Me Versus My To-Read Shelf


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! 


19 thoughts on “Me Versus My To-Read Shelf

  1. My apologies, I was one of the ones laughing back here. In my defense others did too… 😉

    Love this post. I have the same issue though you did one better than me in tracking your purchases during the year vs what you read. Hmm, I may need to try that myself this year.

    My to-read “stack” is two and half bookcases. I was figuring if I die first I could have them buried with me and like the pharaohs of Egypt I could get to them in the afterlife? It was my plan B option…

    I’m impressed that you read 60 books this year! You are a machine! Gosh, you must have no social life (lol) but honestly is it needed with wonderful books?

    My previous two years I’d hit low marks with only 15 books a year. Barely one a month, augh! But in 2018 I read 27! (Thank you unemployment and open heart surgery! Time enough at last…) I was pleased with that. I have been keeping metrics for awhile. My best year was 1998 where I read 41 books. My personal best since I’ve been tracking.

    Now that my health is back and I’ve decided to embrace retirement, no time wasted looking for work, I’d like to see how much I can read. Not trying for any records,but would love to keep at a rate of at least 2 books a month, 3 would be marvelous.

    Come Jan 1, 2020 post again on this topic and we can compare on how we (and others who chime in) did! Take care and I wish you much reading time! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Louis — thanks for stopping by, and for the nice long comment! (And yes, I could *hear* you laughing back there!) Keeping track of the book buying and reading is fun for me, because it gives me a chance to play with spreadsheets instead of doing any real work. (Wait, did I admit that out loud?) But really, it does help me keep on track with my goals. I love the idea of being buried with all the books I haven’t read yet, but I’m not sure I can afford a grave that large, LOL!

      I’m pretty surprised I read 60, too. I’ve only been keeping track these past three years, but even considering back in college, I’d say that’s definitely a personal best for me. It helps that I barely watch TV, and yes, for the past few months I’ve been working long hours and not having much social life. But I can still squeeze in an hour of reading to wind down at night. Plus I got sick last week, which “helped” — nothing as terrible as open heart surgery though, eep!

      Best wishes for lots of reading in the new year, but without an “excuse” like more surgery!


    • This is a MUCH higher bar than I am setting for myself next year. I only pushed myself to 60 to try to make up for my “bad behavior” in over-buying over the course of the year. It’s so funny to think that I can easily solve my problem by reading at a normal rate and just NOT buying books. But it’s like dieting: if it was easy to just NOT eat sweets and snacks, nobody would need the concept of dieting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Holly crap you take this book reading seriously. I honestly used to read way more than I do now – not really by choice but then again, I guess I spend more time on the damn computer now. I am considering getting myself a job where I shall take public transport just to increase my reading time!

    As to who and why I read… um. Nothing like you. I will choose to read books by my Friday Fictioneer buds and others that are suggested to me but I don’t analylse who is what (gender, sex. blah blah…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I was on track to read more like 45 books, until I realized how “bad” I’d been about buying books and pushed myself to make up for it. And yes, one way that I read more is by weaning myself away from the @#$# internet! Why, oh why, do I waste so much time there?!? Until this past year, I hadn’t thought much about gender, race, etc. in terms of books either. But since I read a lot of fantasy, BOY have I been getting sick of the same quasi-Medieval Europe worlds filled with white men and knights and dragons, ugh. It just gets repetitive and boring, and I’ve been seeking out more interesting voices, inspired by fairy tales and myths and legends from other cultures. So interesting!


      • It’s crazy just how much time is spent hooked up like an IV drip! I have forced myself to buy fewer books though I have a stack standing at me as we speak (let’s not talk about the Kindle)
        I think if I were reading more of one genre, I would come to the same conclusion! I did look at my past year and without planning it, read more women than men!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I gave up on buying e-books or even accepting free ones, because they just sit on my computer and never get read. It takes a physical book calling to me from the shelf for me to hear, lol… I have done pretty well so far at not buying books. In the last few days of 2018 I was thinking, “Well, if I order it now, it won’t arrive until 2019, so that’s okay, right?” But I managed not to, and here it is, already JAN 2, and still no new books! Wow! (Oy vay, this is going to be a long month.)

        And yes, the internet really is like some IV drip. Always one more interesting thing to look at, and then I’m getting back to work, *honestly*! ((wink wink))


  3. I’m with Dale I’m afraid – I buy and read what I’m attracted to and pay little to no attention to what gender or race the author is. By coincidence I’d say if I had to name favourite writers about 50% would be female, but it is coincidence. I’m open to reading people from other backgrounds and nations and have read a lot in the past, but only as coincidence – the subject and tone still has to attract me.
    As an interesting side note, as a fantasy author (and, presumably, reader) do you find there is a lower percentage of authors from a non white background in the fantasy world?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would have thought half of what I read was from female authors too, until I added it up. There’s two different things going on for me. First, the discrimination thing. The more I talk to writers and conferences and read up on this, the more clear it is that women and writers of color continue to face more barriers in the publishing world than white men. I just read about an experiment one woman did where she sent off her manuscript to half the publishers with her own name and half with a man’s name, and the “man” was 8.5 times more likely to get a positive response: FOR THE SAME BOOK. Women’s work is marketed (e.g., covers, advertising or lack thereof, etc.) differently, they’re given worse deals on contracts, the whole nine yards. So if I’m looking at a bunch of books that all seem interesting to me, now I’ll be more conscious of choosing the one by the person who struggled harder to get there, and for whom it matters more than one more person bought and reviewed their book.

