2020 Bookish Life in Summation

the buddy reads

In an effort to reach out to folks in a pandemic, I largely abandoned my meticulous reading schedule and was game for anything, including buddy reads. After poking some people, I realized not only did they want to read with me, but they were willing to chat on video calls, too! Just to be silly and read something less-than-serious during the pandemic, I encouraged folks to read some Jenny Holiday romance novels with me — and they did! I read at least one book with each of the following bloggers, or video chatted with them about books:

The Read-alongs

The biggest read-along in which I participated was #ReadingValdemar with Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku. We completed ten novels in ten months. The second read-along was #AusReadingMonth with Brona @ Brona’s Books, which was my first foray into a month of books by Australians or set in Australia, as well as interviews with two authors (one still pending). Also lasting a full month was the read-along of Flannery O’Connor‘s complete collection of short stories that I hosted in the spring.

the book clubs

While I started in a virtual book club with the local library, I ended up continuing a two-person book club with my mom, known in my family as Biscuit. The library folks met once a week, which seemed like a lot to people used to attending a book club once per month, but Biscuit and I felt it was a good idea to meet twice a week. We try to stick to our book but do chat occasionally about other things. Here are the books I read in my book clubs:

reading to nick

A tradition we started many years ago: me, reading aloud to my spouse each night. I try to choose books I think will hit Nick just right without overwhelming him or making him feel terrible; some of my choices toed the line, but here is what we made it through:

authors go virtual

The University of Notre Dame creative writing program has a robust visiting author series, which I’m happy to attend because I live in the area, and of course it went virtual. The Philadelphia Public Library also started a virtual series, allowing people outside their tax paying area to join in these Zoom calls. Thanks to technology, I was able to see the following authors read from their works, discuss writing, and even ask them my questions (Roddy Doyle, omg). The authors I Zoom-ed in on were (click to listen to their conversations):

breakdown of my reading by decade

I keep track of which decade each book I read was originally published in, and for 2020 I tended toward books that were published in 2019 or 2020. Which is uncommon for me. I’m not one to jump on the new-book bandwagon, but this year, excitement around new titles and attending those author events (where you are encouraged to buy the guest’s book), plus that stimulus check that I didn’t need and wanted to share with authors and booksellers, pushed me into newer titles.

I am flabbergasted that the number of books I bought went down, considering how many I bought at the beginning of the pandemic for stimulus reasons and online author visits:

BREAKDOWN OF MY READING BY category

Some explanation: I separated books about a person’s life into memoir/biography, so it’s different from informational texts, books like Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.

Earlier this year, my manager pointed out that we shouldn’t clump science fiction and fantasy. People who like lasers that go pew pew aren’t the same people that like horses that talk with magic.

I know that young adult, new adult, and children’s are not genres, but they are categories I used to help me create some labels.

Graphic art can mean anything that’s told predominantly in images and words, from four-panel, single-page works like Stranger Planet to Allie Brosh’s newest essay collection, Solutions and Other Problems.

Women’s fiction and Men’s fiction I defined as books that don’t fit clearly into another category and that focus on the lives and concerns of men or women. Examples of “women’s fiction” would be a romance with a female lead told that is from her perspective, books about mothers and families, or simply any story about a woman that doesn’t dive into clear genre territory.

breakdown of other elements

Thanks to a 20-30 minute commute, I listened to number of wonderful audiobooks. But that doesn’t mean I finish everything I read (or listened to). Check out these breakdowns:

treating fat people with dignity

The quest continues. In 2020, I completed almost 150 books. How many contained 1) a fat person, 2) who is treated with dignity, 3) and isn’t told to lose weight to be happy/successful? Just fourteen. That’s abysmal.

Look around you. How many friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors do you know who are fat — anyone who would go to a doctor’s office and be told to lose weight? It’s many, many people. Should those people be allowed to exist in fiction? Should they be treated with dignity, or simply given characteristics such as greedy, lazy, smelly, selfish, immoral, and unethical? You would never call your fat friend selfish for her size, but fiction reinforces the stereotypes I’ve listed to the point that people still believe the way fat fictitious individuals on movies and TV, in books and advertisements are depicted is true.

I look for books that star fat women who are treated as humans and don’t diet to prove they are worthy of happiness, dignity, even a fair shot. But shouldn’t all books contain some characters who aren’t thin? When we ask for diverse reads, what do we mean by that? The quest continues indeed…

reading goals for 2021

  1. Finish #ReadingValdemar.
  2. Continue book club with Biscuit.
  3. Finish reading books I purchased for Nook in case Barnes & Noble goes under.
  4. Read books that feature fat female characters treated with dignity — the story doesn’t have to be about their bodies!
  5. Read a large chunk of the books I own in physical (not digital) formats.
  6. Continue listening to audiobooks on my commute.

45 comments

    • Captain. I’m a laser pew pew guy and I wouldn’t read a talking horse with angel wings to save my life (ok, a little Anne McCaffrey). I thought bookshops and libraries had given up the distinction decades ago.

