2018 in Review

Despite the best of intentions to spread my reading out more evenly across the year, much of 2018's reading happened in concentrated bursts during vacation (particularly my fall vacation, during which I read eleven books in a little over two weeks). Politics and other online reading continued to be an irritating distraction, although I made some forward progress at picking up a book instead of Twitter.

My reading goal for last year was to make time and energy for deeper, more demanding, and more rewarding books. I think the verdict is mixed, but I didn't do too poorly. I finished Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy (more on that below), which certainly qualifies and which was one of the year's highlights, and dug deep into a few other rewarding books. For 2019, my goal is to maintain my current reading pace (hopefully including the gradual improvement year over year) and focus on catching up on award winners and nominees to broaden my reading beyond favorite authors.

Two books, both fiction, received 10 out of 10 ratings from me this year: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, by Fredrik Backman, and Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers. Backman's novel is a delightful character story — funny, open-hearted, and gracious — with a wonderful seven-year-old protagonist (and that's something you'll rarely hear me say). It was the best book I read this year. Record of a Spaceborn Few was the most emotionally affecting book I read in 2018 (by far): a deeply moving story about community and belonging and not belonging, and about culture and why it's important. The narrative structure is unusual and the writing is less evenly high quality than Backman's, but it was exactly the book I needed to read when I read it. I think it's Chambers's best work to date, and that's saying a lot.

The novels that received 9 out of 10 ratings from me in 2018 were The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, the second and third books in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. Given Jemisin's three Hugo awards for this series and the wealth of online reviews, you probably don't need me to tell you how good they are. I found the series hard to read, since it's full of strong negative emotions and takes a very sharp look at pain, loss, and oppression, but I also thought it was worth the emotional effort. This trilogy is something very special in SFF and fully deserves the attention that it's gotten.

There was one more fiction 9 out of 10 rating this year, which also came as a complete surprise to me: walkingnorth's online graphic novel Always Human. This was one of the year's pure delights: gentle, kind, thoughtful, empathetic, and sweet. I am very grateful to James Nicoll for reviewing it; I never would have discovered it otherwise, and was able to share it with several other people.

The sole non-fiction 9 out of 10 this year was Zeynep Tufekci's excellent Twitter and Tear Gas, a thoughtful, critical, and deep look at the intersection of politics and online social networks that avoids facile moralizing and embraces the complex interactions we have with for-profit web sites that have far outgrown the understanding of the corporations that run them. I think (or at least hope) there's more awareness now, at the end of 2018, of the way that totalitarian regimes undermine political engagement not via suppression but via flooding networks with garbage news, fake personas, heated opinions, and made-up stories. Tufekci was studying this before it was widely talked about, and Twitter and Tear Gas is still a reliable guide to how political engagement works in online spaces.

Below is some additional analysis plus personal reading statistics, probably only of interest to me.

In 2018, I read and reviewed 40 books, up one book from 2017 and the most books I've read in one year since 2013. I approve of the slow upward trend and intend to continue it. Page count was down slightly again, though, partly due to including a few novellas and one pair of short stories and partly due to a lot of non-fiction reading. (Non-fiction in my experience tends to have fewer pages but be denser and take more reading time.) Average rating ticked slightly higher.

Overall statistics, with the change from last year:

Books read 40 (+1)
Total pages 12,740 (-212)
Average rating 7.12 (+0.02)
Pages per day 34.9 (-0.6)
Days per book 9.13 (-0.23)

Breakdown by genre:

SF and fantasy 20 50%
Mainstream 2 5%
Non-fiction 17 42%
Graphic novels 1 3%
RPGs 0 0%

No RPGs again this year (I still have one I started reading and haven't finished). Non-fiction increased dramatically, which as mentioned above is probably part of why the total page count dropped. I did read one graphic novel (well, an online collected strip, but that counts as a graphic novel), which is one more than last year. Mainstream fiction held steady at the same two book count as last year.

I think this is more non-fiction by percentage (although perhaps not by book count) than I want to aim for in 2019. At times during the year I fell out of the habit of reading fiction, and want to rebuild that (particularly around award winners and nominees).

Of the SF and fantasy novels, here's a rough breakdown of the books by reason for seeking them out. (As always, each book is only counted once, and reasons higher on the list override reasons lower on the list if both reasons apply.)

Award winners 3 15%
Award series 0 0%
Re-reads 0 0%
Genre classics 0 0%
Favorite authors 13 65%
Current SF&F 0 0%
Recommendations 1 5%
Random 3 15%

This was interestingly narrow. Nearly all of my SF reading this year was continuing series or new books from favorite authors. However, a lot of that was published in 2018, so may show up on award slates in 2019. (I don't retroactively move categories, since this is primarily capturing why I decided to read a book.)

I'm of two minds whether I want to spread my reading a bit more broadly, mostly by reading older books languishing on my shelves, or focus mostly on current SF by favorite authors. Increasing the time spent on reading in general always seems like the best approach on January 1st, since I want to do both!

More concretely, I do plan to get back to reading award slates, since that has in the past nicely broadened my reading. I once again didn't make much of an attempt to read all of the Hugo nominees, but still ended up reading three out of five since the nomination slate has a lot of overlap with my favorite authors, so catching up won't be too difficult.

Last modified and spun 2019-01-01