Photo credit: Missmarettaphotography via Wikipedia
Three years ago, when I started to get serious about my writing, I realized I also had to get more serious about my reading. I got back onto Goodreads, and vowed to take notes and write reviews of the books I’d read so that I’d learn from them. That year, 2016, I set my challenge at 20 books. That seemed pretty daunting, since I was pretty sure I’d read less than half that many books the year before.
I ended up reading 23. Hooray!
Along the way, I realized that my books were all a-jumble. It was hard to figure out which books to read next. So I put all the books I hadn’t read yet, and any new books I bought, onto two specific shelves in one of my bookcases. By the end of 2016, I had somehow acquired so many books that I needed a front and back row on those two shelves.
So in 2017 I decided to keep track of not only which books I’d read, but which books I bought (or otherwise acquired). The goal was to read down the to-read shelves by reading more books than I acquired. I failed miserably. In 2017, my Goodreads challenge was 30 books.
I ended up reading 35. Hooray!
But that same year, I acquired 52 books. That’s 17 additional books. That’s the OPPOSITE of reading down my to-read shelf!
Side note: I know plenty of people who enjoy having hundreds or thousands of books even knowing that they’ll never read them. I am not one of those people. It bothers me when I own stuff that I’m not using. Not using it means it was a waste of money, and worse, a waste of our world’s precious resources. If I’m not going to use something, I shouldn’t hog it to myself: I should give it to someone who will get joy from it. So to me, it really does matter that I either read these books or get rid of them.
In 2018, I increased my Goodreads challenge even farther, to 40 books. And I was gung-ho about reading more than I bought. But… well, I don’t have to explain it to you all, do I? Let’s just say, “Books were purchased.”
In September, I checked my statistics. I was definitely pumping along with the reading: I had already read 35 books! That’s the total I had for 2017! And I had acquired… Oh, no. I had already acquired 52 books. That is also the total I had for 2017. Well, at least my rate wasn’t getting worse.
I buckled down, but I’d already ordered three more books. After those arrived, I instituted a “zero tolerance” policy on ordering more books until the end of 2018. It turned out to be more of a “okay, just one more” policy, but come on, one book is not bad for THREE MONTHS.
But I’d forgotten about Christmas. I received six more books as gifts.
Luckily I have no social life and got sick, to boot, so the reading was fast and furious. And, I’ll admit, some of those books I finished in December were nonfiction books that had been lying around half-finished for months and didn’t need much more than another hour or so to get put onto the “read” list.
The end result? Drum roll please…
I read 60 books!
And I only acquired… hmm… 62.
Okay, so that’s not making any progress toward reading down my to-read shelf. In fact, it’s the opposite, by 2. Which is nowhere near making up for the 17 books in arrears from last year. But hey, I am so much less behind than I was before!
I am optimistic that next year I’ll be able to restrain myself from buying so many books. (You there in the back, stop sniggering!) My plan is to be much more, well, planful this year. I’m going to sort through all my books (seriously, STOP LAUGHING) and figure out which series I never finished that I want to go back to, and which ones I want to reread. Heck, just knowing what I have so I won’t buy it again (yes, this keeps happening to me) will be a huge accomplishment.
Another thing I want to be more planful about is choosing more books from women and from people of other races, ethnicities, countries, and identities. For one thing, I want to support more diverse writers, and I know how much discrimination still exists in the publishing world. If I have a choice between two books that both look interesting, and I have reason to believe that one of the authors had to work twice as hard as the other to get theirs published, much less marketed, then I’m supporting the underdog.
Given that in my previous career, I studied gender inequality at work, I would have guessed that I’d already be conscious of this, and have bought more books from women. I sure felt like I was. But I’m not. Looking only at books written by men versus women (taking out nonbinary authors and books with multiple authors of more than one gender), I read 41% female authors and 59% male authors in 2018. That’s slightly better than 2017, which was 38% female to 62% male, but not by much.
I did even worse at the other diversity categories. As far as I know, only 8 of the 62 books I read this year are by a person of color and/or someone who is LGBTQ. (Interestingly, they overlap quite a bit. For instance, the one Black author is also one of the two lesbians on the list. And four of the six Asians are either non-binary or gay men.)
So there’s definitely room for improvement, and I’ll keep those issues in mind when I do get around to buying new books. But for now, I have two shelves crammed with exciting, interesting books begging to be read, and I am determined to heed their clarion call.
Good luck with all your reading and writing goals for 2019!