2016 is the first year that I’ve consistently tracked my reads. I decided to record my reads this year for a few reasons:
- I estimate I read about 100-150 books a year (2-3 books a week). I wanted to know if this estimate was anywhere near accurate
- I often get ask for recommendations, and I often forget what I’ve read and when and often have to refer back to my IG to “that book..what was its title?” Or “I know I read something good recently, what was it?” or even “when did I discover that author?”
- I wanted to see what kinds of books I was reading, and if there were any patterns to my reading habits.
This year, I read 162 books. I definitely had fallow periods, as per the graph below.
There’s a mildly discernible pattern here – I build up to a “reading peak” every 3 months or so, and then fall back down. My average number of books read per month is 13.5 (about 3.1 books a week), but in my lowest month (November) I only read 7, followed by my highest number to date – 23 books in December.
(I only tracked books I read for leisure and which were new to me – I didn’t include novels I read for work or to teach, or even re-reads, which would have brought the total up by at least another 50 books.)
Reading by Genre
The majority of my reads are popular fiction – thrillers, romance, horror, that kind of thing, followed by contemporary fiction or what I’ve called “literary reads”. I only read 2 plays this year – Wajahat Ali’s The Domestic Crusaders and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (both recommended!) – and no poetry anthologies, although I dipped in and out of poetry.
I was surprised by how little non-fiction I’ve actually read this year – 14 books. It seemed like much more – I’d have estimated at least 20-30. I think this is because I spend a lot of time reading longform articles online that feed into my non-fiction reads offline (e.g a lot of feminist blogs that translated into me picking up feminist essay collections etc) so it seemed like one big amorphous mass.
I read quite a bit of YA as well – mostly because they’re quick, and even though they can be emotionally intense, they’re generally good palate cleansers in between really heavy reads. No matter how wringing the journey, YA tends to be uplifting or redemptive in some way.
Reading by gender and race
Of the 162 books I read this year, only 22 were male-authored. This wasn’t an entirely conscious decision, but after January, I looked back over my list and realized I’d read only one book by a man. I didn’t intentionally seek out female authors, but I realized that I tended to be drawn to female authored books anyway (e.g in a bookstore, when I do my initial unfiltered “grab”, it tends to be female heavy. I found this several times during the year, both in Brunei and abroad).
I don’t know if this is a function of content, or if there’s a fundamental stylistic difference between the things that are male authored versus female authored, but it’s something I’m interested in exploring further.
I’m disappointed that I only managed to read two texts in translation this year – Norsiah Gapar’s Tsunami di Hatinya and Isabel Allende’s City of the Beasts. That’s something I’ll actively try to rectify this year.
I’m also disappointed that I read so few texts by POC writers (16 individual writers – some wrote series, so that’s not reflective of total number of books), especially as those ended up being some of my favourite reads of the year. Again, something I’ll look at next year. (I do think that this is partially a result of my online reading habits as well).
My top 10 reads of the year, in no particular order, were:
Luvvie Ajayi I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual (so funny, so frank, so no-nonsense)
Julian Barnes Arthur and George (the rambunctious, gallant Arthur Conan Doyle and the amazing, half-Indian, bewildered George Edalji cross paths, masterclass in character)
Jennifer Zobair Painted Hands (American Muslim women, ambitious, romantic, flawed)
Helene Wrecker The Golem and the Jinni (drawing on Arabic and Jewish mythology, turn of the century New York, sprawling, compassionate)
Maggie Stiefvater The Raven King (I love this YA series, for Stiefvater’s amazing prose, poignant relationships, and incredible premise of dreaming things into life)
Holly Goldberg Sloan Counting by 7s (this YA novel confronts grief head-on, so painfully and compassionately, but ultimately insists on joy and healing. This year’s Wonder.)
Penelope Lively Moon Tiger (the strong female protagonist though. brilliant, sometimes enraged kaleidoscope of 20th century history. )
Frances Hardinge The Lie Tree (feminist, evocative, rolicking mystery based around Victorian archaeology)
Sherry Thomas The Luckiest Lady in London (the heroine in this romance never thinks of herself as less, and never allows anyone else to do so either. Sherry Thomas was my find of the year. Please see: feminist retelling of Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet Women)
Laila Lalami The Moor’s Account (old-fashioned mastery of story-telling, black Muslim slave who journeys from Barbary to Seville to America.)
I read a ton of fun things in 2016, though, so it was hard to narrow it down to 10. Most of the “honourable mentions” like Hasan Namir’s God in Pink and Matthew Norman’s Domestic Violets were really cool and interesting reads that I enjoyed thinking about and enjoyed reading, but which didn’t maybe resonate with me as much as the ones I’ve listed above.
All reading lists are ultimately thinly veiled autobiographies, maybe.
I read quite a few novels that starred academic protagonists or featured in academia in some way this year. See: Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, Frances Hardinge The Lie Tree, Elizabeth Peter’s Summer of the Dragon (hilarious), Najlaa Said Looking for Palestine.
I’ve got Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim on tap at the moment – maybe I’ll finally finish it in 2017.
I don’t have a lot of reading goals for 2017 – I’d like to keep to about 2-3 books a week, read more diversely, maybe hit some classics I’ve never gotten around to finishing like The Brothers Karamazov and The Taqwacores and The Four Loves – but I’ll definitely be tracking my reads again! I think it was a really interesting exercise for myself, and I look forward to a year of good books!
Recommendations so, so welcome.