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My 2020 reading recap (with charts!)

The short version: Last year I read 45 books, fewer than expected which I put down to more time spent writing instead. Of the books I read, most were great:

  • The biggest share fell into the fantasy genre, followed by scifi, then stories with prominent gay characters or storylines.
  • I favoured physical books this year over ebooks in my endeavour to tackle my overflowing bookshelf.
  • Novels were still the dominant form of book, followed by short story collections which I fell in love with in 2020.
  • Half of the books I read were written by men, 46% by women, and 4% by non-binary or gender diverse authors.
  • Three-quarters were by American or English authors, followed by Kiwis and Irish authors.

If you’re keen for graphs, further insights, or my thoughts for 2021, scroll on…

The long version: I didn’t get through quite as many books – particularly novel-length works – as I’d imagined in 2020. This surprised me considering how much time we were in various levels of lockdown, with much of our days spent around the house.

But I soon realised in the time I’d typically be reading I was writing instead. Last year I wrote and published two novellas and three short stories, which I celebrated in this post just after Christmas: 2020 has been a year…

Early last year I completed an exercise summarising my reading in 2019. I went into detail about how I rated the books I read, what genre they fitted into, the format, form, whether it was part of a series or standalone, as well as the gender and nationality of the authors.

I wanted to do something similar for my 2020 reading year, taking things further than the results of my Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge and picking apart my Goodreads read shelf for books I finished reading between 1 January and 31 December 2020.

RATING: I finished 45 books in 2020, and as per last year I really enjoyed most of them. This is represented by ★★★★★ or ★★★★☆ ratings, with 11% at a more moderate ★★★☆☆, and only one book being abandoned part way through. Again, I wonder if I’m being too safe with my picks? Too generous with my ratings? Or does my routine of checking reviews before starting on Chapter 1 mean I avoid anything I really won’t like?

My 2020 reading recap: book ratings pie chart

GENRE: Fantasy reigned supreme again in 2020 with the exact same proportion as the previous year. Science Fiction retained it’s #2 spot, although dropping from one in every five books read to about one in six. Young Adult also dropped, from one in eight to one in eleven, approximately, to be overtaken by books with prominent gay characters or storylines which moved up into third place with 10% of books read.

Romance retained it’s fifth-equal place, though now with a greater share of the pie. However, instead of sharing this spot with Adventure, Historical has shot up from a sliver to take its place alongside Romance. Seventh-equal goes to Adventure and Humour, followed by Crime. And bringing up the rear with only two books each were Thriller, Mystery, Literary, and Non-fiction.

My 2020 reading recap: book genre pie chart

FORMAT: Last year, the convenience of my Kindle was key, being easy to slip in my bag for my commute on the train and lunchtime break out of the office. So ebooks took the title as preferred book format in 2019, accounting for 56% of the books I read.

However, with so much time spent at home in 2020, it was the perfect time to tackle the physical books lining my shelves and stacked up on the bedside table. And I did just that, which is shown by the swing to physical format books in 2020.

Still, ebooks retained over a third share. For any recent releases I purchased the ebook version – this was down to a desire to minimise physical contact when bookstores and libraries were still operating, and the only option when they weren’t. Also, the novellas and books from indie authors I read were predominantly ebooks, as physical copies (when available) are not often stocked by traditional booksellers.

My 2020 reading recap: book format pie chart

FORM: The proportion of novels I read in 2020 dropped slightly from 78% in 2019, but still accounted for over two-thirds of the books I read. A big change in my reading this year was the inclusion of five short story collections – these included books on Māori legends, Greek myths, fairy tale retellings, a science fiction and fantasy anthology, and supplements to a novel series. I enjoyed these, giving me a wider variety of bite-sized stories, perfect at times I found my attention span struggling in 2020.

My 2020 reading recap: book form pie chart

SERIES: 2020 followed the trend of 2019 with books tending to be part of a series. Though the proportion of standalones has increased from around one in five to one in three. I wonder if this followed the reasoning behind the increase in short stories I read, with me not so keen to get stuck into anything too big or daunting?

My 2020 reading recap: book series or standalone pie chart

AUTHORS: When I considered the books I read in 2019 I found almost two-thirds were written by men, and 44% were by English writers, 39% by Americans.

After seeing these results I prioritised books by female authors when scanning my shelf and deciding what to read next in 2020. But without tracking progress during the year, I still ended up with 50% written by men – higher than expected. The other half of my reading was written by 46% female authors and 4% non-binary or gender diverse authors.

My 2020 reading recap: author gender pie chart

In 2020, the combined total of American and English authors came to just over 75% which was a drop from 83% in 2019. The remaining nationalities hadn’t made an appearance in 2019, and I’m particularly happy to see New Zealand taking out the #3 spot this year.

I read only one work in translation this year which was a novel written originally in Swedish.

My 2020 reading recap: author nationality pie chart

Again, I considered grouping the books’ authors by other criteria such as ethnicity, sexuality, age, etc, to investigate the diversity of the books I’m reading. However, I thought much of this information would be less reliable or difficult to find, and hoped that sticking to the two basic criteria above gave enough of a flavour. The outcome of this exercise was realising I still read more books by men than I’d expected and from fewer countries too.

In 2021 I hope to still be giving predominantly ★★★★★ and ★★★★☆ ratings, meaning I’m really enjoying my reading. I think I’ll attempt a few more Horror, Thriller, or Crime books this year, genres I don’t often spend time reading. Physical books will dominate again this year, I think, as I work my way through the books on my shelf which I’ve already bought instead of buying too many more! I loved the variety of the collected short stories I read in 2020 and I think I’ll keep that up this year. And finally, regarding the genders of authors I read in 2021, I’m going to monitor progress during the year to make sure I’m reading a representative cross-section, and can correct course if I get off track.

Drop me a message if you’re keen to share any insights from your own reading year, or if you have your own targets for the year ahead! I’ll be keeping track on Goodreads (@gbralph) if anyone wants to join me. Happy reading in 2021 everyone!

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