Every year, I try to read 100 books. This year I read 145! Here’s some analysis of the books I read, reflections on my reading and habits, and some goals for next year’s reading.

the basics

Reading began on January 1 and proceeded thusly.

books_per_month plot

I feel kind of ambivalent about completing my goal this year – I crossed the 100 book threshold in September, and while that didn’t slow down my progress, I kind of felt like my reading has really become a strong habit, and I’ve fully adjusted to my life as a frequent reader.

Here’s how I progressed over time. It looks like a pretty even slope to me, which sounds right when compared with my impression of fairly consistent and regular reading habits. I’m always worried that after seeking to complete some concrete books goal, I’m going to grow tired of it and stop reading, forever, or even a month. But I found that a healthy variety of genres, styles, and reading media helped keep me active in my reading efforts.

over time plot

By the end of the year, I had subbed out my least favorite podcasts for audiobooks, and also tried to read more physical books.

book format plot

I have a really tall stack of physical books I keep buying and not reading, which is new for me! My rule used to be to only buy books I had read and loved. I started breaking this rule when authors would come to Seattle for readings, and I wanted to support them/have them sign a copy of their book for me. I continued to break this rule during a bunch of holiday book sales. I guess in 2017 I will seek to read more of the physical books I keep buying and not opening.

book enjoyment plot

Amazing news: I didn’t hate a single book I read this year! I can’t decide if this is because I got better at choosing books I’d enjoy, or more compassionate towards books that may have been not-great. I actually feel that I’ve become more critical judging a book’s merits and drawbacks, so I’ve probably gotten better at skewing my choices towards Books that are Good that I Will Like. That doesn’t mean I’m not judgy! I read ten whole books this year that were Awful. But I think there are many collections of writing that are good but not all the way amazing, and as I read more I have started becoming more discerning about what makes a book good to me vs. objectively high quality. I guess finding my own taste is a positive development in my reading career, so I should be happy about new growth and changes beyond just completing my reading goal.

new friends

Before diving deeper into who and what and where, it’s worth discussing what’s new in my reading lifestyle, the stuff around the reading.

  1. I bought a Kindle this year! I previously read on my iPad, but my eyes have been struggling more with screen-staring1 and travelling with five books for a weekend trip is no fun. Hot take: I’m enjoying it! It has the benefits of e-reading such as syncing with my phone so I can read while on lines, while overall reducing my eye strain. I can read my library books on it, free books from Project Gutenberg, and ebooks I’ve bought from indie booksellers like Verso Books or Emily Books, who often bundle ebooks with physical copy purchases.

  2. I really leaned into using Goodreads this year. I have friends on there who I like to keep up with, it’s easy to find and update my reading habits (especially because of the Kindle integration), and I like to support authors by rating their work! A fun new thing I did in zest was attend book events and author readings, which has introduced me to many smart and thoughtful new writers. Many of these books, especially independently printed ones, don’t have many ratings on Goodreads, so I feel like shows of support there are useful.

    So what about my little personal tools I cobbled together? I’m still using them! Goodreads isn’t the perfect system for me (they don’t let me track things I care about like author demographics, or fine-grained topic tags like I’ve been using), and it certainly isn’t a substitute for these fun year-in-review posts. In 2015, I collected some metadata on what I was reading, which I hoped would help me achieve some sort of great balance in my reading material. I continued to collect this data in 2016, but didn’t end up “checking my progress” with this data like I intended. I did find that the act of recording it did keep me generally mindful on the quality and topics I read on, which is probably the most I can hope to expect from logging like this.

  3. Another new-in-2016 book development is that I signed up for the Book of the Month Club2. The hip and happening new books tend to have excrutiatingly long wait times at the library, and I figured this would be a fun way to conveniently get copies of the new books I want to read. I still purchase the bulk of my books at local bookstores and yard sales (I’m still a grad student, after all) but the prices are very reasonable for new hardcovers and they always send a very sturdy bookmark. Otherwise, I’m mostly getting my books from the library like in past years.

what i read

A consequence of doing these roundups every year is that people ask my opinion of all these books I read. They want to know what I liked and didn’t like and what would I recommend for their next long flight? This year I explored some new-to-me genres: academic nonfiction/essays, poetry, and science fiction, which led me to discover some new favorites in genres I wouldn’t expect.3 Thanks to Seattle Public Library’s Summer Book Bingo challenge4, I broke into reading YA as a grown up5, which is so enjoyable that I am certainly going to continue. I also have felt compelled to gift books to friends this year, which made me thoughtful about what books impacted me that I would feel comfortable paying money to give to someone else.

Top 8 (unordered, probably)

I was surprised to find that even though I read almost 150 books, the standouts were clear, few, and immediately obvious to me. Lots of books were good, really good! But when I tried to pick 10 but it was hard to pick books that I loved as deeply as the eight that stood out immediately. I honestly didn’t know I would love all these books right away, and some I didn’t realize I loved until later when I couldn’t stop thinking or talking about them. All of these books are A++++. Brown Girl Dreaming is notable for being the only book I read on audiobook that made such a deep impact. Dietland is probably the least perfect or popular book on the list, but is such delicious wish fulfillment that I think of it very often.

