A Look Back at My 2021 Reading: Statistics and Superlatives

I hope everyone passed a lovely holiday week. We had house guests for a few days over New Year’s, so I haven’t had a chance to work up my statistics until now. Marcie sent me a spreadsheet template to keep track of my reading, and my tech whiz husband helped analyze the data. I look forward to catching up on everyone else’s best-of and stats posts, too.


How I did with my 2021 goals

My simple reading goals for 2021 were to read more biographies, classics, doorstoppers and travel books – genres that tend to sit on my shelves unread. I read one biography in graphic novel form (Orwell by Pierre Christin), but otherwise didn’t manage any. I only read three doorstoppers the whole year, but 29 classics – defining them is always a nebulous matter, but I’m going with books from before 1980 – a number I’m happy with.

Surprisingly, I did the best with travel books, perhaps because I’ve started thinking about travel writing more broadly and not just as a white man going to the other side of the world and seeing exotic things, since I don’t often enjoy such narratives. Granted, I did read a few like that, and they were exceptional (The Glitter in the Green by Jon Dunn, The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuściński and Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth), but if I include essays, memoirs and poetry with significant place-based and migration themes, I was at 26.


The numbers

Exactly the same total as last year (2019 had my maximum-ever of 343). From those three years’ evidence, I’d say I’ve found my natural limit. Next year I will aim for 340 again.

(This is what my lifestyle allows; yours is likely very different. I have bookish friends who read 80 books a year, 120, 150, 180, 200, and so on. My very busy university lecturer/town councillor husband felt bad for ‘only’ reading 65 books this past year, but keep in mind that the average person reads just 12 per year. My message to you, no matter your numbers, is YOU READ LOADS!)


Fiction: 49.7% (6.5% graphic novels; 5.3% short stories)

Nonfiction: 35%

Poetry: 15.3%

(Fiction and nonfiction are usually just about equal for me; I’m surprised that fiction pulled well ahead this year. I also read a bit more poetry this year than last.)


Female author: 66.47%

Male author: 30%

Nonbinary author: 0.88% (Meg-John Barker, Alice Hattrick and Olivia Laing)

Multiple genders (in anthologies): 2.65%

(I’ve been reading more and more by women each year, but this is the first time that female + nonbinary authors have outnumbered men by more than 2:1. I mostly attribute this to my interest in women’s stories. There were also three trans authors on my list.)


BIPOC author: 18.5%

(The first time I have specifically tracked this figure. Not too bad, but I’d prefer 25% or higher.)


Work in translation: 5%

(A decline from last year’s 7.2%. Must try harder!)


E-books: 13.2%

Print books: 86.8%

(Slightly higher than last year because of my new reviewing gig for Shelf Awareness, for which I read almost exclusively e-books.)


2021 releases: 41.8% (add in the 2020 releases and it’s 54.4%)

Pre-release books: 20%


Rereads: 12 (3.5%)


Where my books came from for the whole year:

  • Free print or e-copy from publisher: 31.8%
  • Public library: 24.7%
  • Secondhand purchase: 16.8%
  • Free (The Book Thing of Baltimore, the free mall bookshop, a giveaway, Little Free Libraries, etc.): 9.4%
  • Downloaded from NetGalley or Edelweiss: 5.9%
  • New purchase (sometimes at a bargain price): 5.6%
  • University library: 3.8%
  • Gifts: 2%

(Decreased from last year: review copies, NetGalley/Edelweiss, gifts; increased from last year: library borrowing, new and secondhand purchases, free books.)


Additional statistics courtesy of Goodreads:

73,520 pages read

Average book length: 216 pages (thank you, novellas and poetry!)

Average rating for 2021: 3.7


Extra Superlatives

First book completed:





Last book completed (also the shortest, at 46 pages)





Longest book, at 628 pages:






Authors I read the most by: Anne Tyler (5), thanks to Liz’s readalong project; Jim Davis and Alice Oseman cartoons (4 volumes each); Jim Crumley nature books and Emily Rapp Black memoirs (3 each)

Publishers I read the most from: Carcanet (18), then Picador (17), then Bloomsbury and Faber (14 each); in overall first place was undoubtedly Penguin and its many imprints.


My top discovery of the year: the Heartstopper teen graphic novel series.

My proudest bookish achievement: being asked to be a judge for the McKitterick Prize.


The books that made me laugh the most: The Echo Chamber by John Boyne and Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny.

