Book reading 2011

I’ve seen this minimeme for some years: end-of-year blog posts recounting the number, and sometimes the actual titles, of books the person read during the year. I never actually tracked my book reading, so I never participated.

This year, I decided to track the reading, partly because I (ahem) picked up a book at the library that I’d already read, six months or so earlier, and really didn’t want to do that again. Also because I thought it might be interesting, if sad, to keep track of just how little I was likely to read during 2011.

Just how little?

Yep. Because I knew I was going to write two books from start to finish and do a substantial amount of research and early writing toward the third one, and because I assumed I’d keep doing Cites & Insights and at least one magazine column, I figured I’d be lucky to manage 39 books during the year–more likely 26 or so.

The “39” number isn’t arbitrary. Livermore Public has a four-week/28-day loan period for books (except for “7-day books,” which I assume are brand-new books; I’ve never encountered that shorter period). I normally pick up three books: one genre (alternating mystery and sf/f), one fiction (“non-genre”) and one nonfiction. I like to read across quite a few disciplines, and I sometimes really like books that are technically outdated.

The math: there are 13 four-week periods in a year. 13 times 3 is 39. If this year was as crazed as I expected, I’d drop back to two books per visit or start renewing books.

The reality

This surprised me. The total for the year–I’m assuming I’m not going to finish the book that’s on the coffeetable before Sunday–is 63.

That’s partly because I read a number of books related to publishing and editing as background and resources for The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing. It’s partly because I read a few items as background for the other books.

It’s mostly, I think, because with one book (and only one book) sitting there on the coffee table, I’d tend to pick it up after a few days–and in most cases I’d enjoy it enough to keep going. I never work on the computer after 8:30 p.m. or so, and rarely do any actual work after supper, so there’s always some reading time (since we typically watch 42 minutes to an hour of TV each night, other than Movie Saturday).

What’s suffered, clearly, has been magazine reading: I love magazines, and I take quite a few of them, but I’m also about 2.5 months behind on most of them. My current “to be read” basket has 24 regular magazines and nine science fiction magazines…and that’s about typical. They’ll all get read, cover to cover (yes, I’m one of those), but it takes time.

That really means I’ve read a lot more than 63 book-equivalents in print form. One science fiction magazine (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) has gone to thick bimonthly issues that are effectively a book’s worth of fiction in each issue. The others are theoretically monthly, with a little more than half a book’s worth in each issue, but in each case four monthly issues appear as two fat booklength combos. So I get 26 issues a year in all, and that’s about 18 book equivalents. (I’m probably 15 years behind on science fiction/fantasy in book form, but I’m in pretty good shape for short-story and novelette/novella writers.)

The details?

I’m not going to post the actual list of titles. It’s eclectic. I will say that. A couple of summary notes:

  • One book came from ALA as support for a book I’m working on. One was a gift from the author. Two–the only two I abandoned partway through–were old paperbacks that had been hanging around the house for many years (one of them I picked up on an “exchange table” at MFPOW; the other my wife read a few decades ago). The others all came from Livermore Public Library.
  • I count 16 “mainstream” fiction titles, 10 that the library categorizes as mystery (most of them from Nevada Barr’s series set in national parks), 29 called nonfiction, and eight categorized as science fiction/fantasy. Plus, to be sure, the 18 book equivalents of science fiction/fantasy in shorter form.
  • I found 25 of the books less than enchanting–nine “Meh,” five “No” (including the two I abandoned), two “OK” and nine “So-so.” In most of these cases, I should probably have abandoned the book at the Pearl Limit (in my case, 34 pages in), but I find that hard to do except in the worst cases. That leaves 38 books that I enjoyed, including ten that I liked a lot and 13 more that I liked almost as much. That’s a pretty good track record, given the modified randomness with which I choose books.

So there it is. A little more than a book a week–basically, a book every six days. Essentially, I’ve been going to the library roughly every 2.5 weeks instead of every four weeks.

I’ll keep keeping track–printing out a tiny-print list is a good way of avoiding duplicates (it will be quite a while before that list requires more than one sheet of paper every three or four weeks, so I’m not exactly squandering natural resources).

(Is this post another form of procrastination? Sort of. I finished a wholly revised draft of the second of nine chapters for my next book,  one of two chapters that’s almost entirely new material since I set aside the partial first draft to add another 3,500+ libraries to the dataset, so I’m in good shape. Lots of metrics processing today, but I might hold off on Chapter 3 until Monday. Sunday’s our 34th anniversary, and I don’t plan to work on the book at all… Meantime, happy new year, and if you’re around these parts, “avoid the 21”–don’t drive under the influence. Well, the advice holds everywhere, but the 21 police agencies in the Bay Area make a concerted effort over the holidays, with some success in lowering DUI-related accidents.)