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
Brown Girl Dreaming, Jaqueline Woodson
The Vegetarian, Han Kang
The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka
Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang
How to Be Both, Ali Smith
Dietland, Sarai Walker

Genre Fiction

I really pushed my love of genre fiction this year, like mystery/thrillers and easy-read-white-women-fiction. I read some really brilliant genre fiction this year, and learned a lot from discussion on what gets classified as genre and what doesn’t (TODO rewrite). I also found that there is lovely writing to be found in every genre, which can outweigh my preferences against any specific category. Sometimes I feel compelled to stop wasting my time6 on “lowbrow” or “un-serious” books, but I find that a lot of genre labels tend to be unnecessarily pejorative. After speaking more openly about my exxcitement about certain great pieces of genre fiction, people came to me in hushed tones telling me they were embarrassed to talk about liking genre fiction because it wasn’t Serious Reading. I want to kind of push at this tension more - reading should be fun and enjoyable, and the kinds of books that get published as pulp or fantasy or whatever else point to real and true social concerns that the people want to read about!

More importantly for me, there’s some really exciting books to be found out there, even outside the Pulitzer and Man Booker Award winners. Jenny Han’s young adult novels made me wish I was a young adult again (crazy, I know!). Megan Abbott’s pulpy thrillers are kind of formulaic, but the formula is so so brilliant that I’m enthralled every time. Uptown Thief, which Jean Yang reviewed for Jacobin, is a thoughtful social justice narrative wrapped up in a fun and flirty romance novel. Liz Hand’s mysteries are dark and seedy and haunting with a punk feminist bent, great for winter reading.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before, Jenny Han
Queenpin, Megan Abbott
Uptown Thief, Aya de Leon
Generation Loss, Elizabeth Hand

Memoir Audiobooks Narrated by the Author

My feelings on audiobooks have also changed. I used to find them horribly unpleasant, especially for serious nonfiction or fiction with multiple characters. Memoir or essays narrated by the author have proven to be the exception! Especially with actors or comedians, you can get a lot out of listening to their book that one may not elicit from reading. Hearing Maya Angelou or Jaqueline Woodson sing songs from their childhood, or Taraji P. Henson imitate her casting agent, is something I could not possibly guess, and really adds a lot to a story!

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Brown Girl Dreaming, Jaqueline Woodson
Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes
Shrill, Lindy West
Round the Way Girl, Taraji P Henson
In The Country We Love: My Family Divided, Diane Guerrero

the list

If you’re looking at what I read this year for a potential recommendation, the library is where I’m collecting my favorite books of all time. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but I like having it up on here as a testament to my favorite hobby.

For completeness, here’s the year’s book list and some of the metadata I collected. I only included the boolean categories for ease of perusing, but I also kept track of how many pages were in the book, how hard I found the book (I didn’t find many books to be seriously challenging, but again this was a good checkpoint for me). I think one reason I continue filling out this data in addition to logging completion on a place like Goodreads is that it’s a good reflection period for me after I read.

In 2017 I’d like to broaden this with a sentence or two of what I liked and didn’t like. My ambivalence about how “good” a book is past a certain quality metric means that the fine-grained notes of writing style, plot, etc., i.e. what made the book worth reading or not, get lost in the shuffle. I keep most of these things in my brain, but it might better help develop my taste and recommendations for others if I organized the merits of the books more concretely. We’ll see how this fleshes out in the year to come.

