books_per_month plot

Every year, I try to read 100 books. This year, I read 109 books! As always, I collected some data as I went along and made some graphs, and wrote up some of my thoughts about this year in my reading. The full list is at the bottom of the post.

how often did i read?

over time plot

I read pretty consistently over the course of the year. I like reading both when I’m stressed and when I want to relax, so it doesn’t surprise me that the second half of the year (vacations and deadlines) had a lot of pages read.

how did i read books?

book format plot

I tried out a few different formats of books: physical books courtesy of the University of Washington libraries, and e-books and audiobooks from the Seattle Public Library. I wasn’t a huge fan of audiobooks - I enjoyed listening on my walks and bus rides, and while cooking, but didn’t feel like I retained much. Overall, it was okay for easy non-fiction and fiction, but miserable for dense non-fiction I seek to learn from.

E-books are probably the fan favorite for the year. I read them on my iPad or iPhone, and use iBooks for books I already possess and Overdrive for library books. They are painless (and practically weightless!) to travel with, especially on red-eye flights where dark mode is much nicer than a bright overhead light. I also like reading harder texts as e-books because I can look up hard words (#literary). I pretty much only read physical books in the first half of the year, when I didn’t have any good e-books to read, and when I couldn’t acquire an e-copy of a book I wanted to read.

what kinds of books did i read?

book category plot

This graph isn’t very actionable, but I like the “knowledge” of what kinds of books I’ve been reading. Knowledge is in quotes there because in compiling this data genres are a useless metric. In fact, I not only do I think genres are useless but maybe even the categories of fiction and nonfiction1. Increasingly, I’m finding that good books span all different “categories”, and may even overlap. For instance, this “diaspora” category I listed encapsulates a lot of “post-colonial” or “immigrant American” writing like Jhumpa Lahiri and Zadie Smith, but also Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians” series, which is pretty much Gossip Girls for mid-20’s SE-Asian populations (but super fun!). Is Kim Gordon’s “Girl in a Band” a book about music, art, feminism, or a memoir? “Contemporary” is a fun category for books that I couldn’t really figure out but weren’t “historically”-themed. There are so many books I’d like to read and I feel like they’re all so different, but I’m not sure how to categorize them. Genres don’t make any sense.

how hard were the books? how much did i like them?

book difficulty plot
book enjoyment plot

Not a lot to say and learn about these, but I took down this information so figured I’d share it - difficulty is how much perceived effort I had to put into reading a book, and enjoyment is how I felt about the book when I was done. Some books are hard to get through but I feel like I learned a lot - a lot of non-fiction falls into this category. Other books are easy reading but I ended up not liking them.

A note on these metrics: I simultaneously rated these books myself and on Goodreads, where I like to see what other people think about the book. Their rating system is so strange to me! 5 = amazing, 4 = really liked it, 3 = liked it, 2 = ok, and 1 = did not like it. This means that a bunch of books that are fine are getting only 2 stars, which seems shockingly low. So, no, I do not subscribe to the Goodreads rating system, and instead use the Amrita rating system illustrated above, and I am very happy about it.

who wrote the books i read?

author demographics plot

It has recently come into vogue to publicly decry the presence of white men in peoples’ libraries, and to eschew all books written by white men in favor of women and people of color.2 I did this, and it was AWESOME. It was extremely easy for me (likely because of my tastes and circles of friends) to find lots of great writing by women, but harder for me to find books by people of color, especially women of color. I focused mostly on Indian- and Asian-American writing in my branching out, a category I’d like make broader this year. Most of these authors, however, write fiction, and I found it hard to find nonfiction that wasn’t memoirs written by people who weren’t white men3.

A nice goal for the coming year is to keep this heatmap fairly level – I think the point of experiments like “read only women” or “read only people of color” is to broaden one’s reading horizons, and maintaining a level heatmap is a nice way of visualizing this.

the unfinished

In my push towards 100+ books, a few books were left unfinished. I am pretty good at forcing myself through a book, so not completing a book only happened for three reasons: (1) the book was too long (2) I had other books I preferred reading (3) the book was actually the worst book ever written.4 Upon reflection, many of the books that were overly long may have suffered from the “too long to be read comfortably on an e-reader” – one was an anthology of short stories, another was a big collection of essays and letters, and they were both over 1500+ ebook pages. It’s hard to work my mind around the idea of working through a book slowly, with interruptions and other books in between, but with a huge collection of short stories it seems like a better way of actually finishing the book. This year, I’ll strive to pick up some of my unfinished ones in physical form - hopefully this will help!