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      • It really depends on the library. Mine separates science fiction and fantasy, western and romance, and also urban fiction. Everything else goes together. Typically, our patrons who want those kinds of books are only looking in that section, so we accommodate what we know our readers want. I hadn’t realized how tailored libraries are to their patrons before I started working at a library. I thought it was all standardized.

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  1. I love your pie charts, hooray! I don’t think I’ll manage those but I’m looking forward to compiling my stats post on New Year’s Day. Some great books and reading here. I don’t have a stat on when I bought books and I’m glad of that … Happy New (reading) Year!

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    • I have a spreadsheet of books by title, author, format (especially which digital format it’s in), and when I got the book. That way, I can read older books that I’ve owned too long, or dip into something new. I also keep track of my stats for the year throughout the year, so compiling at the end isn’t as hard. My husband showed me how to make the pie charts in Google Sheets, and it’s super easy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s weird, I record when I bought a book when I review it, and that goes on my uber-list of all the books I’ve read since 1997 (sadly incomplete) but I haven’t translated that into a graph of my monthly acquiring. I do keep a spreadsheet now as I go along, recording gender and country of author, fic/nonfic, format, etc. and have ongoing totals that create themselves as I go along, just haven’t made pie charts out of them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay Melanie! I love the summary and all of the charts. Cheers to 2021. I just bought Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and now I’m even more excited to read it and read her other books since I see you’ve read two other this year!

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    • Roshni! It’s you!!! 😍😍😍 Were you in Texas recently? I sent you mail. I was hoping you’d be at your folks’ place, although I’m not sure if you ever went to California for school, or left your apartment in California, or what.

      You’ll love Rebecca. It’s fantastic, and I would recommend reading Jamaica Inn as your next du Maurier.

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  3. Interesting point re SF/fantasy. I read a lot of what I’d call speculative fiction, which often has elements of both – my favourite, as I struggle with high fantasy and hard SF!

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    • The reason my manager and I were talking about sci-fi vs. fantasy is because I create a monthly newsletter about the newest books in those genres that we have. She felt they should be separate newsletters, and that folks interested in both could sign up for both. She’s not necessarily wrong, but the two have been twain for ages.

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  4. I think Barnes and Noble is doing okay so you don’t have to worry about them going under. I just read an article in the NYT about bookstores/publishing in 2020 and it does seem like they’ve positioned themselves in a better place than they were a year or two ago. (Unfortunately, at the expense of part-time employees who lost their jobs.)

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    • Oh, I’m so glad to hear this! I kept reading about how they wouldn’t put money into developing the Nook app anymore, which is where I read my books, in part because they weren’t really selling the Nook device very well.

      I love the opening quote on that NY Times article; it suggests they know readers so well. We may have bought lots of books, but we didn’t necessarily read them, lol.

      One thing that surprised me was that book sales in grocery stores did so well. I hadn’t even thought of that. Target does have a pretty good selection. I went crazy with e-books this year, and though I don’t like supporting big companies with my e-book dollars, independent bookstores just don’t have good access to e-books. I tried buying an e-audiobook from the local bookstore, and it reroutes you through this weird app where I learned that all the tracks for the e-audiobook were out of order and couldn’t be fixed.

      I was surprised the article ended with a quote from the head of Seven Stories Press. I just bought an e-book from them. They make it SO easy; none of the books have crazy protections that make it hard to download a book you bought. If you need to download it again, you can. They basically ask that you not be a jerk and share the file.

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      • Agree – Target does have a pretty good book section. There’s no new bookstore in the county in which I live so Target’s book section is probably the only place many people see books in the wild!

        I don’t think I realized how much you read e-books. Still learning things about my blog friends after all these years! Ha ha.

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        • I didn’t used to read many e-books, but over the years, as I’ve watched my physical books gather dust and age and become more brittle, I see the value in e-books. Also, if I don’t love a physical book, I donate it so it’s not just sitting around. If I buy an e-book and don’t love it, it’s still mine, which for whatever reason makes me feel calmer?

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  5. Hm, well, I feel like you described me pretty accurately there. I do indeed like horses that talk with magic, but I don’t care a lot about lasers that go pew pew. How did you know???

    I worry about Barnes and Noble going under all the time, but somehow they’re still around even though they never seem to be making money.

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    • I think sci-fi and fantasy get combined frequently because many recent books tend to blend the genres just a tad. However, any kind of high fantasy vs. hard-core sci-fi are for different audiences.

      I have no idea how B&N keeps hanging around. I’m just going to read my Nook books as fast as possible. I thought Google Books would be a sure bet, but lately they’ve been changing everything. They even got rid of their music app, so all the music I bought from them was just sitting in files, unusable, until my husband found some weird other app to which we could export the files. I’m REALLY hoping that doesn’t happen with books.

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      • Could be. I always assumed the conflation was some sort of historical holdover from when sci-fi and fantasy were fringe genres only “nerds” read. But I have zero evidence for that. It just seemed like something that might have been true!

        That’s the annoying thing about not having physical copies of anything anymore! When the app or the company ends, you have no guarantee that you get to keep the content. Because often you never really owned the content, just a license to use it.

