My Reading Year in Review: 2007

Warning: The following is pure trivia about books, reading and full-blown bibliomania. Never put a database in the hands of an obsessive geek, otherwise essays like these are likely to happen.)

All told, 2007 proved to be a banner year for my out-of-control reading habits. More books, more time to read, the partial digital indexing of my personal library and a serious habit at the local independent bookstore. It amounts to numbers that will leave many, including myself, temporarily speechless: 300 books read (105 of those SF), which cost me about $3,000 (eeek) and spread over 93,000 pages.

Not that I read every single one of those pages, or even compare this 300-books total to my previous all-time record of 300 books read in 2004. One significant change in my database management and a small adjustment in my commute habits account for the seemingly dramatic change from my usual average of 200 books per year.

But let’s go back a few months and talk about this year’s big story in terms of reading habits. Dramatically, I’ll blame a late-night panel at the Toronto World Horror Convention, where five bibliomaniacs explained how they managed their own obsession with books. One of them mentioned how they kept track of their book collection electronically, and that got me thinking about my own reading database and how it didn’t match the state of my collection. One thought led to another, and pretty soon I was converting my reading database to a holding database, buying a bar-code reader and doing inventory on my own collection.

So if the stats look a bit different this year, blame automation: I now religiously record everything I put in the collection, and that does include volumes that I would have previously shelved without mention: inconsequential humour/comic books, reference work not read cover-to-cover, slim art books, etc. (This has an impact on the average price-per-book metric as well.) If I went to 200 to 300 books, it’s not necessarily because I read more, but mostly because I counted more books.

But it’s also true that I read more. A slowdown in reading-at-home (no time, no time!) was compensated by a slightly longer commute that added another 10-15 reading minutes per day. It quickly adds up to nearly half-a-book per week, or 25 more books per year if you’re halfway OK with math. I’m also less patient than I ever was with dull books: I’m increasingly less scrupulous about skimming books when they clearly won’t hold my attention any further. Those books don’t get full-length reviews, but they do get included in my database.

(I won’t go into how I manage my bookshelf of things to read, but the last few months of the year have been consumed with a drive to clean out some older series that had been molding on my shelves for too long. Alas, most of those series weren’t very good, leading to serial speed-reading and a lack of crunchy review material.)

(Look, this essay is dull even for me: why won’t you skip ahead to the "SF movies of 2007" essay?)

So: 300 books, give or take a few that may have been re-indexed by mistake. It goes without saying that Science Fiction is still my literary genre of choice, clocking in at a worrying 35% of the total. (I get worried whenever it goes above 25%) This proportion would be worse if easy reads in art books, comics and humour didn’t account for a sudden 25% of the total. Indeed, if we stick to the 61% fiction sliver of my 2007 reading, SF accounts for 58% of that, followed by 12% Thrillers, 11% Fantasy and 10% Mysteries. Given the depth of my SF backlog, I don’t expect this proportion to change much over the next year, alas.

My commuter reading habits once again propelled mass-market paperbacks to 44% of my reading format total, followed by hardcovers at 27%, trade paperbacks at 21% and oversize "folio" format at 9%. I expect this proportion to change dramatically next year, as I have almost exhausted my stock of paperbacks.

I bought 290 of the 300 books I read in 2007. If we must talk about money, the total list value of the 300 books I read this year climbed up to 6,090$, of which I paid (through book sales, gifts and such) merely $3,042. But, hey, books are my only drug. And ironically, books have actually gone down in average price in 2007: Thanks to the steady ascent of the Canadian dollar versus the American dollar, new hardcovers have gone back under $30, and mass-market paperbacks under $10. The "average" $10 price paid is misleading and skewed by relatively few big-ticket items: The median value of the book prices is actually $5.00. The most expensive book bought and read in 2007 was the Spectrum 13 hardcover art-book, worth every penny at $49.95. Art books and comic books (difficult to find at a discount) accounted for most of the top-priced books, including 7 out of the 10 most expensive ones.

With that amount of cash redistribution to the book industry, no one will be surprised to learn that I’ve seldom been as up-to-date in my current reading: I read 34 books "of the year" in 2007, including a number of the newest-hottest-best in contemporary SF. I hope to crank this percentage even higher in 2008 thanks to some improved reading stack management. (After all, what’s the use of buying steadily in bookstores if you can’t read Last-In-First-Out?)

So who’s my favourite publisher? Well, I read 28 books from Tor in 2007.

In a related field, I note without further comment that 2007 saw the first books solely marked with ISBN-13.

My Michael Connelly Reading Project made him this year’s best-read authors with 10 books, followed by the welcome rediscovery of John Barnes (5 books, including the three volumes of the delightful Jik Jannaka series so far) and the discovery of Joe Sacco (4 books). If I read other writers 3 or 4 times during 2007, it was usually for series and trilogies, and here the less said the better. There is, as it turns out, a strong rationale for my preference for singletons.

Shortest book: Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers at 32 pages (four of which I’d read elsewhere). Longest book: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at 768 (every page was worth it). Total page count: 93733. Average: 312. Median: 320.

In terms of quality, it seemed to me that I spent more time reading more bad books. My rating bell curve does look more or less like last year, but only seven books rated "Excellent" (four stars, B+. 85%+, take your pick) and above. Clearly, my year-long impression of "cleaning out my backlog", mentioned above, wasn’t too far-off.

Nonetheless, I do have a top-20 list, and it looks like this:

  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995, Joe Sacco
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones
  • Gil’s All Fright Diner, A.Lee Martinez
  • Crooked Little Vein, Warren Ellis
  • Fuel-Injected Dreams, James Robert Baker
  • Rant: The Oral History of Buster Casey, Chuck Palahniuk
  • Brasyl, Ian McDonald
  • The Gold Coast, Kim Stanley Robinson
  • A Darkness More Than Night, Michael Connelly
  • The Last Juror, John Grisham
  • Black Man, Richard Morgan
  • Elantris, Brandon Sanderson
  • Le Vide, Patrick Senécal
  • Quantumsca
    pe: The Art of Stephan Martiniere
    , Stephan Martiniere
  • Spectrum 02: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Arnie & Cathy Fenner
  • Spectrum 13: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Arnie & Cathy Fenner
  • First Among Sequels, Jasper Fforde
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling
  • Halting State, Charles Stross
  • New year’s resolutions? How about fewer SF, cheaper books, better books and more time to read?