MY YEAR BY THE NUMBERS: 80 books + 469 picture books
It’s a bit early for me to reflect on my reading year, especially as December is usually my best reading month—both in terms of most books read and most good books read (books that might potentially make my own Top 10 of the year list).
2015 has felt like a yearlong reading slump, though when I examine what I’ve actually read this year, I discover that the slump is a slump only in numbers, not in quality or enjoyment.
MONTH WITH MOST READING: SEPTEMBER
To put the numbers in perspective, in 2014 I read 200 books (not counting picture books) and in 2013 I read 170 books. In 2015, I’ve finished just 80 books. It’s no wonder this feels like a reading slump: I’ve gone from being a reader who finishes, on average, nearly 4 books a week to being a reader who managed to finish just 3 books in the entire month of July.
MONTH WITH LEAST READING: JULY
Mostly it’s been life getting in the way reading slump. I can’t say that I don’t have time to read, because I do. But when I sit down to read, my attention has felt fractured. I can’t sit still. I can’t focus. I can’t commit. I’ve spent countless hours scrolling through social media and reading the Internet this year—hours I am more accustomed to spending with a book. And even when I have tried to read, I’ve fitfully started and abandoned dozens of books that just don’t connect for some reason.
MOST READ FORMAT: Picture Books
Picture books have kept me reading consistently all year. So far, I’ve read 469. About half of those were read aloud to my son, which is always my favorite way to share a picture book. Picture books remain the genre/format I am most grateful for. When I read a picture book, I often feel like I’ve had a meaningful aesthetic experience.
Aside from picture books, graphic novels have consistently managed to hold my interest. Most months, I’ve finished at least two. I’ve also had good luck with middle grade, which still and always feels like my reading home.
That said, I finally snapped my reading slump in November when I read Zen Cho’s marvelous historical fantasy novel, Sorcerer to the Crown. Here’s the pitch: it’s Jane Austen meets Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell with the class, race, and gender issues of Regency England highlighted and explored. Exactly the kind of novel I love to sink into—and exactly the kind of novel I don’t usually seek out or allow myself to read. I loved this book. And when I finished it, I immediately started another book, which I also quickly finished. And another. And another.
I am realizing that I place boundaries on my reading—I read to fit my work (teaching Children’s Literature and Adolescent Literature courses) and to connect with my online reading community (also focused almost exclusively on children’s and YA lit), and I treat books that aren’t in that wheelhouse as the occasional treat or indulgence rather than types of reading that could form the staple of my reading diet.
When I first started teaching these courses, it made sense to refocus my reading interests. My actual area of expertise is Restoration & 18th-Century British Literature, so I had an enormous amount of catch-up to do before I could feel remotely qualified to teach these courses. And catching up isn’t enough when you teach contemporary literatures. There are thousands of new children’s books published each year, and I have a goal of reading a few hundred of those new titles every year. It’s no wonder that I mostly read literature for young people.
FAVORITE READING LOCATION:
(I get that little wedge of space to the side.)
And then there is my beloved online reading community. I feel like I’m cheating or not doing it right if I post about too many books for grown-ups in my Monday reading reflection posts. I try to be mindful of the interests and purposes of my audience. Since I blog and tweet as part of the kidlitosphere and connect with other readers who focus on literature for young people, I have convinced myself there isn’t a place in my reading or blogging life for other kinds of reading.
When I look back over my year of reading, I see that many of my most meaningful reading experiences this year have been books published for grown-ups. I realize “books for grown-ups” is imprecise and even silly. Most of the children’s and young adult books I read are also books for grown-ups, if by grown-ups we mean discerning readers who seek excellent writing. But many of the books that right now would make my Top 10 of 2015 list–Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, 100 Essays I’m Too Busy to Write, Dept of Speculation, Seconds, The Soul of an Octopus, and of course Sorcerer to the Crown–are clearly books for adult readers.
What does this mean for my reading life right now?
One thing I do know about myself and other lifelong readers is that our reading interests develop, grow, and change over time. The balance of what we need to do as readers to be happy and fulfilled may also develop, grow, and change over time. What worked for me a year ago may not be working for me now. My reading slump may come down to this: trying to force myself into the reading box I created for myself a few years ago. An exclusive diet of literature for young people was exactly what I wanted and needed for several years. It hasn’t been what I’ve wanted in 2015, but I didn’t allow myself to explore other reading interests until very late in the year.
And here’s something else I’m realizing. For me, reading books for grown-ups feels incredibly indulgent and luxurious. That’s because it’s not reading that I need to do. It isn’t for work. It isn’t to share with my students. It isn’t to make me a better teacher. It’s reading just for me.
And that’s okay.
So I plan to spend my best and favorite reading month–December–reading exactly what I choose. I’m not going to try to complete any of the reading challenges I set for myself at the beginning of the year. I’m not going to analyze the categories of reading I’ve ignored this year (Newbery contenders, young adult) and try to “catch up.” I am not going to treat reading like taking vitamins.
I am going to read serendipitously, whimsically, spontaneously–and hopefully voraciously. Because that, more than anything, is what I’ve missed as a reader in 2015: voracity.