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        • True, and while losing the license makes me nervous, I also try to embrace the lack of permanence in life. I super know that sounds over-dramatic, but given that I’ve adulted my way through 9/11, a massive economic recession, and now the ‘rona, I think it’s a good reminder about how things can come and go.

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        • Krysta, I’ve been reading (and hoarding) SF since the 1960s, and as I said above I’m strictly a laser pew pew guy. There’s probably always been elements of magic thinking in SF – telepaths, telekinesis, instantaneous space travel – whatever ‘hard’ explanations they are given. I have various old magazines (monthlies in paperback format) – Worlds of If, Amazing Science Fiction, Thrilling Science Fiction. But also The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Dec. 74) which doesn’t seem any different from the others.
          My memory is that into the eighties, second hand shops – the only places I ever buy – began shelving hard SF and Fantasy at opposite ends of the section and that this reflected that there was starting to be a lot of castles and dragons and wizards stuff in amongst real SF. Today it seems to have taken over.

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  6. Always love a good pie chart; your category breakdown has so many colors, I enjoy how varied your reading is. Nearly 150 books is incredible! But when you put it that way, only 14 books that treat fat characters respectfully does seem abysmal… I sincerely hope diversity in books will keep improving.
    I’m glad you got to participate in so many reading events this year, the more formal and the more casual- what a great way to keep reading fun and bridge the gaps of isolation. It was absolutely lovely buddy reading with you!
    Wishing you a very happy reading year ahead. 🙂

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    • The pie charts are actually super easy to make; my husband showed me how to do it back in 2018 at the end of the year. It prevents me from creating a huge post with lists all over the place. I was wondering if I should somehow reduce the number of categories of books I read by lumping things together, but whenever I tried this year, it just didn’t seem to fit.

      Happy New Year, Emily! See you in 2021 ❤

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      • Pie charts are definitely easier to consume than a lot of lists, I started them last year for the same reason. And I think yours turned out well! I like seeing lots of categories rather than lumping things together.

        And happy new year to you as well, Melanie! 🙂 Hope it’s off to a good start!

        Liked by 1 person

    • I know you enjoy the hard science fiction, too, such as the Bobiverse books. As much as I love science fiction, the more specific it gets to people who already have STEM knowledge, the less I know what is going on.

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  7. Happy New Year! I loved reading this round-up because I was reminded that I have you to thank for introducing me to Samantha Irby, one of the funniest books I’ve read so far in my life. THANK YOU!!!!

    Also, good distinction to make about lasers that go pew pew and horses that talk-two very different genres to be sure. I laughed out loud when I read that line! Gosh your humour makes me so happy, here’s to another great year of reading and blogging! xo

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    • You know what’s funny is if you skim the other comments in this section, people are arguing that they are only lasers that go pew pew people, or both horses that talk with their minds and lasers that go pew pew. They keep using the same phrase I did. 😂

      I’m glad you like Irby’s books. Did you start with Meaty like I recommended?

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  8. Wow. I am seriously impressed you read so much in 2020! I barely inked out 60 reads for the year and I was wayy under my readerly goals – I recently released my End of the Year Survey which I’m proud about as I was able to send praise to the authors whose stories resonated with me the most during the year I struggled to read any book at all – but gosh! You really read diversely and deeply through all facets of where literature can take you! I was just thankful I read one Non-Fiction as I have struggled with reading NF in recent years (ie. courtesy of my higher yields of migraines) but I loved how you organised the year overall – with charts and how the different kinds of stories appealled to you to be read and why. Very well done!! Whoa. This is a wicked good year for you!

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    • Thanks so much, Jorie! We have our last year of Reading Valdemar (the Mercedes Lackey) series coming up if you are interested. You can jump in even if you haven’t read any of her other books. I’ll share my announcement post on Thursday.

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      • Oh, that’s interesting… I’ll keep my eyes peeled on your post because that was one RAL I had to drop for different reasons but oft wondered how you were getting on it with as I knew you both were enjoying your journey through the books… #blessed

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  9. As someone else has said, that one pie chart is exceptionally appealing, colour-wise! And I love the way that Google makes your data look so different and so impressive. It’s amazing. (Ironically, though, I’ve only used one of their graphs on my stat’s page…but i really love seeing graphics like this on other readers’ summaries.) Did you know there’s a newish podcast about Octavia Butler’s sci-fi; I just saw it yesterday on a list of podcasts recommended by Wesley Morris and have just subscribed…along with a few of the others he recommended because I love “Still Processing”). The GIF at the top of your post made me smile! Oh, and we have the 2010s in common for 2020. Most of mine were 2019…cuz I guess my UptoDate is actually just that far behind. LOL

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    • I saw one reader who counted 2019 and 2020 as separate categories and then did all her other books by decade. Maybe she wanted to show how much contemporary reading she’s done?

      I have not heard of the Octavia Butler podcast, but I do know she’s appearing quite a bit in common culture right now because Americans who aren’t quite as informed about 1984 keep saying that Trump being banned from social media is like 1984. It’s not. It’s more like Parable of the Talent, which I read this year and it scared the crap out of my for how Trump-y it is.

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