In 2020 I read a total of 103 books, beating my goal of 100 in the final weeks of December successfully but without much surplus. It’s the smallest total I’ve had since 2016, but it’s also the first time since 2015 that my total has taken a dip at all from the year before instead of increasing. We all know 2020 has been… a whole year, so I don’t think I need to explain why I’ve had some significant reading slumps in 2020 unlike anything I’ve experienced in years.
I’ve addressed in this post the 2020 goals that I’ve met and failed, and my plans for 2021.
I adopted monthly 5-book TBRs in 2020, of which I managed to complete 54/60 reads.
Titles still outstanding (to be read in 2021):
- The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
- The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie
- An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
- House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
I took part in a couple of personal bookish ‘projects’ in 2020 worth mentioning:
I read the entire Women’s Prize longlist, which was incredibly disappointing but nonetheless I enjoyed chatting with friends new and old about all of the books. I still have a review of Mantel’s longlisted The Mirror and The Light forthcoming, but I did manage to complete it before the end of the year, which was an exciting victory! The Women’s Prize has been further lowered in my esteem, however, by an unfortunate ruling a few months ago that allows only ‘legal women’ to compete for the prize, thus making it even harder for gender noncomforming writers to receive prize recognition and wide readership for their work. For this reason I’m less confident about continuing to follow the prize in the future.
It was a rough round for me with the Booker Prize as well; by the end of the year I capped off my journey through the Booker longlist with 11 books read out of the ‘Booker dozen’ of 13 (again, thoughts on The Mirror and the Light are still forthcoming). This experience was even worse overall, partially because I had such lukewarm responses to most of the nominated books that I read, and partially because it was a busier time of year for me so I wasn’t able to connect with other readers as much to talk about the books, which dampened my enjoyment further.
But a group of blogging friends and I teamed up to create an alternate Women’s Prize longlist this year, the Women’s Prize Squad longlist. I managed to read all but one of our 16 books before the end of the year, had great experiences with ALL of them, and will have an update post coming later this month featuring longlist final thoughts and which way my votes will lean for our upcoming shortlist!
2020 was also the year of a new blogging project for me- I started a Spotlight series focused on genre, and by the end of the year I managed to complete 11 of my 12 planned posts (my classics spotlight is still forthcoming), which generated some great discussions about why we read what we read and how we classify books. They’re also a sort of catalog back through my own eclectic history with reading, so I know I’ll enjoy looking back on these posts after some time has passed and seeing how my reading continues to grow and change. I may also expand the series to cover more genres in the future. If you’re interested in checking out any of these posts, I’ll link here the genres/categories I’ve covered so far: science fiction, romance, historical fiction, literary fiction, fantasy, mystery, thrillers, translated literature, nonfiction, YA, and horror.
Something I started focusing on more earnestly about halfway through the year, thanks to national and world events, was to increase my purchasing, reading, and reviewing of books by Black authors. I want to seriously increase the amount of diversity in my reading going forward but decided to pay particular attention to Black-authored books for 2020, and ended up reading and reviewing 22 books to fit this goal, with additional titles bought and as yet unread that I’m excited to read going forward.
Throughout the year I read primarily but not exclusively US settings; I’d like to work more on branching out in the future, as reading a lot from my home country is typical and once again comprised around half of my reading. But I do think that this year more of my US-based reading involved criticisms of the status quo and featured marginalized characters, which I think is a more thoughtful and valuable consumption than some US-based reading I’ve done in the past. And I have been making more concerted efforts to read books by authors who’ve lived in or had some significant experience with the countries they’re writing about than I have in the past, the one exception this year being Women’s Prize longlisted Girl by Edna O’Brien, a Nigeria-set book by an Irish writer that did feel unsettlingly like an author looking in on someone else’s pain.
I read 82 books by women (including three translations, two of which were also translated by women), 19 books by men, 2 books by an author who identifies as non-binary (yes, the same author twice), and no collections, anthologies, or collaborations from multiple authors. I do want to work on increasing my trans and non-binary author reading representation, but even these 2 books in 2020 are an increase from last year’s zero, so I’m (slowly) moving in the right direction. If you know of any great trans or non-binary-authored books (especially but not limited to fiction) feel free to mention them in the comments below!
