Posted on January 2, 2018
Reading year in review: 2017
2017 is over, and I’m proud to say that I read 56 books this year! That’s the basic story, but I’ve got statistics, so if you’re daft for data then come and deep dive with me…
It’s always interesting to start with some of the notable books of the year, so let’s look at length. The shortest book I read this year was A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees by Kenkō (this book was also the oldest book I read in 2017; it was published in 1329). The longest book was The Last Gasp by Trevor Hoyle, an absolute beast of a novel, and the most recent was Artemis by Andy Weir, which was published on 9th November 2017.
Before I get into the stats about gender, I have to preface it with a little context. In 2016 the number of male and female writers I read was an almost even split, but the imbalance was far more extreme in 2017, and I would largely put that down to my discovery of science-fiction. I’ve been reading sci-fi on and off for years, but in 2017 I truly embraced it and actively sought out books in that genre. However, that involved reading a lot of sci-fi from a time in which the genre was more clearly dominated by male writers, and that’s probably why I overwhelmingly read men in 2017.
So here are the numbers. Last year I read 39 books by men, 15 my women, and 2 by multiple authors. As for distinct writers (ie: not including multiple books by one author), I read 33 different men and 13 different women. I have to say, I’m a little ashamed by the imbalance in those numbers, but it gives me an interesting challenge for 2018: I want to keep reading sci-fi, so I’m going to make an active effort to seek out female sci-fi authors.
The diversity of my reading has also taken a nosedive in terms of author nationality. In 2016 one-third of my reading was non-US or UK, but in 2017 that went down to less than a quarter and I only read 7 translated books. Once again, this could be due to my recent obsession with classic sci-fi (US authors are massive in this genre), as well as getting stuck into several series by British authors. Seeking out more translated fiction and more writing by people from outside the US and the UK has to be a priority for this year.
That shouldn’t be too challenging for me because, in 2017, I continued to prefer new voices to old. I read 34 authors I’d never read before, compared to only 14 familiar authors.
It’s not too surprising to learn that novels remain my most read type of book (51.8% of books I read this year), but non-fiction ousted graphic novels for second place (21.4%), and short stories came in third (16.1%). Novellas placed fourth (7.1%), and graphic novels dropped way down to the bottom of the list (3.6%). I’m pretty pleased with the climb in non-fiction and I’d like to read even more of that this year.
As for format, almost two-thirds of the books I read were paperbacks, and just over one-quarter were hardbacks. There were a couple of audiobooks and e-books, but I clearly prefer to read physical copies. I also tend to choose standalones over series, but I did start three new series in 2017, as well as getting hold of the latest instalments in three old favourites (most notably Brennan’s ‘Lady Trent‘ memoirs and Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials‘ series).
Of course, the biggest change in my reading habits can be seen in the genre breakdown. Amazingly, and for possibly the first time in my life, literary fiction has been knocked off the top spot… by sci-fi. Interestingly, fantasy is in third place (probably due to my rereading the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy), and the next biggest segments are children’s and science, jointly. Children’s is easy to explain: I bought a beautiful collection of Roald Dahl books. Science can be attributed to my increased interest in non-fiction. 2016’s third-place segment was biography, which was only a minor feature of 2017.
The library was hugely important to me in 2016; I read more books from there than from all the other sources put together. The library remained a major source of my books in 2017, but I have also returned to buying books, so bookshops were my main providers last year. I can put this down to earning more through my business, which gave me more disposable income for buying pretty, shiny new books. However, I think this makes an important point about libraries: when you have money to buy books it’s easy to think libraries are unimportant, but if you can’t afford books then libraries are a godsend. (I should also mention the wonderful people in my life who buy me books; gifts are my third biggest source of reading material.)
In 2017 I also recorded information about where I heard about the books I read. It seems that I came across most of the books through YouTube (12 books), by browsing bookshops (11), through recommendations from friends or booksellers (7), and by browsing the library (5). Occasionally I picked up a book from a cold email (ie: from an author or publisher wanting to promote their work), or through social media such as Instagram or Twitter. Also in 2017 I joined a sci-fi and fantasy book club, so that was a brand new source of recommendations for me.
In 2016 the average length book I read was 303 pages, and I read 20,606 pages in total, working out at 56 pages per day (dropping to 43 pages per day when you take out the very quick, short reads). In 2017 the average length book was 288 pages, and I read 16,139 pages in total, working out at 44 pages per day (or 41 pages after removing the short reads). That’s a drop in page count per day compared to 2016, but that makes sense as I read fewer books in 2017 (56 compared to 68), and far fewer graphic novels. You could say 2017 was a more dense, wordy reading year.
To look at it another way, in 2017 I took on average 11 days to read a book. “How did you read 56 books this year, then?” I hear you ask. Well, sometimes I had more than one book on the go at the same time, and some days I did nothing but read!
There are a few other interesting things to touch upon. Once again, literary awards didn’t hugely influence my reading in 2017: 63.2% of the books I read hadn’t won any major awards. Having said that, I did notice that I was looking out for award mentions on book covers more, especially when it came to sci-fi. Not being hugely knowledgeable about the genre, I did tend to pick up Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C Clarke award winners because these prizes are an indicator of quality.
Regarding publishers, I realised while I was compiling these stats that Penguin Random House owns everything; 42% of books I read were published by Penguin or a Penguin imprint. All the independent publishers put together accounted for 17.5%, trailing in a distant second place, while Pan Macmillan and Orion come in joint third with 10.5%. That really shows what a huge section of the market Penguin is dominating.
Next, publication year. In 2016 I mainly focused on contemporary fiction, with most of the books I read having been published in 2010 or later. It’s a similar story in 2017, with books from the last seven years clearly being my top priority, although there are slightly unusual peaks from the 1940s and 1970s, which I will once again attribute to my classic sci-fi binge.
Finally, Goodreads star ratings. I didn’t give any books 1 star in 2017 (probably because I was better at abandoning them if I wasn’t enjoying them; I abandoned three books in total), and only one book got 2 stars. 21.4% of the books I read got 3 stars, 35.7% got 4 stars, and a massive 41.1% got 5 stars. That indicates a very good reading year, and I wonder if it reflects me knowing what I like better, and also not persisting with (and thus not rating) books I’m not enjoying. However, I should point out that these star ratings are only what I give books on Goodreads, which doesn’t allow for half stars, and where I would have given a half-star I have always rounded up. That means the ratings err on the positive side; not all of those 5-star reads are perfect, life-changing books. To find out the books that really are the cream of the crop, check back here next week for my 2017 Book Awards!
If 2016 was the year in which I indulged in hardback graphic novel memoirs, then 2017 is most definitely the year I discovered sci-fi. At last I got over the genre snobbery that has dogged me since university (the curse of the English student) and I have embraced the life-changing magic of genre fiction. Long may it continue.
Finally, to round up all those lovely statistics, let’s put all the averages together. My average book in 2017 was a paperback standalone sci-fi novel, written by a British man I’d never read before, published after 2010, that I bought brand new. Is there a book that fits that description? Yes! Just one: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I absolutely loved that book and I still think about it now, so it’s appropriate that it perfectly sums up my reading year.
I will return soon with my 2017 Book Awards, when I will discuss the best (and worst) reads of the year. Until then, Happy New Year and happy reading!
“Why should we be made thus, to improve and improve, unless it is to aspire?” – Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky