2021 in Books

As time marches inevitably on, it’s usually a good idea to take a look back at the year that was, and while it’s arbitrary and something of a cliché to do this at the end of the calendar year, it is the natural time to do so. After another year of pandemic fun and other political and cultural strife, it’s actually somewhat of a relief to take a closer look at something as mundane as the books I’ve read over the year.

I keep track of my reading at Goodreads (we should be friends there), and they have a bunch of rudimentary 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.

Graphs

I read 63 books in 2021, slightly off the pandemic fueled record pace set last year (69 books, nice), but there are always complicating factors that we’ll get to.

Graph of Number of Books Read

You can see the full list on Goodreads. This falls short of last year, but is otherwise still far above previous years. While pandemic restrictions eased a bit this year, things are still not back in full swing, so that still drives plenty of reading time. Or listening time, as audio books still comprise a pretty significant proportion of the list.

Average page length clocks in at a measly 312, far below last year’s robust 343 and the previous year’s 345, not to mention my personal record of 356. This was mostly driven by the inclusion of a serialized series of short stories and novelettes that pumped up the overall count of books while dropping the average page numbers (the count of books would probably still be above pre-pandemic numbers, but this certainly had an impact).

Graph of Number of Pages Read

Of course, we must acknowledge the inherent variability in page numbers, but this still feels about right. Still better than pre-pandemic numbers, but not as overwhelmingly so.

The Extremes

The Shortest and Longest Books of the year
The Most Popular and Least Popular books of the year

The obvious clarification needed here is that the “Least Popular” book is Pain Don’t Hurt, by Sean T. Collins, a non-fiction book where a film critic decided to write about the Patrick Swayze film Road House every day for a year. It gets a bit repetitive and it could use more pictures (especially when discussing the minor side characters and mostly unnamed trustees of modern chemistry), but it’s an amazing book worth reading for any fan of that film. I suspect it would be more popular if Collins actually released this book through more traditional means (it’s not really available at major retailers – you can find it online, but it is pricey, even though it’s a signed edition). For the record, Pain Don’t Hurt is also the highest rated book I read all year, though that’s most likely due to the low number of ratings.

Anywho, I’m glad to see that Project Hail Mary was so popular. It’s probably my favorite Science Fiction novel of the year and if I were participating in the Hugos this year, I would definitely be nominating it.

Assorted Observations and Thoughts

At this point, I’d normally show the graph of books read by publication date, but ever since I read Twelfth Night, by Shakespeare, the chart’s Y axis got so large that the graph is essentially ruined. I’ll try to make up for that with some observations below.

  • Slan by A.E. van Vogt was the oldest book I read in 2021. Published in 1940, I was actually trying to get ahead of Vintage Science Fiction Month and just finished it a couple days ago.
  • 20 non-fiction books in 2021, a minor increase over last year but given the lower count of overall books, it’s proportionally higher too. A little less than 1/3 non-fiction feels alright, but I suspect we’ll continue to see this number go up over time.
  • 18 science fiction books in 2021, a significant decrease over the past few years. The difference this year was mostly due to an increase in thrillers, horror, and crime fiction. I suspect not formally participating in the Hugos also has something to do with it.
  • Only 8 books written by women in 2021, which is a significant decrease over the last few years. Of course, this was not intentional at all, but maybe I should pay some attention to that in 2022.
  • Without doing any formal analysis, despite a few vintage reads, this year was mostly above 1990 in terms of age, and recent releases were a higher proportion than usual I think. Nothing wrong with that and again, nothing intentional here, but maybe worth looking into older reads in 2022.

So it’s been a pretty good year in books. While I’m a massive introvert and greatly enjoy reading books, I’m still happy to see that the pandemic appears to be easing a bit, though who knows what Omicron will bring (I suspect the next month or two will be ruff, but after that…). Still, while I love staying home and reading or listening to audio books on long walks, it would be nice to get out into the world again in 2022. Unless we see a significant worsening of the pandemic, I’m guessing the reading numbers will decrease a bit again in 2022… (and as much as I love books, that will still be a good thing!)

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