Title Author Woman PoC Fiction Nonfic Poems Genre Audio Scifi Mystery Top 8 4stars+
Invisible Paul Auster
Monster Loyalty Jackie Huga
Look at Me Jennifer Egan
Ready Player One Ernest Cline
Three Bedrooms in Manhattan Georges Simenon
Men Explain Things to Me Rebecca Solnit
Dear Life Alice Munro
The Book of Unknown Americans Cristina Henriquez
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist Sunil Yapa
The Girl in the Road Monica Byrne
Missoula Jon Krakauer
Dept. of Speculation Jenny Offill
The Vacationers Emma Straub
By Blood Ellen Ullman
The Last Illusion Porochista Khakpour
Summerlong Dean Bakopoulos
Luckiest Girl Alive Jessica Knoll
In Other Words Jhumpa Lahiri
The Cuckoo's Calling Robert Galbraith
The Silkworm Robert Galbraith
Pretty Girls Karin Slaughter
Data, A Love Story Amy Webb
Drown Junot Diaz
The Argonauts Maggie Nelson
The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine Alina Bronsky
Memoirs of a Porcupine Alain Mabanckou
The Redbreast Jo Nesbo
The Knockoff Lucy Sykes, Jo Piazza
Giovanni's Room James Baldwin
Dark Places Gillian Flynn
Dietland Sarai Walker
The Snowman Jo Nesbo
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami
Citizen: An American Lyric Claudia Rankine
Everybody Rise Stephanie Clifford
Pattern Recognition William Gibson
The Sellout Paul Beatty
Juliet Takes a Breath Gabby Rivera
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Ben Fountain
Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert
Women in Clothes Sheila Heti
Career of Evil Robert Galbraith
Love, Loss, and What We Ate Padma Lakshmi
Edinburgh Alexander Chee
Fates and Furies Lauren Groff
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine Alexandra Kleeman
No One Belongs Here More Than You Miranda July
F is for Fugitive Sue Grafton
The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes
Boy, Snow, Bird Helen Oyeyemi
Generation Loss Elizabeth Hand
Ways to Disappear Idra Novey
I Take You Eliza Kennedy
A Little Life Hanya Yanagihara
E is for Evidence Sue Grafton
H is for Homicide Sue Grafton
The First Bad Man Miranda July
J is for Judgment Sue Grafton
Available Dark Elizabeth Hand
Dark Debts Karen Hall
I is for Innocent Sue Grafton
What is Not Yours is Not Yours Helen Oyeyemi
Patternmaster Octavia Butler
G is for Gumshoe Sue Grafton
Laura Vera Caspary
Siddhartha Herman Hesse
The Assistants Camille Perri
Dear Jenny, We Are All Find Jenny Zhang
Hard Light Elizabeth Hand
K is for Killer Sue Grafton
L is for Lawless Sue Grafton
I was Told There'd Be Cake Sloane Crosley
Blackass: A Novel A. Igoni Barrett
M is for Malice Sue Grafton
How to be Both Ali Smith
All Things Cease to Appear Elizabeth Brundage
Apocalypse Baby Virginie Despentes
Uptown Thief Aya de Leon
The Passion According to G.H. Clarice Lispector
Eligible Curtis Sittenfeld
We Love You, Charlie Freeman Kaitlyn Greenidge
Maestra L.S. Hilton
Fool Me Once Harlan Coben
In The Country We Love Diane Guerrero
When The Emperor Was Divine Julie Otsuka
Hotel Brasil Frei Betto
To All The Boys I've Loved Before Jenny Han
My Life in France Julia Child
Stories of Your Life and Others Ted Chiang
Bartleby, the Scivener Herman Melville
The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison
N is for Noose Sue Grafton
Shrill Lindy West
Sweetbitter Stephanie Danler
The Buddha In the Attic Julie Otsuka
Homegoing Yaa Gyasi
O is for Outlaw Sue Grafton
P is for Peril Sue Grafton
Rich and Pretty Rumaan Alam
Dragonfish Vu Tran
In a Dark, Dark, Wood Ruth Ware
Lovecraft Country Matt Ruff
How to Live Sarah Bakewell
Queenpin Megan Abbott
Q is for Quarry Sue Grafton
Dear Mr. You Mary Louise-Parker
This City Claudia Castro-Luna
Sag Harbor Colson Whitehead
Problems Jade Sharma
Primates of Park Avenue Wednesday Martin
P.S. I Still Love You Jenny Han
Hullaballoo In the Guava Orchard Kiran Desai
Overpour Jane Wong
The Wangs vs. the World Jade Chang
Around the Way Girl Taraji P. Henson
You Can't Touch My Hair Phoebe Robinson
Family Planning Karan Mahajan
Die a Little Megan Abbott
Year of Yes Shonda Rhimes
The Vegetarian Kang Han
Today Will Be Different Maria Semple
I'm Just a Person Tig Notaro
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou
Night Sky with Exit Wounds Ocean Vuong
Something Borrowed Emily Giffin
Sex Object Jessica Valenti
Infomocracy Malka Older
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle Angela Y. Davis
Milk and Honey Rupi Kaur
The Underground Railroad Colson Whitehead
Prosthesis Ian Hatcher
One More Thing B.J. Novak
Brown Girl Dreaming Jacqueline Woodson
Big Little Lies Liane Moriarty
(A)Live Heart Imani Sims
I'm Judging You Luvvie Ajayi
Submission Michel Houellebecq
You Will Know Me Megan Abbott
The Insides Jeremy P. Bushnell
The Fire Next Time James Baldwin
The Intuitionist Colson Whitehead
The Red Car Marcy Dermansky
Break in Case of Emergency Jessica Winter
IQ Joe Ide
  1. I think it’s because I’ve been working harder this year :wink: 

  2. Here’s my referral link. If you use it when you sign up, you’ll get 3 months for $10 each (that’s $30 for three hardcover books!) , and I’ll get a free book. 

  3. Turns out, there is some really great poetry in this world that will make you cry a lot if you have feelings. Almost all the poetry collections I read this year were brilliant and inspiring. 

  4. You can see my Book Bingo card here

  5. I read YA when I was a kid! But not really since, which is a shame because there is so much good writing to be found there. If you’re thinking about it, Jenny Han’s books, specifically, transported me back to middle school in all its tumultuous glory in such an evocative way that I almost wanted to go back. Almost. 

  6. See last year’s book reflections for more on this – I don’t really agree with it anymore, but it’s interesting context for how a single person’s perspective on reading can change over a year of consistent reading.