2020 in Review

In 2020, I finished and reviewed 42 books, two more than 2019 (although I had finished but not reviewed two books at the end of 2019, so the total is even more similar than that). This is the best year for reading in terms of book count since 2012, despite being seriously distracted by a new job, a pandemic, and US political meltdowns. Those distractions do show up in the drop in page count.

If it weren't for the pandemic, the count would have been higher. Just as I got into a rhythm of reading while I exercised, gyms became a bad idea for the rest of the year. Treadmills are good for reading; long walks around the neighborhood not so much. That time went to podcasts instead, which I'm not too sad about but which don't prompt reviews.

Finding the mental space and energy to write reviews proved as much of a challenge as finding time to read this year, and I once again had to do some catch-up at the end of the year. To the extent that I have goals for 2021, it's to tighten up the elapsed time between finishing a book and writing a review so that the reviews don't pile up.

I read one book this year that I rated 10 out of 10: Michael Lewis's The Fifth Risk, which is partly about the US presidential transition and is really about what the US government does and what sort of people make careers in civil service. This book is brilliant, fascinating, and surprisingly touching, and I wish it were four times as long. If anything, it's even more relevant today as we enter another transition than it was when Lewis wrote it or when I read it.

There were so many 9 out of 10 ratings this year that it's hard to know where to start. I read the last Murderbot novella by Martha Wells (Exit Strategy) and then the first Murderbot novel (Network Effect), both of which were everything I was hoping for. Murderbot's sarcastic first-person voice continues to be a delight, and I expect Network Effect to take home several 2021 awards. I'm eagerly awaiting the next novel, Fugitive Telemetry, currently scheduled for the end of April, 2021.

Also on the fiction side were Alix E. Harrow's wonderful debut novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January, a fierce novel about family and claiming power that will hopefully win the 2020 Mythopoeic Award (which was delayed by the pandemic), and TJ Klune's heart-warming The House in the Cerulean Sea, my feel-good novel of the year. Finally, Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth were a glorious mess in places, but I had more fun reading and discussing those books than I've had with any novel in a very long time.

On the non-fiction side, Tressie McMillan Cottom's Thick is the best collection of sociology that I've read. It's not easy reading, but that book gave me a new-found appreciation and understanding of sociology and what it's trying to accomplish. Gretchen McCulloch's Because Internet is much easier reading but similarly perspective-enhancing, helping me understand (among other things) how choice of punctuation and capitalization expands the dynamic range of meaning in informal text conversation. Finally, Nick Pettigrew's Anti-Social is a funny, enlightening, and sobering look at the process of addressing low-level unwanted behavior that's directly relevant to the current conflicts over the role of policing in society.

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

In 2020, I read and reviewed 42 books, up two books from 2019. Page count reverted to mean, however, so total pages were down slightly from 2019 (but still up a bit from 2018). Average rating once again ticked a bit higher.

Overall statistics, with the change from last year:

Books read 42 (+2)
Total pages 13,063 (-1067)
Average rating 7.21 (+0.08)
Pages per day 35.7 (-3.0)
Days per book 8.71 (-0.42)

Breakdown by genre:

SF and fantasy 23 55%
Mainstream 0 0%
Non-fiction 19 45%
Graphic novels 0 0%
RPGs 0 0%

This was a rather non-diverse year by genre. I only read SF, fantasy, and non-fiction this year, without a single graphic novel or mainstream fiction novel. It's now been so long since I started the RPG I was reading that I will need to start over again. Reversing the change in 2019, non-fiction was back up to almost half of my reading.

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 13%
Award series 0 0%
Re-reads 2 9%
Genre classics 0 0%
Favorite authors 11 48%
Current SF&F 3 13%
Recommendations 3 13%
Random 1 4%

Compared to last year, this year's reading was more focused on my favorite authors. I read fewer award winners than last year, fewer books only because they were part of the zeitgeist (although that's partly because my favorite authors were part of the zeitgeist), and fewer recommendations. I suspect that several of the books from my favorite authors will win awards in 2021, however, and thus with perfect knowledge of the future would fall into the award winner category.

I don't track this as a statistic, so I'm not certain, but I feel like I read more SF&F this year that was published in the same year I read it.

I was planning on catching up with award winners more broadly this year, but it didn't happen. I found myself wanting to read books I knew I would enjoy rather than experimenting with award winners that may or may not click with me. I read the 2020 Hugo nominees, and that was about it. Perhaps 2021 will be more of a year for catching up on the SF&F awards.

Last modified and spun 2021-01-02