It’s typical for me to read mostly books by women, but notable that 2020’s ratio skews about 15% higher toward women authors than it did last year. (Worth noting that I’m counting each individual book, not each individual author, some of which I’ve read more than one book from in all three of these categories.)
I read 88 adult books, 12 YA books, 1 middle grade book, and 2 books appropriate for any reading age. It’s typical for me to read mostly adult books, but my YA reading has increased from last year, partially because of a few Sarah Dessen rereads- the five Dessen novels I reread this fall marked my only rereads of the year, which is more rereads than I’ve had in other recent years but it is typical for my rereads to be YA books.
I read 31 debuts this year (though they weren’t all 2020 debuts); including that number I read 74 total books from new-to-me authors. Thus, only 29 of my reads this year came from authors whose work I’d read before.
I participated in 10 buddy and/or group reads in 2020, which was a record high for me and an all-around enjoyable experience! These partnerings included John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies with Gil, Her Body and Other Parties with Donna, A Crime in the Neighborhood with the Women’s Prize Squad (or more specifically Sarah, in this case!), and a month-long trek through The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor led by Melanie, among other reads.
My ratings this year included 20 5-stars, 41 4-stars, 33 3-stars, 8 2-stars, and 1 unrated read (Stephenie Meyer’s Midnight Sun). This is a pretty typical ratio for me; I’ve rounded up my favorite and almost-favorite reads of the year from my most memorable 4- and 5- star reads, and because I didn’t get around to a ‘disappointing reads’ list this year I’ll round up my 2-star titles here in case you’re in need of a rant review to peruse:
- A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne
- Girl by Edna O’Brien
- Dominicana by Angie Cruz
- Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
- Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
- Different Seasons by Stephen King (including my first-ever 1-star rating, for one of the stories within this collection, “Apt Pupil.”)
- That Summer by Sarah Dessen (review and full Dessen ranking forthcoming)
- Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer
My genre reading was, as usual, all across the board. I decided at the beginning of the year to select one (the most prominent, ideally) genre under which to mark each book I read, so the percentages here are accurate to my 103 books read, though I’ve already decided for 2021 to mark all applicable genres for each book, which I think might feel more accurate to overall genre representation- I tend to enjoy and reach for genre-benders!
My literary fiction percentage looks a bit low this year, but I think while only choosing one category for each book I’ve had to be choosier and some titles that were perhaps literary have been categorized according to their other elements (like fabulism or historical fiction, the latter of which does seem much inflated this year). Also, I’ve lumped anything that just didn’t feel accomplished enough to call literary in the contemporary column (also inflated), including some of this year’s prize nominees which did not seem to play with structure or form in a way that I would classify as literary, though other readers might. And I’ve divided my nonfiction reading into proper genres this year; true crime, history, essays, medical, memoir, and guidebook percentages below were all parts of my nonfiction reading this year, for an overall 10% of my reading, a bit higher than I was expecting.
I read largely books published this year and last, with 37 titles newly released in 2020 and 34 from 2019, making up well over half of my reading. Additionally I read 17 other books from the last decade (between 2010 and 2018), 5 books from the decade before (2000-2009), 4 books from the 90’s, 5 books from earlier in the 20th century (1900-1989), and 1 book from the 19th century. I’ve been trending toward newer books for a few years now, and this year’s stats indicate I’m reading even more recent work than last year.
As for where my books came from, I read an unprecedented amount of books from my own shelves this year, as my local library was closed for a few months and I’ve limited how often I go out for anything at all even now that it’s opened up again. Unfortunately, I also bought way more books than I should have this year; I’m not going to count up my total haul because it will just depress me as far as undoing the impressive dent I could’ve made in my own-unread TBR this year.
I read 75 books from my own shelves this year, 27 books borrowed from the library, no books borrowed from family or friends, and 1 eARC.
Of the books I read from my own shelves, just 30 were titles I owned prior to 2020, while 45 were newly purchased/acquired in 2020 (this includes a reread of a book I originally read from the library and purchased my own copy of this year). Unfortunately no, the 45 new books I read were not the only new books I bought and I’m pretty sure I haven’t actually decreased my TBR at all, in fact probably the opposite. Let’s not talk about that, it was a hard year.
