2015 Year in Books

Last year I kept track of my reading and turned it into an infographic. People seemed to like that, so I’m doing it again. With words this time.

Overall

Pages

54 books read

16,053 pages read

This is up from 27/8,314 last year, which means I essentially doubled my reading. It’s a big jump and I’m proud of it. That said, it really isn’t a huge number. If we assume I read a page a minute, then I read about 44 minutes a day, or just 267 hours total for the year. For comparison, this year I also watched all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, which clocks in at 112 hours.

Authors

46% written by white men

7% written by black authors

31% written by females

I’m okay with, but not thrilled by, these numbers. Last year 70% of the books I read were by white American men, so I’m moving in the right direction. I still need to do a better job of reading out of my comfort zone.

Long and short

The shortest book I read this year was the decidedly meh Train Dreams by Denis Johnson at 109 pages. If you’re looking for a short book I’d more quickly recommend the 112 page Bluets by Maggie Nelson. It’s worth the extra three pages.

The two longest books I read were both by Patrick Rothfuss- The Wise Man’s Fear and The Name of the Wind, clocking in at 994 and 662 pages respectively. Surprisingly they were also my fastest reads. I finished The Name of the Wind in just two days, and The Wise Man’s Fear in just one! I was travelling home from Iceland and spent every moment I could reading these books- shuttle bus, security line, boarding, etc. I liked them a lot. Here’s a chart showing how much I read each week to illustrate what an outlier they were.

The books that took me the longest to read were Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro’s Dear Life: Stories, and China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station. Both took roughly a month. Munro’s because it put me to sleep, and Miéville’s because it’s just so weird. I could only read ten or so pages before I had to stop and try to figure out what was going on.

Favorites

The three most impactful books I read this year were:

  1. On Photography by Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag expressed and crystallized for me everything I dislike about photography. It was written in 1977, well before digital photography, but the problems she talks about have only amplified since. More than once I found myself verbally agreeing with her. “Yeah!” “You’re so right!” “Tell’em!” This is the only book ever to make me do that. I recommend it to everyone who has experienced some kind of disconnect between taking photos and experiencing life.

2. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates received a lot of attention this year for being a super important book on growing up black in America. It was excellent, but it was a bit dense for me. I focused so intensely on understanding the words that I forgot to feel them. In Citizen, I felt them. Claudia Rankine’s words hit me like bricks and it was easily the most emotional a book made me all year. I recommend it to everyone.

3. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer

In 1951 Eric Hoffer wrote the playbook on how to start and lead mass movements. He has all of these insights and ideas about how to successfully lead people, and I see traces of his work everywhere. Every political campaign playbook is rooted in this book. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign even used some of the exact same language. I recommend it highly to everyone interested in politics, ISIS, social media, or branding.

Other recommendations

Stoner by John Williams — this book is about a depressed English professor. It sounds super boring. There is nothing compelling about it. I have no reason to like this book.

I loved it. Everyone I know who has read it, loves it. I don’t know why.

Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier — Schneier is probably the most respected computer security expert in the world. In Data and Goliath he talks on a layman’s level about what corporate and government surveillance means for you. It’s the best book I’ve ever read about privacy, the NSA, Snowden, etc.

You Can’t Win by Jack Black — A different Jack Black than you’re thinking of. This is an autobiography of a hobo and burglar written in the mid-1920’s. He hops trains and gets in trouble and it’s wonderful.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer — If you want to read more, but you don’t know what to read and reading is hard and Netflix is easy and I’m kind of bored and reading is boring, then try reading Krakauer. Into Thin Air is him writing about being present at the most deadly Mount Everest expedition ever. Really. Krakauer, an acclaimed and sometimes controversial journalist, happened to be on the summit of Everest when everything went wrong and eight people died. Tragic, but fascinating.

Next Year

For 2016 I’m going to maintain my goal of 39 books, or roughly a book every week and a half. I feel like if I set out to read a book every week I may shy away from reading larger or more challenging pieces. I read for fun, and a stricter challenge may turn it into a chore. That said, I will continue to read fewer books written by white male Americans. This year 30% of the books that I rated 5-stars came from white male Americans, despite them taking up 46% of my books. For 2016 my goal is for white male Americans to be no more than 30% of my total reading. I think it will be hard (I like reading books with characters who represent me too) but doable.

The Full List

In order that they were read:

  • When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down — Joan Morgan — 1999
  • White Ghost Girls — Alice Greenway — 2006
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — Junot Díaz — 2007
  • Slowness — Milan Kundera — 1995
  • The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking — Mary Frances Bowley — 2012
  • Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) — Christian Rudder — 2014
  • Kafka on the Shore — Haruki Murakami — 2002
  • number9dream — David Mitchell — 2001
  • Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead — Sheryl Sandberg — 2013
  • Aleph — Paulo Coelho — 2010
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates — Wes Moore — 2010
  • Everything I Never Told You — Celeste Ng — 2014
  • All the Light We Cannot See — Anthony Doerr — 2014
  • The Sirens of Titan — Kurt Vonnegut — 1959
  • Breakfast at the Victory — James P. Carse — 1994
  • Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag, #1) — China Miéville — 2000
  • A Shelter Is Not a Home Or Is It?: Lessons from Family Homelessness in New York City — Ralph da Costa Nunez — 2004
  • You Alone Are Dancing — Brenda Flanagan — 1996
  • You Can’t Win — Jack Black — 1926
  • The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements — Eric Hoffer — 1951
  • Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster — Jon Krakauer — 1997
  • The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1) — Carlos Ruiz Zafón — 2001
  • Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith — Jon Krakauer — 2003
  • The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) — Patrick Rothfuss — 2007
  • The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2) — Patrick Rothfuss — 2011
  • SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance — Steven D. Levitt — 2009
  • Honey and Salt — Carl Sandburg — 1963
  • Bluets — Maggie Nelson — 2009
  • Stoner — John Williams — 1965
  • The Design of Everyday Things — Donald A. Norman — 1988
  • Susan Sontag On Photography — Susan Sontag — 1977
  • The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security — Kevin D. Mitnick — 2001
  • The Great Good Place — Ray Oldenburg — 1989
  • Gift from the Sea — Anne Morrow Lindbergh — 1955
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle — Shirley Jackson — 1962
  • Jesus’ Son: Stories — Denis Johnson — 1992
  • Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1) — Margaret Atwood — 2003
  • Bel Canto — Ann Patchett — 2001
  • Identity — Milan Kundera — 1996
  • My Beloved World — Sonia Sotomayor — 2013
  • One-Upmanship — Stephen Potter — 1952
  • Citizen: An American Lyric — Claudia Rankine — 2014
  • The Martian — Andy Weir — 2014
  • The Third Policeman — Flann O’Brien — 1967
  • Between the World and Me — Ta-Nehisi Coates — 2015
  • Pretty Girls — Karin Slaughter — 2015
  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) — Tom Vanderbilt — 2008
  • The Alchemist — Paulo Coelho — 1988
  • Why Not Me? — Mindy Kaling — 2015
  • Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World — Bruce Schneier — 2015
  • Dear Life: Stories — Alice Munro — 2012
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine — Michael Lewis — 2009
  • Train Dreams — Denis Johnson — 2002
  • Lolita — Vladimir Nabokov — 1955
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