My 2018 Reading Review

For 2018, I collected data on a few new aspects of my reading. I’ll look at those first, and then dig in to the comparisons to 2017 and 2016. The full list of everything I read is, as always, on Goodreads.

How I read: on my phone

The two new data categories both have to do with how I read.

2018-formats

2018-sources

All of the ebooks and audiobooks, and most of the PDFs, were read on my phone — about 75% of all of my reading. My discovery of Libby, a library app for ebooks, totally transformed my ability to access ebooks and audiobooks, and it turns out I can be one of those people who reads a few pages at a time all day long, if my book is in my phone. (It also turns out that I don’t “love podcasts,” I just get bored while walking places. I’ll still listen to one every now and then, while waiting for the audiobooks I have on hold in Libby, but I unsubscribed from 3/4 of my list with no regrets.)

Another big discovery was that the long and skinny pages of eighteenth century books are a perfect match for my phone screen. It takes a little bit of fussing to download PDFs of facsimiles from Eighteenth Century Collections Online and then load them onto my phone, but then I can read things like Tyranny & Disobedience! on the subway and feel incredibly cool*. (*For some definitions of “cool”; your mileage may vary.)

What I read: Popsugar Reading Challenge

2018 was the first year in a long time that I didn’t have assigned reading from school. It might have been the first time since the sixth grade, actually, that I was responsible for picking out all of my own reading. So of course I immediately committed myself to a highly structured reading list, the Popsugar Reading Challenge. Prompts like “A book set at sea” and “A book with an animal in the title” gave me a starting place when deciding what to read, and then I’d trawl all of the places that I get books to try to find things that suited my own tastes and interests.

So, the challenge was the main motivator for my reading any given book, which pretty clearly absorbs the space previously held by fields, comps, and class:

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Toward the end of the year, I challenged myself to complete as many of the remaining prompts as I could with eighteenth-century texts. (That’s why I ended up trawling ECCO for things like Tyranny & Disobedience!, which is attributed to “Lawrence Lovesense,” fulfilling the prompt “A book by an author with the same first or last name as you.”)

My reading still ended up skewed pretty “modern,” though:

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Uh… actually, let’s try that one again without the outlier:

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And a direct comparison to previous years:

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That might be the most early 20th century literature I’ve ever read in one year! I’m pretty happy with my default chronological distribution, though: both 2017 and 2018 look about the way I’d want them to look, with clusters around the 1790s and the present.

Who I read: white women, apparently

This is where I was hoping to make some changes in my reading, to read books that were just a little bit less monolithically white. Well… I did make a little progress.

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In 2018, I managed four “nonwhite” authors, two “multi” publications (anthologies which contained nonwhite contributors), and three “unknown” (probably white). So, maybe… 8% of what I read wasn’t white. That’s better than 1.6% and 1.7% in the past two years! I’ll see if I can’t continue that upward trend in 2019.

Although I did think consciously about race at a few points, and didn’t think about gender, I was intrigued to find that my choices of authors seemed to get a more female when I was given free rein:

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Other trends

No drama llama this year

I was not surprised at all that I read less drama and more prose, once I was just reading for fun. And I don’t feel like anything is wrong with this chart.

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On-and-off-again reading

I was a little more surprised to find that, as I get more data, I can’t find any recurring patterns in when I do most of my reading. I suppose each year is shaped by its own particular circumstances. I thought things like semesters, summers, and Christmas holidays would have a more predictable effect, but it seems not!

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Instead, I think I’m learning that “fallow” periods in my reading are fairly normal, and will be balanced out eventually by productive periods. Every time I go more than a month without finishing a book, I start to panic that I’ve lost the habit of reading, and may never read again! But most likely, it just means my current slate of books is longer or denser than usual, and I’ll go through some light and quick ones when I’m done. (This is the danger in tracking completion as a proxy for reading!)

Correlations

Most of the correlation charts I made for the year didn’t seem too informative, even though they contain a lot of information. It just all feels like “noise.”

Libby helped me read more

These correlations, for example, seem to mostly show that I read more after I started using Libby, and Libby provides ebooks and audiobooks.

2018-format-by-date

2018-source-by-date

Or maybe they show that I get my books a lot of different ways?

2018-source-by-format

Girls just wanna have fun

The other main correlation is that my “fun” books are a lot more likely to be by women. Here’s 2018, for example:

2018-gender-by-motivation

Those three male books for the “diss” are three scholarly monographs, essentially assigned to me by my committee. I… don’t like the looks of that; as I do more reading for my dissertation going forward, I want to make sure I’m reading more widely.

The correlation holds up when I look at the last three years by motivation, too:

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The more control I have over what I read, the more likely it is to be by a woman — except for the very alarming case of “diss” reading, where I may need to be more assertive about the control I do have.

Reading Recs

I read a much higher number this year of things that I disliked, largely due to PopsugarI do not recommend Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie (even though it was “A book about or set on Halloween”), or Plum Lovin’ by Janet Evanovich (even though it was “A bestseller from the year [I] graduated high school”).

I do, however, recommend many other books. My Man Jeeves was so fun I couldn’t believe I’d gone this long without reading P.G. Wodehouse, and the short story format was probably the ideal way to encounter Jeeves and Wooster. (In a related vein, The Clicking of Cuthbert, a collection of short stories by Wodehouse about golf, was an unexpectedly enjoyable way to read “A book about or involving a sport” — despite the fact that I neither know nor care anything about golf).

In more contemporary fare, I really enjoyed Artemis by Andy Weir, A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. Each is very good at the thing it’s trying to accomplish, so if you like science fiction, mid-century introspective literature, and/or fantasy inspired by fairy tales, I endorse these three offerings.

The biggest Popsugar “win” has to be Purple Springs by Nellie Clung, which I literally only read because it was available in Project Gutenberg and had the word ‘purple’ in its name (“A book with [my] favourite colour in the title”), but nonetheless I quite enjoyed it as a glimpse into Canadian history.

In the eighteenth century, I devoured Evelina by Frances Burney and Belinda by Maria Edgeworth, which was probably the most enjoyable 18th novel I read this year. Well worth the time investment in both cases. Honourable mention to Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett. I also read a lot of random finds in Eighteenth Century Collections Online, but… I can’t really recommend any of them to others, even if I did find them fascinating myself as historical artifacts.

Goals for 2019

As much as I appreciated having the Popsugar Reading Challenge as my training wheels for “unsupervised” reading, I was also often frustrated with the things I found myself reading. I’d like to try some real independence for 2019. I’m hoping my overall reading stays about the same in terms of number of books read, chronological distribution, gender ratio, and format — but I want to keep increasing the number of nonwhite authors I read. It would also be nice if my “scholarly” books weren’t all white men, since there are nonwhite and nonmale scholars in my field. We’ll see how it goes!