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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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!
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.
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
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!! ↩
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! ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
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! ↩
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. ↩
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)”. ↩