Random 2020 Superlatives and Statistics

My top ‘discoveries’ of the year: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (4 books), Octavia E. Butler, Tim Dee (3 books each, read or in progress), and Louise Erdrich (2 books, one in progress).

Also the publisher Little Toller Books: I read four of their releases this year and they were fantastic.

The authors I read the most by this year: Carol Shields tops the list at 6 books (3 of these were rereads) thanks to my buddy reads with Buried in Print, followed by Paul Auster with 5 due to Annabel’s reading week in February, then Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with 4, and finally Anne Lamott with 3 comfort rereads.

Debut authors whose next work I’m most looking forward to: Naoise Dolan, Bess Kalb, Dara McAnulty, Mary South, Brandon Taylor, and Madeleine Watts


My proudest reading achievement: 16 rereads, which must be a record for me. Also, I always say I’m not really a short story person … and yet somehow I’ve read 19 collections of them this year (and one stand-alone story, plus another collection currently on the go)!


My proudest (non-reading) bookish achievement: Conceiving of and coordinating the Not the Wellcome Prize blog tour.

Five favorite blog posts of the year: Love, Etc. – Some Thematic Reading for Valentine’s Day; Polio and the Plague: Epidemics in Fiction; Thinking about the Future with David Farrier & Roman Krznaric (Hay Festival); Three Out-of-the-Ordinary Memoirs: Kalb, Machado, McGuinness; Asking What If? with Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld (I had a lot of fun putting the current post together, too!)


The bookish experience that most defined my year: Watching the Bookshop Band’s live shows from their living room. Between their Friday night lockdown performances and one-offs for festivals and book launches, I think I saw them play 33 times in 2020!

Biggest book read this year: Going by dimensions rather than number of pages, it was the oversize hardback The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris.


Smallest book read this year: Pocket-sized and only about 60 pages: No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg.

Oldest author read this year: Peggy Seeger was 82 when her memoir First Time Ever was published. I haven’t double-checked the age of every single author, but I think second place at 77 is a tie between debut novelist Arlene Heyman for Artifact and Sue Miller for Monogamy. (I don’t know how old Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren, the joint authors of The Consolation of Nature, are; Mynott may actually be the oldest overall, and their combined age is likely over 200.)


Youngest author read this year: You might assume it was 16-year-old Dara McAnulty with Diary of a Young Naturalist, which won the Wainwright Prize (as well as the An Post Irish Book Award for Newcomer of the Year, the Books Are My Bag Reader Award for Non-Fiction, and the Hay Festival Book of the Year!) … or Thunberg, above, who was 16 when her book came out. They were indeed tied for youngest until, earlier in December, I started reading The House without Windows (1927) by Barbara Newhall Follett, a bizarre fantasy novel published when the child prodigy was 12.


Most As on a book cover: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Most Zs on a book cover: The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi. I haven’t read it yet, but a neighbor passed on a copy she was getting rid of. It was nominated for both the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize.

The book that made me laugh the most: Kay’s Anatomy by Adam Kay


Books that made me cry: Writers and Lovers by Lily King, Monogamy by Sue Miller, First Time Ever by Peggy Seeger, and Catalogue Baby: A Memoir of (In)fertility by Myriam Steinberg (coming out in March 2021)


The book that put a song in my head every single time I looked at it, much less read it: I Am an Island by Tamsin Calidas (i.e., “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel, which, as my husband pointed out, has very appropriate lyrics for 2020: “In a deep and dark December / I am alone / Gazing from my window to the streets below … Hiding in my room / Safe within my womb / I touch no one and no one touches me.”)


Best book club selections: Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale and The Wife by Meg Wolitzer tied for our highest score ever and gave us lots to talk about.

Most unexpectedly apt lines encountered in a book: “People came to church wearing masks, if they came at all. They’d sit as far from each other as they could.” (Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Describing not COVID-19 times but the Spanish flu.)


Most ironic lines encountered in a book: “September 12—In the ongoing hearings, Senator Joseph Biden pledges to consider the Bork nomination ‘with total objectivity,’ adding, ‘You have that on my honor not only as a senator, but also as the Prince of Wales.’ … October 1—Senator Joseph Biden is forced to withdraw from the Democratic presidential race when it is learned that he is in fact an elderly Norwegian woman.” (from the 1987 roundup in Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits – Biden has been on the U.S. political scene, and mocked, for 3.5+ decades!)


