobooks. If you are waiting in a long coffeeshop line you can open Kindle on your phone instead of Twitter or e-mail. These are hacks, but I get most of my reading done in 2-3 hour windows on the couch with blankets and many cups of coffee or tea.
Short story collections take longer for me to read than novels because the natural break makes me want to stop reading far earlier than I probably could have sustained.
Poetry is the worst in “time to read a page” because I like to really sit with a poem, not just gloss over it and think about them all in a whole batch at the end4.
Towards the end of my year, when I realized work and travel had left me straggling on my goal, I read a lot of slim novels that had few dots on the Kindle counter – I don’t think this is cheating per se, and I don’t regret reading the shorter books I selected, but I wish it hadn’t felt so cheap to prioritize them on December 30th and 31st.
some of my favorites
Intrepid blog readers already know that I’ve been making notes on the books I read in quarterly-ish posts (one, two, three), so if you’re curious on my thoughts on any specific book you can find them there.
That being said, a fun party trick is to say “Hey, have you read this book? It’s so good, I really loved it and I think you will too, I really can’t recommend it highly enough” and then ghost, because it’s basically like a goodbye with homework and they can’t even be upset with you later because then they will have revealed themselves as contacting you before doing their required reading. So here are some new-ish books that I found myself recommending a lot after reading this year:
Caucasia, Danzy Senna Chemistry, Weike Wang Difficult Women, Roxane Gay Electric Arches, Eve Ewing Exit West, Mohsin Hamid Faces in the Crowd, Valeria Luisella Ghachar Ghochar, Vivek Shanbhag Human Acts, Han Kang Miss Burma, Charmaine Craig No One Can Pronounce My Name, Rakesh Satyal One Day We’ll All Be Dead, Scaachi Koul Sour Heart, Jenny Zhang Tender Points, Amy Berkowitz The Idiot, Elif Batuman The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew-Bose
My Goodreads friends will know that I have set another 150 book goal this year, but I’m ambivalent about achieving it for two reasons: pacing and goals.
Pacing: I did a poor job pacing last year, which resulted in me coasting along with about 15 books in the last 4 days of 2017. I read them, but pretty quickly, even when I wanted to spend more time savoring them5. I’m on track to do about as poorly this year6, so I would like to use my quarterly book review posts as a time to catch up to my goal pace as well.
Goals: One thing I did to quickly rack up books towards the end of my goal was google “Best Short Books You Can Read in A Day” which I ended up reading in 2-3 hours each. Some of these books were great, some I had been meaning to read and others were happy surprises, so that’s not to say I’m not happy about this. But a new book showed up in my local book store that’s 1,660 pages long and I really want to read it! And I recently met an Important Literary Person who asked me if I had read This Classic Book and That Classic Book and I hadn’t read them, not for any lack of wanting to but just I hadn’t gotten around to it. Implictly, I feel like the only reason to really read 150 books per year is to read the really good ones - but if I actively miss them because I’m reading whatever’s available from the library when I’m waiting to board a plane7, I don’t think I’m using my effort towards this goal wisely.
Now that I know that 150 books per year is within reach8, I would like to be more deliberate with my reading goals and tackle some things that I have mentioned in past retrospectives but never truly formalized.
Reading Goals in 2018:
Read 20 physical books (at least) Read 10 nonfiction books (at least) Read 10 poetry collections (at least)
The things that are easy for me: new fiction, books by authors I already love, audiobook celebrity memoirs, will likely fill themselves in around the gaps. But it’s been almost a year since I last went to the Friends of the Seattle Public Library where every book is a dollar and I’ve read embarrassingly few of the books I acquired. So I’m going to use what I have and push my reading comfort instead of greedily placing many books on hold at the library!
Here’s the full list, if that’s what you’re looking for. My friend Mikey put together a gorgeous 2017 reading retrospective, which, after seeing, left me no choice but to shamelessly adapt his organizational structure.
Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid Human Acts by Han Kang Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose Chemistry by Weike Wang Symptomatic by Danzy Senna The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie Difficult Women by Roxane Gay I Love Dick by Chris Kraus Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang American Street by Ibi Zoboi The Boss (Justice Hustlers) by Aya de León Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig An Untamed State by Roxane Gay The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1) by Liu Cixin
The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The Grownup by Gillian Flynn In Between: The Poetry Comics of Mita Mahato by Mita Mahato The Body: An Essay by Jenny Boully The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith Little Labors by Rivka Galchen Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz The Art of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and It's All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life by Richard Carlson Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens Speedboat by Renata Adler Sula by Toni Morrison Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou Eat Only When You're Hungry by Lindsay Hunter The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli The Guide by R.K. Narayan Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid Exit West by Mohsin Hamid One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison How to Make White People Laugh by Negin Farsad This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini M Train by Patti Smith A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers by Alana Massey Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla Tampa: A Novel by Alissa Nutting The Mothers by Brit Bennett Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change by Ellen Pao Lab Girl by Hope Jahren The Border of Paradise: A Novel by Esmé Weijun Wang Startup by Doree Shafrir Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins White Tears by Hari Kunzru Just Kids by Patti Smith Made for Love by Alissa Nutting The Case of the Love Commandos (Vish Puri, #4) by Tarquin Hall The Case of the Missing Servant (Vish Puri, #1) by Tarquin Hall Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #3) by Jenny Han Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Helene Cooper Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin The Girls by Emma Cline The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte Caucasia by Danzy Senna Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan The Idiot by Elif Batuman Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl Night Film by Marisha Pessl The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Tender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle de Kretser 300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson Virgin and Other Stories by April Ayers Lawson Emerald City by Jennifer Egan The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy Blood on Snow (Blood on Snow, #1) by Jo Nesbø Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg I'm the One That I Want by Margaret Cho Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg Sorry Please Thank You: Stories (Vintage Contemporaries) by Charles Yu A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan The Answers by Catherine Lacey Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing (Vish Puri, #2) by Tarquin Hall All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America by Amy Chua The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6' 4", African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian by W. Kamau Bell Dark Matter by Blake Crouch The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges--and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates by Daniel Golden Re Jane by Patricia Park Listen, Liberal: How the Party of the People Learned to Love Inequality by Thomas Frank Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama R is for Ricochet (Kinsey Millhone, #18) by Sue Grafton Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell S is for Silence (Kinsey Millhone, #19) by Sue Grafton Swing Time by Zadie Smith What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2) by Liu Cixin Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
The Dig by Cynan Jones Midnight Sun (Blood on Snow, #2) by Jo Nesbø What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey Lonesome Lies Before Us by Don Lee Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy
The Kardashians: An American Drama by Jerry Oppenheimer
This is actually non-obvious to me. ↩
Which was so dry it took like 3 years to work up the emotional energy to churn through. ↩
I actually prefer doing both? Like I’ll sit with a poem a day, then I’ll do a big batch skimming of the whole series to figure out my general impression. But I have very little background in reading poetry so this could be wrong too??? ↩
Now I have a new note on my phone called “BOOKS TO SAVOR LATER”. ↩
Goodreads tells me I’m already 3 books behind. ↩
This is a little unfair because I would say the majority of the books I read are good books, that I want to read for some reason or another, but I also have a note on my phone of books to read that’s like over 1000 books deep, so I shouldn’t really be waffling around here. ↩
Some may ask “are you really going to read 150 books every year?!” to which I respond: if I read 150 books a year for the next 20 years, I will read 3,000 books, which is twice the length of my current-to-read list and accommodates all the amazing new writing that will come out in the next 20 years that I haven’t yet put on my list :P ↩