Well, dear readers, it’s that time of year again — for appraising one year’s progress and getting ready for another year’s goals. I’ve had a fantastic year in my personal life — paying off my student loans, making huge strides in moving towards minimalism, growing in responsibilities at work, learning to repair and upgrade my PC, trying horseback riding, meeting a man I’ve admired for decades, and developing new friendships. But what about the books?
I mentioned yesterday my neglect of the List O’ Books, so the stats below are based only on those books I reported on goodreads.
Mmm, pie! You can see the categorical breakdown there, but here are more statistics:
Nonfiction dominated fiction, with a 68% to 32% split. And what’s scary is that fiction was heavily augmented by the classics, almost all of which were novels!
48% of my reading came from ebooks
41% came from physical (“real”) books. (Considering the classics were almost all ‘real books’, things do not bode well for the physical category in 2020.)
and 11% came from audiobooks.
And now….The Annual Wall of Text!
The classics marked 2019 like no other year before or since, as I made it my goal to read 20, in large part to finish my Classics Club Challenge a little early. I’m happy to say that I technically made that goal (19 scheduled, 1 early), and anticipate finishing Brothers Karamazov before the winter is out. I’m especially proud to have finished War and Peace , but two other classics of note were The Jungle (which I enjoyed, unexpectedly), and my re-read of The Grapes of Wrath, which was just as brilliant as I remembered from high school.
The downside of the Classics push was that it made it difficult to work on other hoped-for themes, like a celebration of Alabama history and culture that I’d planed to do in conjunction with the State’s bicentennial, celebrated in December 2019. Aside from local history, the only Alabama-focused book I managed was Steve Flowers’ Goats and Governors, which introduced me to some of Alabama’s more colorful public figures.
History in general is the bedrock of my reading any year, and often underpins other categories as well: my science and technology books often have a historical focus, like How the Internet Happened , one of my very favorites for the year. The Only Plane in the Sky follows closely on its heels, being an oral history of 9/11 — the best book on the day, bar none — and Code Girls , earlier in the year, was an eye-opening history of the growth of cryptography in WW2. American Gun was also fun.
Religion and philosophy was anemic for the second year running, with the only notable being Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men – a book I still haven’t reviewed, aside from a comment: “Imagine if Tyler Durden wrote a book….”
Science had a strong year, with fourteen books, although I didn’t quite finish my ‘science survey’ in which I read twelve books from twelve different areas of science: anthropology, usually a shoe-in, got left behind. The strongest contenders were She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, on the complexities of heredity; The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe , the best volume on critical thinking I’ve yet encountered; The Hidden Life of Trees , an awe-inspiring volume; and The Ice at the End of the World, an interesting mix of adventure and science writing focused on Greenland’s ice sheets.
Technology and Society is a growing category for me as I continue to explore the ramifications of the digital world which we can now never escape This included both works of history, like a chronicle of Google’s rise to power, as well as titles exploring the consequences of digital addiction on society and our minds. Turkle’s Alone Together and Catherine Price’s How to Break Up With Your Phone were both noteworthy, and the latter has induced a few changes in my own phone habits.
Politics and Civic Interest had a strong year all around, with practically no weak entries. The most insightful, for me, was Romance of the Rails, a critical history of the past and future of rail transport in the US, but I also enjoyed Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps To Making Better Places. Foreign-policy wise, I especially enjoyed The Limits of Partnership, on the Russo-American relationship, as well as Our Time Has Come, on India’s growing role in global politics. Closer to history was The Gatekeepers, an appraisal of the importance of the White House Chief of Staff from Eisenhower on. My favorite, though, would be Carl Watner’s I Must Speak Out , a collection of voluntaryist writings covering both theory and practice. (A voluntaryist is a libertarian who’s been nursing both whiskey and an especially bitter grudge against the state.)
Society and Culture’s had a couple of highlights: Anthony Esolen’s In Defense of Boyhood, and Ben Sasse’s Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal .
Science fiction was strong in quality if not in number this year, as I explored more of Daniel Suarez and John Scalzi’s works. Suarez was impressive all around ( Freedom being the first) though the only new Scalzi work I really liked was Lock In and its sequel. I read some in Star Trek and Star Wars, but there were no standouts.
In historical fiction, which has lagged this year and last, I enjoyed the first few titles in Paul Fraser Collard’s Jack Lark series, about an infantryman-turned-office’ service in the Crimean and later wars.
I also read quite a bit in miscellaneous topics, from health to prepping; my last favorite was The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley, on the psychology of disasters and survival.
All told, it was a good year — and I anticipate more and more varied reading in 2020 now that I’m largely free from the Classics challenge!