2016 Reading Challenge

About a year ago, I posted a run-down of the books I read in 2015, as well as three separate posts detailing my reading plans for 2016. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is not the soul of this blog.

That was early January, but since it feels unlikely that I’m going to finish anything tomorrow, I thought I’d get a jump on the reflecting. This year, I made myself a spreadsheet to track my reading (my engineer husband is so proud). I finished 87 books. Of those, 42 were written by people of color, which is a drastic improvement from my mostly-white 2015 reading list. The breakdown of author gender was pretty similar, with about 2/3 female authors and only one non-binary author.

Wiser people write about the issue of diversity in publishing every day, but here’s my two cents: I had a harder time finding new fiction by people with backgrounds different from my own. These books were not always on library or bookstore shelves. Many of the ones I did find were indie or self-published, rather than from a major publishing house. The discrepancy has certainly made me more conscious about where I spend my book-buying dollars.

I read more nonfiction this year- thirteen books total. A good percentage of those were writing books that I read in an effort to improve my own craft, or maybe figure out what genre the book I’m writing is (With some help from friends and books, I’ve settled on calling it paranormal suspense). Reading with a goal in mind helps decrease the feeling that I’m doing pointless homework.

There was less fantasy this year, or maybe it just looks that way because I stopped lumping “paranormal” in with “fantasy.” There were a lot more romances this year—I was craving happy endings, for sure. According to my lovely spreadsheet I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 24,600 pages total, which is a basically meaningless number because of font sizes and different editions and illustrations and such, but still fun to look at.

I’ll be back sometime next week to let you know what to expect from this blog in 2017 (hint: it is mostly books and yelling about The Magicians). In the meantime, here are my favorites from the past twelve months:

Favorite New Series: Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate. I picked up Soulless back when it first came out in 2009. I can’t remember if I was having paranormal burnout or het romance burnout or what, but I didn’t finish it then. I’m so pleased I got it out of the library again. I’ve never purchased a box set that fast.

Favorite Continuing Series: The Obelisk Gate is the second book in the Broken Earth Trilogy. N.K. Jemisin continues to break my heart in new and creative ways.

Favorite Re-Imagined StoryThe Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I love a good fairy tale retelling. Even though I’ve never read Hale before, this felt like coming home.

Favorite Classic That I Finally Got Around ToKindred by Octavia Butler. Newer, as “classics” go, but wrenching and still so necessary.

Favorite Comic: I am a little sad to be coming to the end of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, which gets better and better as it goes.

Favorite Surprise Discovery/Debut Author: I’ve already written about how much I found Mishell Baker’s Borderline thanks to a bookstore staff recommendation. It’s a stunning paranormal mystery full of complex characters, fairies, and modern Hollywood intrigue, and I’m so so happy I picked it up.

Favorite Overall: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the 16th book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. Bujold has incredible range as a writer, but this is how I like her best—sci-fi with a twist of family drama, romance, and comedy.

What other excellent and life-changing literature did you experience this year? Tell me in the comments, and have a safe and happy new year.

2015 Reading Challenge

I’ve always been bad at counting books. When I was in elementary school and just beginning to get a reputation as a book nerd, other kids would ask me how many books I’d read. My response: like, in my life? A lot, I guess?

People still sometimes ask me how many books I read in a week or a year, and can’t say much more than “It depends.” Depends on the book, on the week, on the year. Depends on my mood, my health (mental and physical), and my job. If I’m on vacation with a really good book, it’s done in a day. If I’m working, stressed out, and in the middle of reading something ponderous, it might take me a month or more.

After years of brushing the questions off, I recently started to get curious myself. At the end of 2014, I estimated that I’d finished about 30 books in the past twelve months. That was only counting new-to-me books, no re-reads. Reasonable enough, but I felt like I could do better.

On New Year’s Day, I resolved that I would finish 52 new books in 2015. I said “finish” rather than “read,” because I wanted to include books that I had started in the waning days of December. That ended up applying to three books. I made some other rules. Novels, novellas, story collections, full-length nonfiction books, audiobooks, comic book trades, and graphic novels would all count. Picture books, short stories, articles, essays, podcasts, and single comic book issues would not.

I tracked my progress on Goodreads, a social media site that lets users build and share a virtual bookshelf. Readers can also review and discuss books and find recommendations. I used the Reading Challenge feature, which lets you set any number of books as your goal for the year. I liked that it let me see my progress as a percentage and let me know if I was on track.

Of course, keeping track may have not-so-subconsciously goaded me to read more than I would have otherwise. I’d say it definitely did. But that was kind of the point, after all.

Finishing 52 books in a year turned out to be no sweat—I reached that goal in October. I ended up reading a total of 70 books this year. That answered the “how many” question. Then I started to wonder about “what kind.” I usually describe myself as reading more science fiction and fantasy than anything else. In recent years I’ve also been trying to read books from more diverse authors. When I say “diverse,” I mean people who don’t look, live, or think like me, a white, straight, cis woman living in America. I decided to go back and break down my total a little.

Unfortunately Goodreads doesn’t provide this service, so it was just me and a pen and paper. It’s entirely probable that I made some mistakes. I counted some books in multiple categories, so it won’t all add up neatly anyways. Here it is, what I read in 2015:

69 Fiction books

1 Nonfiction books

36 Fantasy

17 Historical fiction

8 Science fiction

8 Horror

4 Collections of short stories

3 Erotica

2 Mystery

2 Romance

45 Books that were part of a series

25 Stand-alone books

12 Comics or graphic novels

As you can probably guess from those numbers, I’m an incredible nonfiction slacker. I read only one nonfiction book this year, Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over The World by Anne Jamison. It took me months to finish, and I skimmed some parts. I think I’m just too satisfied getting my information about the real world from articles on the Internet. I’ve been saying for years that I’m going to break out of this and be a better nonfiction reader. Perhaps 2016 is the year.

The other thing that surprised me was the relatively low number of sci-fi books I read, considering how I say it’s one of my favorite genres. Maybe I just wasn’t feeling it this year, or maybe I am really more about wizards than I am about aliens. To be fair, I’m also into both happening in the same universe.

I also tried to track the gender and race of the authors, but that got complicated. I’m going to address the issue of diversity in my personal reading in Monday’s post. For now, I’ll say about two-thirds of the books I read were written by women, or people who generally present as women. The overwhelming majority of authors were white.

Before I put the final bow on my 2015 reading, here are some standouts:

Favorite New Series: Well, new to me anyways. Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy started a little slow, but by the second book I was hooked.

Favorite Old Series: I read a few more of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books this year. It’s a series about the Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons, and I love them very much.

Favorite Book That I Read While In The Real-Life Setting: The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore, read while on my honeymoon.

Favorite Re-Imagined Story: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, a retelling of Peter Pan.

Favorite Classic That I Finally Got Around To: Watership Down by Richard Adams. Not sure what I was waiting for with this one, it’s as good as everyone says.

Favorite Comic: Ugh I read so many good ones this year, but Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples is still my favorite. Doesn’t hurt that Volume 5 was released just in time for my birthday.

Favorite Overall: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin takes this one. I’m beyond excited for the sequel.

So, there it is, my year in books. On Monday I’ll have a post about how I want to challenge myself as a reader in the coming year. What’s the best book you read in 2015? What are you looking forward to reading in 2016?