2016: A Year in Books

At the beginning of 2016, I decided I wanted to be more intentional about my reading habits. I wanted to be able to look back and remember what I’d read over the course of a year; I wanted to gain greater insight into the types of books I read (as part of trying to make a conscious effort to become more diverse in my reading habits… I figured I needed to know the extent of my reading biases at the very least, so that I can strive to address them)

I took a two pronged approach to this project:

  1. I created a spreadsheet. On this spreadsheet I attempted to track various pieces of data, including: Author (gender, nationality, person of colour); Date Published; Length of time to complete; Format of book; Genre; Publishing House, etc.
  2. I tried to be more active on my Goodreads, writing reviews of almost all the books I read this year.

Overall, this has been one of my most successful resolutions ever. I kept my log throughout the year, and tracked the 44 books I finished (as well as the five I did not…).

So, what did I learn?

Over the course of the year I read 44 books, that is 11,923 pages. Phew! On average, it took me just over 7 days to read each book – although this ranged from reading a book in a day, to taking a whopping 38 days to finish (The Orenda was long, what can I say?).

One of the realizations I had is that classifying books by genre is really hard: as you can see in my chart, I got fairly sloppy with my categorizations (I guess I’m never going to make it as a librarian).

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However, amid the jumble, one thing is pretty clear – I mostly read fantasy. This doesn’t really shock me – I love fantasy and speculative fiction, and I think there are some amazing writers in this genre right now. Some of my favourite books I read this year fell broadly under this category: The Bone ClocksThe Bullet Catcher’s DaughterThe Fifth Season, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and Uprooted to name just a few.

When it comes to considering how diversely I read, it’s definitely a mixed bag. It turns out I’m really good at reading women writers. Nearly 70% of the books I read this year were by women. This didn’t really shock me – I got the importance of seeking out women writers drilled into me (both intentionally and unintentionally) during my academic career, and I tend to make a point of prioritizing my support for women writers.

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However, when it came to other measures of diversity, I did less well. My reading diet is overwhelming Western – over 80% of the books I read were written by authors from either the UK, America or Canada. (In my defence, one of my goals this year was to read more Canadian fiction). This did surprise me: I think of myself as being someone who enjoys “world literatures” but the numbers don’t lie: without actively seeking out work from non-Anglophone/Western authors, I default to what is familiar, clearly.

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Just seven of the books I read this year were by people of colour (which is approximately 15%). As it happens, these books were all written by women of colour. This, again, feels shockingly low to me, one of those moments where my own unconscious biases are laid woefully bare by the data, and certainly a “wake up call” for me to take a more proactive approach to diversifying my reading habits.

When it comes to how I read, it emerges that I am an ebook convert:

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More than half of the books I read this year were an ebook of some form; nearly 1 in 5 was an audiobook. Despite having a long avowed preference for “real” books, it turns out living in an apartment with limited shelf space will really win you over to the ebook cause. (Also, I totally discovered borrowing ebooks from the library this year. Life changing!)

So, what next?

Well, for one, as I head into 2017 my primary reading goal is to include more writers of colour in my reading, and to seek out more writers from around the world. This exercise has highlighted for me the importance of being intentional when it comes to embracing diversity in books. While I fully understand the importance of supporting diverse voices in the arts (especially financially), it is evident that good wishes are not enough. I plan to do my research, buff up my “to be read” pile, and actively strive to read more diversely over the course of the next year.

I plan to continue with my tracking methods. I enjoy being able to look back and actually remember what I’ve read over the course of the year, and if anything is going to help prompt me to read more diversely, surely it is the “sunshine” of actually tracking what I’ve read.

For me, reading is both pleasurable escapism and political act. Reading is such an inherent part of my life that it feels deeply important to me that I embody my values through it. As such, I’m looking forward to expanding my literary horizons in 2017 – and if anyone has any suggestions as to what I should add to my list, please do share!

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