At the start of the year, I spent some time sorting my books and bookshelves... and later came across some reading statistics in book blogs with geeky diagrams which made me curious for my own reading. So I put some statistics together, starting with the number of printed books compared with e-books, the ratio of male and female authors. From there, I moved on to other angles, for example: the continents the books are from / or are set in. It is interesting, to revisit the year from that angle.
This blog post includes the diagrams, and also some my favorite reads. It also includes some quotes and notes, so that it isn’t all about numbers. The diagrams are all organized in the same way, comparing my reading year 2014 with 2013 - the red columns are the 2014 numbers, and the blue columns are for 2013.
Reading: e-books and printed books
The first diagram shows the shift to e-books in my reading. I started to read the first books on an e-reader in the summer of 2012. In 2013, about a fifth of the books I read were e-books – which grew to more than 50% in 2014:
There are several reasons for me to read e-books: you can easily take several books along wherever you go. And it's often much easier to get the e-book version of a book, especially with foreign books. Plus, with the option to read excerpts, I regularly try books out of curiosity, which I probably wouldn't have read otherwise. Here's a quote from my reading notes, from the island time in May:
"That's one of the special joys for me, starting long before leaving already: to pick the books to take to the island. With the e-reader, that is easier: you can take a library with you in a pocket. Still, you need to know which books you want to read."The "book pile" I brought to the island looked like this: "On Looking", a paperback & another of my fav reads of the year, and several e-books (here's the reading note: island reads):
Reading: Female / Male Authors
Another interesting diagram: the effect of the #readwomen initiative, which gave the impulse to look for a balance of female and male authors in my reading - something I had done before, but then my focus shifted to world reads. Here’s how that looks in numbers:
Turned out, in 2013 more than the half of books I read were from male authors. In 2014, this shifted to a balance of 40% female and 36% male authors. The “missing” 24% are short story collections or story/poetry collections, which feature both male and female authors (more about that, below).
The "readwomen" impulse made me go and look for world reads by women, and arrive at some compelling reads - like the "In Her Place" online collection, and "Reading Lolita in Teheran", a memoir about a (forbidden) reading group of former students and her teacher in Iran, one of the most difficult reads for me this year, but also one of the best. Here's my reading note, and here's a quote from the book:
“The novels were an escape from reality in the sense that we could marvel at their beauty and perfection. Curiously, the novels we escaped into led us finally to question and prod our own realities, about which we felt so helplessly speechless.” - Azar Nafisi**
As mentioned above already, I read more collections in 2014: almost a third of the books I read belonged to that format (this includes online collections, too.) Most of the collections had a global or regional theme, and I found them while looking for world reads. A book that is typical for these reads is the “One World” short story collection:
"One World" is an attempt to redefine the borders of the world we live in through short stories, (and).. recognizes the many conflicting issues of race, language, economy, gender and ethnicity, which separate and limit us...."Other collections that were remarkable reads: “Pepperpot” - Carribean stort stories: a collection that takes you to the reality of islands like Jamaica, Trinidad or Antigua, beyond the touristic beach photos. "The Places We’ve Been: Snapshots Across the Globe": this is a collection of 48 vivid and transportive, personal and original nonfiction pieces that portray contemporary snapshots across the globe.
Reading: Type of books
Looking at the different formats of books shows my interests and preferences are rather mixed: I like to read memoirs, novels, collections, and non-fiction books. Plus, I read graphic novels regularly (which is connected to one of my freelance works).
Altogether, these preferences remained pretty constant in 2014 and 2013. The only larger difference between the years is a shift from novels to story collections.
So this is how a rather typical mix of my "currently reading" books looks like: two memoirs, a novel, and a story collection (here's more about the books: reading from Chile to Paris):
This photo also shows the mix of where my books are coming from: Canetti's "Marrakesh" memoir is a book from my bookshelf that I revisited (and originally bought in a shop), the Kundera novel and the Marquez memoir are chance finds from the "book box" (more about that, below), and the fiction collection from Romania is a gift from the book fair. Which leads to the next diagram:
Source of books: book box & library
Many of the books I read are books that I buy online or in a bookshop or second hand. And there are books that I have read already, but read again, or keep revisiting. Altogether, that's about 10%, and the books I revisit regularly are mostly reflective: "The Wisdom of no escape","Pilgrim at Tinker Creek", "The Happiness Project", What book? Buddha poems...
But there also are two other, more random sources for my reading: the library, and the "book box". The book box is a telephone box that some people turned into an open free book exchange by installing shelves. It’s open, and without any guard or security: you can just go in, look at the books that are there, bring some books from your own shelves to share, and take some books in exchange. Surprisingly, it works really well, and stopping there always feels a bit like a game of chance: will there be an interesting book waiting? So far, the answer almost always has been yes.
I noticed that since I started to visit the bookbox, I went to the library less often - the book box was the "new library" in some ways, with this different, slightly wild concept. Counting books, it was interesting to see that the book box and the library swapped places, Combined, 20% of the books I read came from the two places.
Below is a photo of the book box, and here's a neat little story from there: "No princess books")
Reading: by continents
And finally, a look at my reading from a global angle, sorted by the continents the books belong to (mainly that means: nationality of author, or when that makes more sense, by the country they belong to). I first sorted the list by continents, and then realized it would make sense to add a column for my own homecountry, Germany, and on the other end of the range, a "world" column for books and short story collections with a global focus.
Turns out, about 10% of my reads focus on German authors and their writing, and about 50% on the "Western hemisphere": Europe and North America.
The other 40% of my reading focuses on the other parts of the world: Asia, South America, Africa. On first glance it looks as if those numbers decreased a bit in 2014, but that's balanced by the additional "World" column.
Reading more globally kept adding different views to the world, and different cultures to my year. It's something I really enjoyed, and often reading a book from a certain country then made me notice news or docus or films from that country afterwards.
For 2015, I want to continue to read books / authors from different countries. The plan is to visit all continents this year. The thing about those books is that they usually aren't on top of the usual bestseller lists, but looking for them so far brought interesting surprises - in a way, the internet itself is like a "book box" once you go looking with a different angle. That's also why I started the reading challenge again, with links to world book resources. More about the challenge, and some other book and reading links, below.
If you put together some book statistics, too, or a reflection on your reading, I would love to have a look - would be great if you leave a link in the comments. Here's to a splendid reading year 2015!
Reading links + Global reading challenge
Reading Challenge: The idea of the 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books Reading Challenge is to explore the world by books from different continents and countries, and by visiting various world lists while planning the reads, to encounter the one or other unknown angle and fact about our world.
For more reading notes in this blog, click here: life as a journey with books - and a reading list by regions is online at: World Reads by country
And here's the reflection of author Ayelet Tsabari, who focused on reading authors of color for a year, and the insights and reactions this focus evoked: My year of reading only writers of colour.