I almost didn’t do this report this year, and TBH, the only reason I’m doing it is in the event that a year or so down the road I may be irritated with myself for failing to record the data. For some reason I’m suddenly realizing exactly how dumb and nerdy and useless this whole exercise is… but I guess everyone needs a hobby, right? And heck, maybe someone other than me would like to see the full trajectory of these dumb and nerdy and useless Year in Review posts… at which point, you go you.
Standard disclaimer: I don’t log all/most of the books I read for work. The books I do log are done so capriciously, chaotically, and with complete lack of rhyme or reason (outside of the fact that if I definitely liked a book, I’ll log it). Probably my #1 purpose in logging books in Goodreads to help me remember which I’ve already read, so this past year I included all of the books I was reading for the Mock Caldecott class so I didn’t lose track. Skews my stats a little, but since I’m doing this for gits and shiggles, I’m not too concerned.
I read so many really great books this year that it’s hard to narrow it down. The first that jumps to mind is Martha Wells’s Murderbot series. These were such a fun read! These books are novellas, which make them quick and zippy, and their protagonist is one of the most original and strangely endearing I’ve encountered in science fiction. I’ve been recommending these a lot to people who enjoy science fiction, especially the kind with lots of adventure and intrigue and humor and fight scenes, and who like their stories clever without needing to use all of their brain cells all at once.
On a whim last summer, I visited a library branch I’d never been to. And on a whim, I picked up and borrowed this book off their New Releases shelf. What a ride! Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer is the true story of a young woman who — basically on a whim! — entered what might be the world’s most grueling horse race, completely unprepared, and not only survived but won. This was one of these books that takes you on a trip while you read it, and I really felt like I was seeing and experiencing the things Prior-Palmer wrote about. She was a fascinating and unique narrator, sometimes infuriating, often endearing, and I found myself researching her and this race after finishing the book. I’ve had good luck recommending this book to junior high students as well.
The Newsflesh series. Holy moly. I could not read these fast enough — and that’s saying something, because they’re zombie books, and zombies are not my thing. Reading these books and their spinoff stories (all by Mira Grant) was like watching really enjoyable action movies. A perfect balance of relatable, likable characters, fast-paced adventure, intrigue, political/social commentary, interpersonal relationships, humor, and sorrow/horror.
I’ve been introducing Seanan McGuire and Mira Grant (same person, different genres) as my current favorite author for over a year now. I adored everything of hers I read this year, but definitely have to highlight McGuire’s Middlegame. This book strained against pretty much every genre I tried to assign it and left me with the best kind of book hangover. In no particular order, it’s got biopunk (think Frankenstein), alchemy, adventure, survival, romance, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, superpowers, mathematics, murder… more than that. I’m usually pretty good at describing and “selling” books, but this one basically leaves me speechless. I end up just thrusting it at people and saying, “You should read this.”
Without question I also need to acknowledge This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. This book — a science fiction love story told from the alternating perspectives of two incredibly advanced lifeforms on opposing sides of a catastrophic war — is deceptively small but packs a big punch. This was one of the most challenging books I read, and I found myself struggling (in a good way!) to understand or guess what was happening. It was exquisitely beautiful and breathtakingly weird. Reading this book gave me the same feeling that I got the first time I saw classic marble statues at the High Museum and realized what people were talking about when they said the marble seemed almost alive. Like I was in the presence of something too big to really understand and too glorious to look away from.
I’m going to talk about one more favorite, because it was an outlier for me and I think pushed me in a direction to try some new things. What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr is a realistic mystery novel centered on an older woman who has been wrongfully institutionalized in a dementia center. As she regains her faculties she’s revealed as a kickbutt, quirky, amusing, no-nonsense, fearless heroine. I read this while taking a MBSR class, and was deeply amused to recognize mindfulness and meditation techniques that this book’s Rose used to great benefit. The experience of reading this book was a complete 180 from the experience of reading Time War, and it definitely wasn’t what you’d call a brain-breaker, but it was thoroughly entertaining and charming and fun.
On to the Stats and Charts and Stuff
My monthly bar graph is all thrown out of whack thanks to September, when I read a TON of picture books — a very large batch of wordless picture books for a lesson I was helping to create for a teacher, and another large batch of previous Caldecott award and honor books. My summer reading was better than last year’s by a long shot; I still don’t fully understand what happened last June! This year, I had an unusually weak April but mostly stayed pretty consistent throughout the year.
When we look at pages read each month, rather than books,you can really see how the picture books skewed September. Yeah, it was 52 books, but it was only 2,381 pages — not even one of the top 3 months for page count. That honor goes to July, followed by December and then June. As usual, I’m doing my most reading in the summer when I’m not working, and in the darkest part of winter.
It’s not surprising to me to see a large slice of the pie devoted to science fiction; this year was a bigger SF year for me than some, but it’s always one of my favorites. It’s a little more interesting to note that I read more mystery and thriller than usual. This includes some of the urban fantasy (like McGuire’s October Daye series), but I dipped my toe into realistic mysteries (What Rose Forgot and D.A. Bartley’s Blessed Be the Wicked)… which in turn inspired me to branch out into J.D. Robb’s semi-realistic In Death series in December. (They’re science fiction, in that they take place in the late 2050s/early 2060s and have improved technology, but they’re essentially realistic-adjacent). This series sunk its teeth into me and I imagine you’re going to see a huge mystery/thriller spike in 2020 as a result!
Another important reason to go ahead and write this up, is that this is my tenth year doing this, and now I have a decade of data! Huzzah! Behold, the last ten years of my life, as seen through reading charts! As you look at Books Read 2010-2019, you might be thinking, “Hey, she managed to keep reading quite a bit when Kid #2 showed up and added a newborn to her toddler circus!” It’s understandable that you might get that impression…
…But let’s go ahead and clear that up with Pages Read 2010-2019:
Ah, picture books. You never fail to warp charts. 🙂
Anyway, that’s pretty much that. I’m tackling XBooks again in 2020, but releasing myself from the expectation of doing artwork for every book, which I think is a little bit too bad and also what I needed right now. Still tearing my way through the pleasantly long In Death series. Can’t wait to see what amazing books cross my path this year!