how i read in 2015

light-person-woman-fireI’m not much for celebrating holidays, and I don’t get particularly excited about the idea that the calendar has changed, because it does that every 24 hours. It’s not that I begrudge other people being into holidays, but no matter how much I try to drum up any emotional reaction to the idea that a certain day is something that people around me celebrate, I don’t seem to have it in me. It’s like my own version of being a sociopath, I guess.

BUT everyone does this sort of thing, so I have to. I’ve gone through all of my reading and made lots of pie charts. If there is something I do get excited about with a holiday such as this, it’s that I get to totally indulge in my love of data – and I get to berate myself for being terrible, and I’m a real masochist, so that’s great.

2015 was a really difficult year, and nearly every month when I did my roundup, I expressed some level of dissatisfaction, because I found so many books to be meh and forgettable. I read what I think is pretty broadly and diversely, but upon doing the math, I see I actually failed a lot. It’s clear that I’m not above setting reading challenges for myself – even as someone who belongs to multiple marginalized groups, I fall victim to the same forces that make national reading tastes so bland and repetitive. I’ll need to set some goals for 2016 (and beyond).

It makes a lot of sense that I found so many books meh when so many of them were just stuff about the status quo and by members of the dominant population in the US. (This feeling I have is why I don’t understand when people claim it’s hard to read diversely and still be interested. I’m bored out of my mind when all I read about is abled, cis/het white people because so often, their shit just reads the same over and over again.)

When I took away books I didn’t finish, I ended up with 160 total books finished this year. First, I wanted to look at how much I stepped out of my YA comfort zone and tried things aimed at different ages. It wasn’t a terrible span:

So then I broke it down by format:
meta-chart (1)
What was most interesting here was that I’ve never in my life been so reliant on audiobooks. It’s taken me a couple years to get into them at all and develop my aural literacy (it’s funny, because I have a great musical ear and relative perfect pitch, but paying attention to narratives – or even conversation in a loud place – is really difficult for me), but when I moved to California and started driving everywhere, I had to start listening to them. Now that I don’t live in the land of freeways, I expected not to drive so often, but because I teach at so many gyms all over town, I put pretty much the same mileage on my car every week, and it’s all street traffic. Tucson radio is really shitty, so if it’s not Morning Edition/Fresh Air/All Things Considered/Marketplace, I just can’t do it. What with my TBR growing ever so much more, I really need audiobooks to fit in as much “reading” as possible. So it’s mainly nonfiction that I want to consume for the sake of information on new topics or to understand a cultural concept, not narrative.

I’ve been trying lately to become more discerning with my fiction reading. It’s far and away my preferred genre, but I think that’s precisely why it is incredibly important to take a break from it and try other things. So I looked at it by genre:
meta-chart (2)
That’s not terrible, but I’m hoping I can really up my history and social studies reading this year. The history classes I had in middle and high school were the type where you copy outlines from the board, memorize things, take a quiz on them, and then forget them so that you can do those same things with the next week’s readings. The extent to which I do not understand major events of world and US history is deplorable, and I feel like no matter how good an advocate and activist I am for social justice, I’m limited by the fact that my understanding of history has big gaps in it. I learned nothing from survey courses, so I’ve filled in the blanks with historical fiction, microhistories, cultural studies and biographies. Frankly, contextual learning has always been my preferred method, so I don’t totally care, but to make sure that I have the makings of a survey, I need to do more of those readings.

I wanted to check my diversity stats, which took a really long time and which are less than accurate, since I had to go with my best guess on things like author identity, and I can’t possibly have gotten everything right. That said, I did take a stab at it. These graphs are all based on the total number of books, even though there were authors that I’d read more than once.

First I looked at gender identity, which is the one place where I did a fairly good job. Next year I need to seek out more non-cis writers and expand my understanding of transgender people in life and in literature.
meta-chart (3)

Then I looked at race. Again, I may not have been accurate, but I’m probably not far from it. This makes me incredibly ashamed, especially because many of the numbers on the PoC list are actually smaller if you consider that some authors are counted more than once.
meta-chart (4)

It got a little better when I looked at characters, but not by much:
meta-chart (5)

So then I went to see how many books I read had LGBTQIA+ content and/or creators. I guess it’s not bad overall, and there could easily be authors who identify as such that I was not aware of:
meta-chart (6)

Another problem with my endless to-read list is that I feel the need to avoid reading an author I’ve already read, even if I like them. This is an entirely arbitrary, weird rule that I didn’t come up with consciously but comes from having regular anxiety about everything. In 2015, though, without a whole lot of intentionality, I read nine authors more than once: Margarita Engle, Atul Gawande, Zoraida Córdova, Sophie Kinsella, Noelle Stevenson, Lucy Knisley, Marilyn Nelson, Leslea Newman, and Mary Roach. I’d like to spend more time this coming year reading series in their entirety (I have a general rule of not starting series unless they’re entirely published that has been in effect long enough that I should have some books on my to-read that are now eligible to actually be read), so I’m guessing that number will be higher in the future.

I think it was good not to do the GoodReads challenge this year and have the regular “you are two books behind” reminders to add to my anxiety. I won’t do it this year, either. But I guess I should do some more specific challenges, since I didn’t do as well with diversity (the kinds we mostly talk about and the other kinds, like format and subject) as I’d hoped. I’m going to start with the Book Riot Read Harder 2016 Challenge, but I also need to set a few more rules or challenges too if I’m really going to make my reading worthwhile, not meh like last year. I’m not quite sure what those ones are going to be, but if anyone is participating in some other data- or list-based reading challenges this year, I’d love to learn about them and consider adding them to my list. I definitely plan to increase my picturebook reading in the future, for a variety of reasons, so I will easily hit 200 books this year, I think.

As long as they’re engaging and interesting and worth my time.


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