If I didn’t finish a book and it wasn’t that long, it was probably nonfiction, typically of the business/productivity/technical ilk. This is an area I’m struggling with a lot - I want to read these books, mostly so I can criticize them, but a lot of the books are terribly written. For every okay one I read, I read 3-7 more that are drivel, and the writing is painful for me to read. A logical person 5 would question why I want to read books I will probably hate, and the illogical answer is that I actually am curious about what they have to say, even if I know I probably won’t like how they say it. So many people claim to love and recommend these kinds of books! I want to develop informed opinions about them (even if they will mostly be negative), so I can effectively respond to these boring-book celebrationists.

bookbag - my private goodreads

Last year, I kept a small text document with a list of books I finished and when. The charts in last year’s post were made by hand in Keynote, which was kinda fun but not sustainable. This year, I expanded on that list with enjoyment and difficulty, pages, and author demographics, and created bookbag, a simple command line tool to add books and move them between my ‘to-read’ and ‘finished’ lists. I think it is easy enough for anyone who likes the command line but is afraid of web servers can operate. I also made little static-web-views for the two lists for easy reference. One cool thing I let bookbag do was ‘recommend’ books from my list based on what kind of book I was looking for - fiction, nonfiction, by a woman, etc.

A savvy Internet-goer will recognize that I’ve essentially encapsulated the functionality of Goodreads, but without the flashy website and social features. I use Goodreads, too, but I like being able to accommodate my personal data analysis whims and fancies6. Moving forward, I’d like to move this into a flashy (but simple!) web server that also does my visualizations for me - like my yearly recap, but in real time. A lot of these charts are hacked together, and more automation would be a real help in writing these posts and making reading choices I’m happier with!

next up

I’m going to hold steady at a goal of 100 books for this year. I feel like the intensity was good, and was sufficiently challenging for me to keep up again for this year. What I would like to change is the way I count books towards the goal - I feel like I read a lot of easy books less because I wanted to and more because it would help me towards my goal. Instead, I’d like to shoot for 100 useful books: books that are on my list, books that I learned from, books that I really enjoyed. This year, I read ten Pretty Little Liars books and five serialized mystery books - they were fun, I guess, but I didn’t really feel like I had grown as a person afterwards. There are so many fun books that I can also learn from7, and I have almost 700 books on my list of books to read - I don’t need to pad it with books that are a waste of my time.

I also want to switch off between fiction and non-fiction - I know other people that do this with different frequencies and it seems like a good way to incentivize reading books that are less tempting to read.