11 Responses to “Book reading 2011”

  1. Ruth Ellen says:

    So, do you have a favorite of the books you read this year? Anything really outstanding? And by the way, I WILL be in your neck of the woods this weekend. My sister just moved to Livermore and I’ll be heading up there to visit her and see the house. I don’t plan on drinking and driving, but thanks for the warning.

  2. walt says:

    Well…of the ones I liked best, none got a “straight A,” but here they are, noting that my tastes might not be yours, and I might not even like these as well if I read them again. In no particular order:
    Among the Gently Mad Nicholas A. Basbanes
    Delusion Peter Abrahams
    Howard Hughes: The Untold Story Brown & Broeske
    Old Man’s War John Scalzi
    Plastic Fantastic Eugenie Samuel Reich
    Shopgirl Steve Martin
    The Ghost Brigades John Scalzi
    The Hook Donald E. Westlake
    The Yiddish Policemen’s Union Michael Chabon
    When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It Ben Yagoda
    Winner of the National Book Award Jincy Willett

  3. Ruth Ellen says:

    Thanks. I loved Old Man’s War (and sequels). I could NOT get past the first few pages of Yiddish Policemen’s Union, in either book or audio format. Shopgirl is on my list to read. Some of the others look interesting.

  4. Angel says:

    That public library of yours is generous in loan times, Walt. Our public library here only gives two weeks (with one renewal). Anyhow, just found the factoid interesting.

    Read Old Man’s War and liked it. Did not like Ghost Brigades as much, but still read it. Have not chosen to read the sequels. I do read Scalzi’s blog as he does have some interesting stuff in it once in a while.

    Thanks for posting this, as I always find it interesting to see what others are reading.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  5. walt says:

    Yes, Livermore Public does have generous loan times (DVDs and CDs are 7-day, with, I think, two renewals). Renewals for books are two weeks/two renewals. (And, yes, you get email two or three days before items are due reminding you of the due date, and of course you can renew online…)

    I’m guessing the collection is considered adequately large for the population, and I think that’s right. (228,000 volumes for 85K people, including 55K registered borrowers. 13 circs per capita, which is lower than the two comparable libraries I used to use, but twice the state average. Decently-funded: $54 pc op. exp., again lower than the two previous comparables but a lot higher than the state’s $33 average. Great programming, with over half a million attending and lots of activity at all levels.)

  6. walt says:

    And, you know, what the hell: For anybody who comes back here, here’s the list of books I gave B+ to, which means I enjoyed it a lot but didn’t think it was quite up to the A- level:
    Blind Descent Nevada Barr
    Blood Lure Nevada Barr
    Chances Are: Adventures in Probability Michael & Ellen Kaplan
    Cops and Robbers Donald E. Westlake
    Deep South Nevada Barr
    Endangered Species Nevada Barr
    Flashback Nevada Barr
    How to Get Happily Published Judith Appelbaum
    Ill Wind Nevada Barr
    Liberty Falling Nevada Barr
    The Complete Self-Publishing Handbook Brownstone & Franck
    The Wee Free Men Terry Pratchett
    The Writing Class Jincy Willett

    Make of that what you will.

  7. Ruth Ellen says:

    Angel, I agree that Ghost Brigades wasn’t as good as Old Man’s War, but the third book, The Last Colony, was good. I recommend it. I haven’t read Zoe’s Tale, yet, because I’m saving it for a trip I’m taking in February. I think my favorite thing from the series is the Brain Pal. I really want one. Walt, Wee Free Men was my first Terry Pratchett book. I listed to it on CD a few years ago and I liked it very much. The guy who reads his books in audio format is an excellent reader.

  8. walt says:

    Ruth Ellen: While Wee Free Men was good, I don’t think it measures up to either Pratchett’s many Discworld books or Good Omens, which he wrote with Neil Gaiman. I don’t list any Discworld books here because I either read them before or I own the paperbacks and haven’t gotten around to them yet, but I’ve enjoyed all of them.

  9. Ruth Ellen says:

    Everybody in the world seems to love Good Omens. I’ve tried it once or twice and couldn’t get past the first few pages. But so many people love it that I’ll probably try again. Maybe I’ll take it on my vacation in February (a cruise at which we spend way too much time at sea, so I’ll have plenty of reading time).

  10. walt says:

    Nah, if you’ve tried it more than once, it’s not your cup of tea. My first reaction to your other comment is that there’s no such thing as too much time at sea, but I guess that really depends on the cruise line and your own tastes. (Admittedly, if it’s something like an LA/Hawaii cruise, there are a lot of days at sea.)

  11. Ruth Ellen says:

    It’s a cruise to Brazil, with stops in Barbados and Devil’s Island. I’m looking forward to a lot of reading and knitting.