Year in Books stats

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So, the statistics: In 2020 I read 61 books by 50 authors, counting of course only books I hadn’t read before. 26 of those writers were already familiar to me from earlier books (well, variously familiar, as one of them I only just realized had written a book I read some years ago) and 24 were new to me. Before I do a demographic breakdown, I’ll say that those numbers seem just about right to me for my own pleasure: something in the general area of a book a week, about half of which are written by people whose stuff I have read before and presumably liked enough not to avoid. Anyway, if I can find twenty or so new writers a year who have written a book or play I am willing to read through to the end, that’s pretty great. And if writers that I like keep producing enough new books that I can read two of those a month, that’s fabulous.

So, the breakdown. First, the new writers. 24 of them: 21 women (or female-presenting, anyway) and 3 men. Evidently I’ve been even more stringent about avoiding books by white men than in the past few years, but I’ve done it largely by avoiding all the names that look male to me. It’s fine, although I should probably hunt up recommendations for non-white men, too. Breaking the demographics down, two of the new male writers were white (one was only new to me as a prose writer; I read Elton John’s memoir) and one African-American.

Of the 21 new (to me) women writers, 13 are white, one black English, and the other 7 are either from Asia or Asian-American. Well, there may be Asian-English writers in there; I didn’t do all that much research. It’s interesting (to me anyway) that I didn’t set out to read works by Asian and Asian-American women this year, but that’s the theme. I suspect that someone at my library was promoting these works, or else more than one person at more than one publisher has been. Or it’s just coincidence, I suppose.

Worth breaking down the 26 familiar-to-me writers, too: 9 white men, 1 African-American man, 1 Asian-American man, 1 non-binary white American, 12 white women, 1 African-American woman and 1 Asian-American woman. Again, the demographics of this group reflect not only the systemic racism and misogyny of English-Language publishing over centuries, but my own unthinking and complacent accommodation to it—nothing against the individual white-dude writers in question, of course, who are terrific enough that I want to keep reading their stuff, but cumulatively it’s 85% white, and that sort of thing has consequences in the long run. My four or five years now of affirmatively seeking out women writers seems to have had an effect, though, or perhaps it’s a decade or so of publishing getting less unequal. Or, perhaps, it’s also related to 2020 and having different sources of library books; I suspect that my author’s list isn’t usually so devoid of dead people (only Shakespeare, Shaw and Broadhurst, I think) nor so tilted toward things published in the last few years.

I’ll put in here for anyone (including YHB) who is reading this from far enough in the future not to immediately look at the numerals that make up 2020 and immediately think ‘the pandemic year!’ (Lord, I hope that’s how it goes, and not ‘the first pandemic year!’) (Lord, I hope that there are people far enough in the future to think back to 2020) that this was a pandemic year. I spent roughly a third of it without a day job and without the access to a variety of books that the academic library that employs me usually provides. I did have access to a lot of books, thank goodness, but the selection was different than it has been in recent years. And while I had more time to read, I had less mental energy to spare, or perhaps more distraction, or different distraction. At any rate, I suspect this year’s list will turn out to be somewhat anomalous, but I don’t have any idea how.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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