We’ve finally reached the end of 2020 and, much as we might not want to, it’s always a bit natural to take step back and examine where we are and what we’ve done. In this case, I’m focusing on one of the brighter spots of 2020, which was my year in books. I was very fortunate to have a job that easily transitioned to work-from-home, but even then, it’s obvious that the pandemic had a large impact on my reading habits.
I keep track of my reading at Goodreads (we should be friends there), and they have a bunch of fancy statistical visualization tools that give a nice overview of my reading habits over time, especially now that I’ve been logging books there for over a decade.
I read 69 books in 2020. Nice.
You can see the full list on Goodreads. This basically blows all previous years away and is an obvious consequence of spending more time at home due to pandemic lockdowns &c. While there was the usual sprinkling of shorter-than-novel fiction throughout the year, I will note that it was actually less than usual since I finally gave up on Hugo short stories this year. The list also includes a pretty good proportion of audio books, probably more than normal since I was taking more walks (trying to get some movement into my life since sitting at my computer all day is not great), though also driving less, so maybe it was a wash? Anyway, in the past, large increases of quantity generally coincided with less pages read… but not really this year.
Average pages read was 343, just a hair off from last year’s 345 and not that far off the record set in 2013 (which was 356, but that’s over only 31 books). And in absolute terms, overall pages in 2020 still far exceeded all other years in recorded history.
As usual, you have to acknowledge the inherent variability in page numbers, but even doing so, it was a pretty productive year in reading.
Interesting note here: three of these four extremes are non-fiction (and it makes sense that the “shortest book” wouldn’t be non-fiction because I don’t really track short non-fiction that I read, which does exist in terms of long-form journalism). I’ll also note that The Hollywood Economist, while not perfect, is fascinating reading for anyone who wants to know how movies are financed. Er, were financed. I suspect almost all of it is now in tremendous flux due to pandemic woes, but still. The book is worth reading just to see how things work. The devil is in the details, and there are a lot of details here that rarely come up in online film discussion.
At this point, I’d normally show the graph of books by publication date… but I made the mistake of reading Twelfth Night, by Shakespeare this year. It was published in 1601, which has net effect of ruining the default Goodreads graph. I’ll try to make some ad-hoc observations below.
- 19 Non-Fiction books in 2020, a significant improvement over the last few years, though not exactly a huge improvement in proportional terms (still, a 500 basis point increase, not bad at all).
- Only 10 books written by women this year, which is abysmal. A decrease in absolute terms from last year, and a major decrease in proportionality. Of course, this wasn’t intentionally planned this way or anything, it just shook out like this.
- Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare was the oldest book I read in 2020. Or in all of my Goodreads history, for that matter. To Marry Medusa, by Theodore Sturgeon was the second oldest, having been published in 1958.
- Approximately 30 books were Science Fiction, which is proportionally down a bit from previous years, but still relatively consistent.
- I didn’t really crunch the numbers, but my gut feeling is that I read more stuff from the 80s and 90s this year than in previous years, though there’s still an obvious recency bias, with lots of new books. Even with declining participation in the Hugos, I still seem to have that recency bias.
So there you have it, a pretty fabulous year in books. That said, I’ll appreciate when things start to return to normal. I love books and am a massive introvert, but even I’m starting to get a bit antsy. Also, while I love stats and tracking my habits, it might be worth taking a step back from Books (and Movies) this year? Or maybe not, but worth considering.