Last year was a year of big changes for our little family. We’d been saving as much as possible for years, started researching and looking earnestly in April, and by mid-June had closed on our first home. The whole process was both intimidating and exhilarating. So it’s not without a hint of amusement and disbelief that I say that the best thing I bought last year may well have been an e-reader. It’s ridiculous, on the face of it—that something so small and cheap (relatively speaking) could have made such a difference—but it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s changed my day-to-day life about as much as home-ownership has.
As a kid, I was always a reader. On my first day of kindergarten, our teacher helped us record our goals for the year; mine was to learn to read, and so I did, and more and more as the years went by. I devoured books. I’d curl up alone in a chair with a book at family parties, invariably thought of as either “bright” or “a little strange,” depending largely on whether the the beholder was a reader themselves. I’d lose myself in mysterious worlds more satisfying than the one I found myself in. And I wrote—poetry and stories—sought to understand myself and others through words, to cope with the incomprehensible, to birth beauty and process pain.
My reading tapered off a bit as I neared the end of high school, and all the more throughout college. As an English major, I was still reading plenty of books, but all assigned, very little for pure pleasure. When I entered the workforce, after spending each day copyediting scientific manuscripts, the last thing I felt like doing in the evenings was reading even more. I still considered myself a reader, but only rarely I actually read—maybe eight books a year on average. I had lost something along the way.
Years passed. “I was happier when I was reading,” I thought to myself one day in early September. “I want to get back to that again.” My whole life, I’ve had something of a love affair with paper—there is nothing on this earth like a used bookstore, the scent of it, the feel of pages beneath fingertips—but the idea of an e-reader had been meandering through my mind for a while, and I had a bunch of unused cash-back rewards on my credit card. “What the heck,” I thought, and charged full-speed ahead. The combination of having so many books right at my fingertips, the simplicity of the e-ink display, the lack of distractions, and the lightness and ease of reading in bed changed everything for me. A fire was re-lit. My love affair with paper endures, will always endure (yes, I am still reading paper books), but I also haven’t looked back since.
In 2017, I read 32 books, almost all of those from September on. I thought it would be fun to take a look at some numbers (inspired somewhat by Jessamyn West) this year and beyond, to get a sense of what I’m reading and how it’s evolving:
- Total read: 32
- Fiction: 18 (56%)
- Non-fiction: 13 (41%)
- Poetry: 1 (3%)
- By female authors: 19 (59%)
- By male authors: 13 (41%)
- By authors of color: 2 (6%)
- Favorites, fiction: The MaddAddam trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam; Atwood), The Fifth Season (Jemisin), Station Eleven (Mandel)
- Favorites, non-fiction: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Demick), The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape (Rebanks)
I’m pleased that I managed to read so many books by women without making an effort, but I could clearly stand to be much more diverse in my reading, so if you have any recommendations, leave them in the comments. I’m especially partial to science fiction, dystopias, smart fantasy (I’ll skip the generic/derivative stuff, thanks), historical fiction, and microhistory. I am admittedly somewhat whimsical in my reading, following moods as they strike me, and that’s not likely to change—but if it’s on my To Read list, I’ll get to it eventually, so that’s where I’ll start.
I’ve knocked off eight books already in January. For the first time in a long while, I’m confident that it’s going to be a good year for the written word.