Best first line encountered this year: “And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters.” (Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf)


Best last lines encountered this year:

  • “my childhood falls silently to the bottom of my memory, that library of the soul from which I will draw knowledge and experience for the rest of my life.” (Childhood by Tove Ditlevsen)
  • “What I want to say is: I misremember all this so vividly it’s as if it only happened yesterday.” (Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory by Patrick McGuinness)
  • “these friends would forever be her stitches, her scaffold, her ballast, her home.” (The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall)


My favorite title and cover combo of the year: A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason

The book I wish had gotten a better title and cover: Tennis Lessons by Susannah Dickey – I did enjoy this second-person novel about a young woman who is her own worst enemy, to the tune of 3.5 stars, but the title says nothing about it and the cover would have been a turnoff had I not won a signed copy from Mslexia.

The most unfortunate typos I found in published works: In English Pastoral by James Rebanks, “sewn” where he meant “sown” (so ironic in a book about farming!) versus, in Mr Wilder & Me by Jonathan Coe, “sown” in place of “sewn.” Also “impassible” where it should read “impassable” in Apeirogon by Colum McCann. This is what proofreaders like myself are for. We will save you from embarrassing homophone slips, dangling modifiers, and more!


The 2020 books that everybody else loved, but I didn’t: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

The year’s biggest disappointments: I don’t like to call anything “worst” (after all, I didn’t read anything nearly as awful as last year’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull), but my lowest ratings went to A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne and At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison, and I was disappointed that When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray was misleadingly marketed.


The downright strangest books I read this year: Enter the Aardvark by Jessica Anthony, A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne, The House Without Windows by Barbara Newhall Follett, and The Child in Time by Ian McEwan


The people and themes that kept turning up in my reading: Rachel Carson and Henry David Thoreau; curlews and plagues; how we define and relate to history; childhood memoirs (seven of them).

Some of my 2020 curlew reading. (Two more books with curlews on the cover were borrowed from the library.)

Some statistics on my 2020 reading:


Fiction: 57.2%

Nonfiction: 36.8%

Poetry: 6%

(Fiction reigned supreme this year! Last year my F:NF ratio was roughly 1:1. Poetry was down by ~5% this year compared to 2019.)


Male author: 34.1%

Female author: 63.8%

Nonbinary author: 0.3% (= 1 author, Jay Bernard)

Multiple genders (anthologies): 1.8%

(Women dominated by an extra ~5% this year over 2019. I’ve said this for four years now: I find it intriguing that female authors significantly outweigh male authors in my reading because I have never consciously set out to read more books by women; it must be a matter of being interested in the kinds of stories women tell and how they capture their experiences in nonfiction.)


E-books: 10.6%

Print books: 89.4%

(Almost exactly the same as last year. My e-book reading has been declining, partially because I’ve cut back on the reviewing gigs that involve only reading e-books and partially because I’ve done less traveling. Increasingly, I prefer to sit down with a big stack of print books.)


Books by BIPOC: 14.7%

Literature in translation: 6.6%

(Down from last year’s 7.2%; how did this happen?! This will be something to address in 2021.)


Where my books came from for the whole year:

  • Free print or e-copy from publisher: 25.6%
  • Public library: 25.6%
  • Free (giveaways, The Book Thing of Baltimore, the free mall bookshop, etc.): 14.9%
  • Secondhand purchase: 11.6%
  • Downloaded from NetGalley, Edelweiss or Project Gutenberg: 6.7%
  • New purchase (sometimes at a bargain price): 6.3%
  • Gifts: 5.5%
  • University library: 3.8%

I promised to scale back on review copies this year, and I did: last year they accounted for nearly 37% of my reading. My library reading was higher than last year’s, despite the challenges of lockdowns; my e-book reading decreased in general. I bought more than twice as many new books as usual this year, and read lots that I either bought secondhand or got for free.


Number of unread print books in the house: 435

At the end of last year this figure was at 440 after lots of stock-ups from the free mall bookshop, which has since closed. So even though it might look like I have only read five books of my own, I have in fact read loads from my shelves this year … but also acquired many more books, both new and secondhand.

In any case, the overall movement has been downward, so I’m calling it a win!

27 responses

  1. Such a lot to digest here. I’m just going to say I’m glad Monogamy made you cry!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It also made me gasp, several times. Lots that I wasn’t expecting, even though it seemed like a rather conventional novel.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The crucial event was such a shock. Not what I’d been expecting at all.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m so glad I hadn’t read widely about the book and discovered any spoilers. I think I managed to discuss it without any, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gosh, this is the second post I’ve read about statistics for the year. I enjoyed reading yours, but there is nothing that would make me try to put together such a post for myself. Far too reminiscent of Maths at school”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, everyone’s doing Top 10 and statistics posts this week. Mine are very low-key by comparison to Annabel’s. She has graphs and charts and everything!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You won’t catch me with charts and graphs!


