My Reading Year in Review: 2009

Warning! The next few paragraphs are filled with pseudo-statistical information than only a nerd can love. Skip to the next item if you can’t stand numbers and lit-geek grandstanding!

So, once again, I read 300 books this year.

The number shouldn’t be as impressive as it is: I include in the 300 about 42 comics and 18 art books, few of whom take more than a few minutes to page through. 42 books were less than 150 pages long and there are about 50 books in there that I have read, shall we say, rather quickly when it became clear that those weren’t the books I was expecting. So take the 300 number with a large grain of salt, and don’t be put off by its roundish nature: I always plan my month of December so that I get (or stop) to a decimally-harmonious point. There may be some spill-over from a few books read in 2008 and entered in the database in 2009.

This 300 number, unchanged from last year, is generally due to a 90-minutes daily bus commute, a few airplane trips, an inability to get to sleep without reading a chapter or two, and the fact that I really enjoy reading. I had no major lifestyle and methodology changes between 2008 and 2009, which also explains the stability of the number.

Now, let’s get into the details of this year’s reading database…

The year’s most spectacular difference from last year (and one I suspected before crunching the numbers) had to do with what type of books I read. Shockingly, only 18% of the books I read in 2009 could be categorized as “Science Fiction”, down dramatically from 36% in 2008 and . Combining all SF with Fantasy and Horror gets us up to 32% of the total (down from 51%) and all fiction combined gets us to 56% (down from 67%), which doesn’t include a good 14% of comics (up slightly from 13%). Non-fiction was the obvious winner in this year’s shifting reading habits, with an even 30% of the total this year, up from 20% in 2008. I’m nowhere near quitting SF&F, fortunately (you should see the pile of stuff to read), but it seems to me lately that I’m finding more interesting stuff in the non-fiction aisles; call it “hitting one’s mid-thirties”. Having a more balanced reading diet has been one of my objectives for a few years now; we’ll see if the tendency keeps up in 2010.

My continued shift from mass-market paperback to bigger format continued in 2009: Mass-Market Paperbacks only made up 21% of my reading this year (down from 26% in 2008), while trade paperbacks took up 48% (up from 39%) and hardcovers were at 26% (down from 32%). Oversized “Folio” books took up the remaining 5%.

300 books totalled 96733 pages, average being 322 and median being 304. Two of my three longest books of the year were comic books: David Foster Wallace’s _Infinite Jest_ totalled 1079 pages, but The Tomb Raider Compendium weighted the scales at 1248 pages, and Bone: One Volume Edition went all the way to 1300 pages. (Those were two comic books that took more than a few minutes to read.)

I read 43 books “of the year” in 2009, plus two other older book re-printed in 2009 with new editions. This is all lower than last year, which I knew from my growing pile of books purchased but not yet read. The following stats are even more meaningless than usual: My average book was from 2001, down one year from last, which can be explained by reading Dracula, as well as two crash-courses in Hunter S. Thompson and twentieth-century “English Classic” such as The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. (Don’t ask what I thought about them.) Those older books skewed the average, which can be seen by looking at my median year of 2006, up one year from last year’s totals.

Where did those books come from? From my statistics, it lookas if the vast majority were bought (94%, practically the same as last year) and the rest being gifts, convention giveaways, and library loans.

With so many books purchased, the question becomes how much a serious reading habit can cost. Here, alas, the numbers in the database don’t lie: I spent $4,387.70 getting those 300 books (average: 14.63, median: $12.00), a noticeable increase over last year. If that sounds bad, consider that the list price of those books came up to $6,507.77 (average: $21.77, median: $18.95), the difference being explained by sales of various sorts. (Actually, my “prices paid” number are probably a bit high: for various reasons, I track price-paid numbers by what I can find on the cover or inner flap of the book I’m cataloguing. Amazon purchases are almost never cover price and did order quite a bit from Amazon in 2008. You could probably reduce the total amount paid by 10-15% and be far closer to the actual number.)

I had a few reading projects in 2009 that skewed some numbers in interesting ways. I have already mentioned the twentieth-century-american-classics one, but probably the most noticeable reading project was the “Year of Hunter S” Thompson”, in which I read his entire bibliography (and a significant chunk of his biographies) in twelve months. This explains why I’ve read 16 of his books in a year, a total that goes up to 25 if you include biographies about him and associated works such as _The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test_. Smaller reading projects explain why Lee Child (6 books), Doug Tennapel (5), Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (5), Bryan Lee O’Malley (5) and Michel J. Lévesque (5) and all figure proeminently on the list of authors I’ve read this year. Next year, I think, is going to feature John Grisham and Stephen King.

For the umpteenth year in a row, I read more books by Tor than anyone else, although the 19 titles this year are down from last year’s 34: another effect of reading more non-fiction. The many imprints of Harper were a close second at 14, while Simon & Schuster and Oni Press shared a third spot on the strengths of (respectively) Hunter S. Thompson and Bryan Lee O’Malley (for Scott Pilgrim). I suspect that numbers would be slightly different if I could be bothered adjusting for imprints (Bundling together Warner, Grand Central Publishing and Vision, for instance) but this essay is already so freakishly obsessive that I’m afraid to go even further into my own madness.

I reviewed 98 books out of 300.

And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for: A top twenty list, presented in alphabetical order (links go to individual reviews)

  • Bourdain, Anthony : Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000)
  • Child, Lee : Gone Tomorrow (2009)
  • Child, Lincoln & Douglas Preston: Dance of Death (2005)
  • Cowan, Jay : Hunter S. Thompson: An Insider’s View of Deranged, Depraved, Drugged Out Brilliance (2009)
  • Crouse, Timothy : The Boys on the Bus (1973)
  • Dublanica, Steve : Waiter Rant: Confessions Of A Cynical Waiter (2008)
  • Irvine, Alexander : Buyout (2009)
  • James, Martin : Prodigy (2002)
  • Klein, Naomi : The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007)
  • McKeen, William : Outlaw Journalist (2008)
  • Moore, Alan & Dave Gibbons: Watchmen: Absolute Edition (1987 revised 2005)
  • Munroe, Randall : XKCD – Volume 0 (2009)
  • Pollan, Michael : The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006)
  • Reilly, Matthew : Scarecrow (2003)
  • Seymour, Corey & Jann S. Wenner: Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, An Oral Biography (2007)
  • Shirky, Clay : Here Comes Everybody (2008)
  • Strauss, Neil : Emergency (2009)
  • Thompson, Hunter S.: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)
  • Williams, Sean : The Resurrected Man (2005)
  • Williams, Walter Jon : This Is Not a Game (2009)

And now, let’s go see what 2010 has in store.

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