the list

1: "NOS4A2" by Joe Hill
2: "The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise" by Nathan L. Ensmenger
3: "White Teeth" by Zadie Smith
4: "My Salinger Year" by Joanna Rakoff
5: "Directional Thinking: 10 Steps to Positive Thinking" by Benjamin Chapin
6: "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast" by Laura Vanderkam
7: "Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell
8: "Recoding Gender: Women's Changing Participation in Computing" by Janet Abbate
9: "American Born Chinese" by Gene Luen Yang
10: "So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport
11: "4-Hour Work Week" by Tim Ferriss
12: "Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City" by Choire Sicha
13: "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)" by Andy Warhol
14: "The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels" by Denise Graveline
15: "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" by Marie Kondo
16: "What To Read In The Rain - 2011" by 826 Seattle Writers
17: "The Mythical Man-Month" by Fred Brooks
18: "The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story" by Michael Lewis
19: "An Alphabet Source Book" by Oscar Ogg
20: "The Expats" by Chris Pavone
21: "A Printed Exhibit of Bodoni Type with Appropriate Ornaments" by Redfield-Kendrick-Odell Co
22: "Black Water" by Joyce Carol Oates
23: "Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and Importance of Imagination" by J.K. Rowling
24: "The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair" by Joel Dicker
25: "The Dinner" by Herman Koch
26: "The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947" by Anais Nin
27: "Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri
28: "Frog Music" by Emma Donoghue
29: "The Shape of Design" by Frank Chimero
30: "Modern Romance" by Aziz Ansari
31: "The Internet of Garbage" by Sarah Jeong
32: "Ilustrado" by Miguel Syjuco
33: "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt
34: "Blue Boy" by Rakesh Satyal
35: "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel
36: "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg
37: "David and Goliah: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell
38: "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan
39: "Ajax Penumbra 1969" by Robin Sloan
40: "Seating Arrangements" by Maggie Shipstead
41: "The Girl on the Train" by Patricia Hawkins
42: "The Client" by John Grisham
43: "Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home" by Jessica Fechtor
44: "Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living" by Nick Offerman
45: "Paul Rand" by Steven Heller
46: "By Nightfall" by Michael Cunningham
47: "#GIRLBOSS" by Sophia Amoruso
48: "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood
49: "Bodily Harm" by Margaret Atwood
50: "The Shooting Party" by Anton Chekhov
51: "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple
52: "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri
53: "The Position" by Meg Wolitzer
54: "The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing" by Mira Jacob
55: "Hausfrau" by Jill Alexander Essbaum
56: "The Tent" by Margaret Atwood
57: "Perfect (Pretty Little Liars #3)" by Sara Shepard
58: "Unbelievable (Pretty Little Liars #4)" by Sara Shepard
59: "The Artist of Disappearance" by Anita Desai
60: "Fasting Feasting" by Anita Desai
61: "Good Bones and Simple Murders" by Margaret Atwood
62: "The Duel" by Anton Chekhov
63: "I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman" by Nora Ephron
64: "Yellow: Stories" by Don Lee
65: "Wicked (Pretty Little Liars #5)" by Sara Shepard
66: "Killer (Pretty Little Liars #6)" by Sara Shepard
67: "Heartless (Pretty Little Liars #7)" by Sara Shepard
68: "Wanted (Pretty Little Liars #8)" by Sara Shepard
69: "Twisted (Pretty Little Liars #9)" by Sara Shepard
70: "Ruthless (Pretty Little Liars #10)" by Sara Shepard
71: "Stunning (Pretty Little Liars #11)" by Sara Shepard
72: "Burned (Pretty Little Liars #12)" by Sara Shepard
73: "Heartburn" by Nora Ephron
74: "Atmospheric Disturbances" by Rivka Galchen
75: "Country of Origin" by Don Lee
76: "I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections" by Nora Ephron
77: "Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell
78: "Why Not Me" by Mindy Kaling
79: "The Lowland" by Jhumpa Lahiri
80: "Visitation Street" by Ivy Pochoda
81: "Attachments" by Rainbow Rowell
82: "Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own" by Kate Bolick
83: "Maisie Dobbs" by Jaqueline Winspear
84: "A is for Alphabet" by Sue Grafton
85: "Landline" by Rainbow Rowell
86: "The Uncoupling" by Meg Wolitzer
87: "Shoplifting from American Apparel" by Tao Lin
88: "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
89: "Everything I Never Told You" by Celsete Ng
90: "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel
91: "Troubling Love" by Elena Ferrante
92: "War of the Encyclopaedists" by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite
93: "Strangers on a Train" by Patricia Highsmith
94: "Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan
95: "B is for Burglar" by Sue Grafton
96: "How Should a Person Be" by Sheila Heti
97: "Birds of a Feather" by Jacqueline Winspear
98: "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante
99: "What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal" by Zoe Heller
100: "The Story of a New Name" by Elena Ferrante
101: "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay" by Elena Ferrante
102: "The Story of the Lost Child" by Elena Ferrante
103: "Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl" by Carrie Brownstein
104: "Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell
105: "Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women" by Nora Ephron
106: "Girl in a Band" by Kim Gordon
107: "China Rich Girlfriend" by Kevin Kwan
108: "The Flick" by Annie Baker
109: "D is for Deadbeat" by Sue Grafton
  1. Some non-fiction memoirs read like fiction, and some fiction reads like a letter from your best friend. Some fictional short stories are so loosely fictionalized that it’s basically anonymous nonfiction, and some non-fiction has so many liberties taken with it that it’s pretty much made up. Objectivity is a lie!! 

  2. For people who are unfamiliar with this trend, good discussions of this topic can be found here and here. A great list of recent fiction to start with can be found here. If you have suggestions for non-fiction by women or people of color for me to read, please let me know! 

  3. A caveat to this data collection is that I pretty much self-assessed authors’ demographics - if you’ve won an award from some cultural or gender-specific literary group, it was easy to identify, but I’m sure I mischaracterized a few authors. I’m not sure what the right way to do this assessment is. 

  4. Full disclosure: there was only one occurence of this and I don’t feel the need to publicly shame the book, but it was actually awful and offensive and painfully written and I was heartened to see everyone else on Goodreads hated it, too. 

  5. Like my friends who read and don’t understand why I read books I don’t want to read, shout out to friends who read! 

  6. Like the author demographics, and analytics based on page count. Also, my data is kept in a csv file I can edit in a plaintext editor on my phone and I like it that way. 

  7. Some suggestions are “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” by Maria Semple, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan, and “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)”.