  3. I always enjoy your Lists & Stats posts. I briefly flirt with the notion of doing something similar and then dismiss the idea immediately – way too much work, and I’m not a fan of spreadsheets. But I’m very glad you are! you doing it for us lazy bones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t do spreadsheets; I have a Goodreads list but also one in a Word document. My end-of-year stats involves making tallies on paper, finding that I’ve missed 1 or 5 and having to go back and do it all over again several times. A spreadsheet would certainly be more efficient!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fab – I love your most As and Zs in particular. So happy that you joined in with my Paul Auster Reading Week. A huge thank you too for all the reviews you wrote in 2020 for Shiny New Books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries, both were/are great fun! I wanted to actually read the Z book this year but didn’t fit it in.


  5. I love your stats post, and once again hold you (and Paul) personally responsible for my out of control TBR list!
    Agree that Tim Dee is an amazing writer.
    Disagree about The Mirror and the Light – fantastic!
    John Clare is definitely the person who crops up most in my reading, followed by Roger Deakin. I think these 2 men, separated by 150 years, would have got on very well!
    Wishing you a very happy New Year. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bring Up the Bodies is amazing, but I hadn’t the fortitude for 900 pages of sequel. I’m sad I only have one Tim Dee book left! I’d like to reread some Deakin next year.


  6. Despite the ‘random in your heading this has been ine of the more comprehensive stats posts I’ve read so far; but I love how different each blogger’s presentation is from every other!

    And it’s clear you don’t just do this from a love of compiling but also because it informs what you hope to do in future, which I feel is the main point of reviews!

    I also agree that female authors in general have a different sensibility to their male counterparts, meaning I have tended in recent years to have more of an equitable balance than I used to several years ago. But then my favourite children’s writers have fended to be female since almost the year dot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Random in terms of some of the categories I made up 😉 Annabel is much more comprehensive and scientific about her year-end stats. I like tracking my trends from year to year. Some were as I expected, while others surprised me. I was disappointed to not have read more in translation, so to increase that for next year I think I need to make a very visible shelf in my house of all my unread books translated from other languages so I’m tempted to pull from it occasionally.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m glad to know I’m not the only blogger who doesn’t have a spreadsheet! 😉

    I like the category “books that made me cry.” I’m almost afraid to try and count that for me because I cry at everything! (I absolutely bawled when I finished Transcendent Kingdom yesterday – and I was at work!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never had to use Excel for schooling or work, so my skills with it are minimal.

      It takes a lot to make me cry! I read a lot about death, so I won’t necessarily always cry when a character or person dies. It depends on whether an author has gotten me emotionally engaged enough. They all did. I think although I admired Transcendent Kingdom very much I was always slightly detached from Gifty, because she herself is detached from her emotions for much of the novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve really enjoyed the Louise Erdrich I’ve read–maybe especially The Master Butchers Singing Club just for its difference from her other books (and maybe also because I’m a sucker for novels about singing and song).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was blown away by Love Medicine and I’m just in the early pages of The Beet Queen now. I don’t know much about the rest of her work, but I’m excited to explore! The Master Butchers Singing Club is a great title.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Brilliant post, Rebecca. Tim Dee is a fantastic author

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a shame I only have one more of his books left to read!


  10. Fascinating stuff! I read more fiction than usual this year but know I retreated into light novels at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t *feel* like I was turning to fiction more often, and yet the statistics say that I did!


  11. This was a very satisfying post to read – so much bookish goodness!
    I especially like that you point out the lyrics for “I Am a Rock” – I would have had that song in my head, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As soon as my proof copy arrived, before I even started reading it, I got out my Simon & Garfunkel Greatest Hits CD!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Those are two of my favourite Erdrich novels too. And if you can find it, I enjoyed her very slim book about books and identity too. Your As and Zs photo and observations made me laugh. Congrats on your NottheWellcome experiment: well done. It was lovely to have company with the Shields reads, and I probably stayed more focussed on her knowing that we were reading her together; otherwise, I might have run the risk of letting other books elbow their way in front of rereading (our rereading totals are nearly identical but I’d have to check my notes to see HOW close).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I set aside The Beet Queen but know I will enjoy it when I can get back into it this year. I also got hold of a secondhand copy of The Bingo Palace so that I can continue straight on. I’m presuming they’re not really a series in the usual sense of the word?


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