And as long as we’re talking about what I’ve acquired and read (or not) this year, I want to take this opportunity to wrap up my year with Book of the Month. In case you don’t know, BOTM is a US-based subscription service (only delivering within the US for now, though they’ve made a few comments about working toward changing this in the future) from which members can choose month-by-month payments or opt for yearly renewal. I joined BOTM in 2017 and have since that time been renewing yearly (it’s slightly cheaper in the long run).
2020 started particularly rocky with BOTM because it seemed there were a lot of thrillers, romances, and the kind of book-clubbish contemporary and historical fiction titles that just doesn’t really grab me. I was having a hard time choosing from among selections that just didn’t seem to fit my reading taste. But then, three months before I ran out of credits, my yearly subscription automatically renewed. This was my first year with BOTM that renewal was manditorily automatic, and one of my biggest complaints this year was not getting any warning that their renewal policy had changed and that they were about to take a chunk of money out of my account in coordination with my last renewal instead of when I ran out of credits (I’ve been manually renewing when I run out of credits, which can take slightly more than a year if I skip a couple of boxes).
To make matters worse, this was in early May or so, just before BOTM was getting a lot of backlash for their lack of diversity. I had to consider whether this was a company I still wanted to be involved with at all, and while a horde of members cancelled their subscriptions I decided to give it one more month to decide whether backing out entirely was the right move for me. In that time, they shared a great response post to the criticisms they were receiving, with actionable plans for future changes, so I remained cautiously optimistic. I posted a little about the mid-year BOTM controversy here, in case you missed that and want to read more.
In the end, I am glad I stayed with BOTM, and I’ve been happier with the company these last six months than I have been in any of my other years with this service. I have no idea how the situation with deleting comments from a Black Instagrammer turned out; I’m cautiously hoping that a genuine mistake was made, and/or a private apology was issued- all I know is that the complaints abruptly stopped, which seemed to me to indicate some sort of resolution. And BOTM has indeed been more diverse in their selections, as well as somewhat less commercial. Every month since June, their selections have included at least one (and often three or more) book(s) that I’m really excited to read and happy to be able to grab with BOTM’s cheaper pricing.
Since June, every month’s selections have included 2-4 (out of 5) BIPOC authors for the main selections, and more in ‘extras’ each month as well. A Black author won the Book of the Year title, and another made the top 5 nominees. There are still the token romances and thrillers, but even these have been less whitewashed lately.
I wouldn’t say BOTM is perfect yet, but they are looking much more like a subscription service I’m happy to support; there’s something to be said for making the effort toward positive change while being closely scrutinized and criticized. I heard of a lot of people quitting their BOTM subscriptions in May- some in protest at the lack of diversity (prior to June, BOTM tended to include only 1 BIPOC author out of 5 selections), and some (if the bookstagram comments are to be believed) who argued that BOTM would lean toward focusing on author skin color over the quality of the books. *eye roll* The quality of the selections has improved apace with the increased diversity, imo. BOTM is in a perfect position, being so commercially popular, to help introduce more marginalized authors in all genres to a wider readership, and it’s worth celebrating that they’ve headed in this direction these last few months, I think.
Additionally, it’s been fun taking part in BOTM’s inaugural reading challenge this year (in which I received two badges and missed the third by only half of a book), and I’m pleased to report they seem to have finally adopted some fancy effects (namely, gold foil) for a few of their covers! Any improvement in quality is nice to see.
For the books, here are the BOTM selections I’ve picked up throughout 2020 (mostly in the order I acquired them, except for three on the far left which were 2019 selections that I added to 2020 boxes):
And here are the BOTM selections I actually managed to read this year, some from 2020 and a few from previous years that I’d not gotten around to reading before, shown in the order that I read them:
All right, I think I’ve touched on everything bookish that I wanted to (shoutout to my New York City trip back in early March, my one non-bookish highlight of the year); this post is long enough already, so I think it’s (FINALLY) time to say au revoir to 2020!
The Literary Elephant