      The other thing is that I’m actively seeking out different views and different voices because they are interesting to me, especially in terms of speculative fiction. I am SO sick of the same quasi-Medieval European fantasy worlds, the same religions based on Christianity or Greek/Roman gods, the same derivative cultures, the same assumptions about feudal lords and knights and ladies and… ugh. Give me some new perspectives, please!

      I actually don’t know how the demographics differ across genres, that’s an interesting question…

      Liked by 1 person

      • And yet there seem to be a lot of women working behind the scenes in publishing – editors, agents etc. I read women writers are paid less on average too, though I’m sure the industry would say that was due to the genres they write in being less popular and of course as many of the big hitters are men (James Paterson etc) they would skew the average anyway.
        Depressing about the lady author using two different names. I’d be interested to know what genre she writes in. I read that women who write stories set in the Old West have had a hard time being accepted as it’s thought of as a male genre. And we’ve all heard the story of why Joanne Rowling used her initials in the male dominated world of fantasy. I have wondered about my own writing as urban fantasy does seem to have a lot of male authors.
        And you are so right about the old fantasy tropes. I would imagine epic fantasy would work very well in an ancient Chinese setting, or an African one, all those huge open spaces and terrifying animals. Good points to dwell on

        Liked by 1 person

      • As researchers find over and over, women can be just as bad in terms of bias as men, without even realizing it sometimes. I was just telling this story to another friend on facebook, about a woman editor at a writers’ conference giving a workshop on genre. For any novel that wasn’t obviously a mystery or fantasy/science fiction, she put all the women’s novels into romance or “women’s fiction” but the men’s into “literary” – even if they had similar plots/ideas. Funny, huh? Except for the one black woman, whose story she called “urban fiction” (code word for “books for black people”) even though it wasn’t actually set in a city, SIGH. Worse, later I talked with some of my friends about how women’s stories get stuck into “women’s fiction” while men’s get called literary (and thus are eligible for awards, more likely to be picked up by big publishers, etc.). But it was the women basically saying, “Oh pish posh, who cares? Lots of women read, and it sells my books.” I got more traction from the men, who were more likely to say something like, “Hm, I didn’t even know that was happening. That doesn’t seem fair.”

        Plus there are all these horror stories from women authors about how the publishers — who control what your cover looks like — insist on marketing their books as romances (half-naked princes clutching the damsel on the front cover) even when they have the same epic fantasy adventure inside that men might otherwise like to buy and read. Grr, makes me so mad just thinking about it.


  4. Hi Joy. And I’m saying ditto to Lynn and Dale. Fact is, I don’t have money enough to buy books I don’t intend to read at once. Before LIfe-With-Kindle most of the fiction I read was borrowed from libraries, and if I couldn’t get into it, back it went, unread. NOw with Kindle, I tend to buy fiction whenever I buy non-fiction, and while I’m trying to veer away from my favourite authors, often that results in me shelving the book after 10 or so pages. I have discovered there is a lot of … books that fail to hold attention … out there. Which is why, when I find an author I like, I’ll stick with him, her, or zim, no matter their colour or sexual [non?] persuasion. Having said that, over the years I have ventured into Chinese, Japanese, Russian, South American and South African, French, Romanian, Italian, German …………. etc.
    My target with Goodreads 2018 was 40. I exceeded it, though I repeatedly forgot to input the details (until yesterday) so as yet they sit without reviews even though I did intend to review at least two of this last batch.
    And good to see your presence on WP again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know a lot of people who swear by ereaders, and yes, they are definitely a more cost-effective option! I just prefer having the physical book in my hand. I literally spend all day in front of a computer, both for work and my personal interests, so when it comes to reading, the last thing I want is another screen. I know it’s a matter of time before I have to switch because of my poor eyesight, but I’m putting it off as long as I can.

      I know what you mean about being disappointed with books, which is especially frustrating if I paid for the physical book. These days I always use the feature on Amazon where you can read the first few pages, and if those don’t grab me, I don’t buy it. I seem to be getting better at making that call, too — better at knowing whether I’ll love or hate it just from a couple pages.

      As far as the diversity issue, see my answer to Lynn, above. It’s partly a matter of supporting the underdog, but also getting to read things I might not normally see — like you say, interesting new (to me) ideas from Chinese, Russian, etc. authors. I do find that I have to seek them out, though, because most of the recommendations I see (from fellow bloggers, “best of” posts, Amazon, etc.) keep sending me back to the same old “safe” choices.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Well, my last trip to a bookstore was 50/50 male/female, but I have no idea what the numbers are like long-term because I’m not nearly organized enough to keep track of that or total number of books/year, etc. And when I looked at my bookshelf with an eye toward counting I just got tired and had to go lie down. How do you count it if you are mistaken about the author’s gender, though? Way back when I picked up my first China Mieville book, I assumed I was reading a female author, so which column would I put that one in?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by, Bill! I’m not sure what my numbers are long-term either, since I’ve only looked at the past two years. I might have read more women in past years, since I went through a big Jane Austen phase, and another with Agatha Christie and other cozy mysteries, mostly written by women. For keeping track in this latest accounting, sometimes I knew because I’m familiar with the author, or from the blurb and/or picture in the back of the book. I looked a lot of them up on Wikipedia – including China Mieville, and a few older books with names that were definitely male but I thought could possibly be women’s pen names. Same thing for trying to suss out race and LBGTQ status, although that’s harder to tell. I’ve been looking up lists like “best fantasy books by LBGTQ authors” and finding a bunch of authors I already have in my TBR or wish list piles.

      I figure I’ve probably made a few mistakes, but for overall percentages, it’s good enough for now.


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