Best book club selections: The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard, Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell.


Most genuinely helpful book: How to Talk to a Science Denier by Lee McIntyre.





Best last lines encountered: “So where are we gonna go? / I don’t know. Let’s just drive and find out.” (from Heartstopper, Volume 4 by Alice Oseman).


Best 2021 book title: Mrs Death Misses Death.





Shortest book title encountered: In (Will McPhail), followed by Lot (Bryan Washington).

Biggest disappointments: Some of my lowest ratings went to Indelicacy by Amina Cain, Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ness by Robert Macfarlane.


A 2021 book that everyone loved but me: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles.


Themes that kept turning up in my reading: Covid-19, colours (thanks to my summer reading challenge), disability (thanks to shadowing the Barbellion Prize), the mental and physical health benefits of time in nature; perennial topics like friendship, parenting and sisterhood.

26 responses

  1. Almost a book a day. Oooh er. Respect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny, because I don’t operate that way (pick up one book and read it until it’s done, then pick up another). I sample from 10-30 at a time, and the bookmarks advance through, and somehow the numbers add up!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aaagh! I couldn’t do that. I’d confuse War and Peace with Transcendent Kingdom with My Sister the Serial Killer, and THEN where would I be?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Ha ha! Most of the books are in very different genres, and if I’m reviewing them for pay or for the blog I keep notes.


      3. Well, if there HAD been at least one serious serial killer in War and Peace, it probably would have been a much shorter book! 😀


  2. Fascinating reading your stats. I always think we have similar tastes but funnily I loved both Ness and Klara and the sun!
    Happy New Year!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Any two people’s reading tastes will be a Venn diagram that overlaps in some places but not others! I think nature books / popular science is where I’m most likely to coincide with you, Margaret and Paul.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Enjoyed reading your 2021 roundup! I love this time of year in the book blog world, seeing everyone’s stats and goals etc. I’m doing the Book Riot spreadsheet again this year because the one I did last year was so helpful come year-end time. But this year there’s a shorter version too and I chose that one. Happy 2022 reading!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve seen a few people mention the Book Riot spreadsheet. I’ll have to check it out!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Shame about The Lincoln Highway but I’m glad the Boyne and the Heiny made us both laugh. Here’s to another great reading year!


    1. It wasn’t a bad book; I just couldn’t join in with the chorus of rapturous praise I kept seeing on Goodreads and elsewhere. Funnily enough, I’ve just started reading another Odyssey-inspired journey book, Cold Mountain.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read that so long ago! Hope you enjoy it. I remember marvelling at the way Nicole Kidman’s makeup remained in tact no matter what privations she suffered in the film adaptation. So silly!


      2. Ha ha! I saw the film in 2003 (during my study abroad year) but never made it through the book.


  5. I am very envious of the amount of reading you do (no, I’m not comparing, and I know I’m no slouch with 170, but I wish I had more time to read more instead of stupid adminny things getting in my way, which no doubt everyone has). I’m also a reader of multiple books on the go at the same time, but only 3-4 max.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re also a parent, with a job that requires some commuting — I know these things take up a lot of time! Given the number of roles you have, that’s an incredible number of books. The only general advice I give to people who want to read more is to cut down on telly and social media/phone time. (I have no TV or smartphone.)


      1. I probably spend far too much time on Twitter… admittedly.


      2. It’s such a temptation! I use a PC, but cut away to social media all too often for mini-breaks during my proofreading.


  6. Great stats! My reading went up when my husband started a twice-weekly zoom call with his parents and I swapped telly time for book time! Your BIPOC stat isn’t too bad as we’re 13% GMP in the UK, so it’s above that. That’s where I try to stay above. Happy reading for 2022!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’ve made me feel better about that, thank you.

      I’m bemused when everyone on Twitter is talking about the same TV show … it all just passes me by.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fascinating stuff, Rebecca! My stats will be out later this week

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Loved this post! I tend to focus on graphs and stats in my round-ups, but I should consider adding some superlatives as well. They seem like fun and I think they add some more personality to your reading round-up 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish I had the tech prowess to make graphs! I’m glad you enjoyed my superlatives. I have a pool of them I choose from each year, and I borrow new fun ones I see on others’ blogs too.


  9. I just loved reading this post, all the way through, Rebecca! Making all these little noises (mmmm, hhmmm, hunh, ah, oh) at interesting details along the way. So many bits I could comment on that I hardly know where to start, so I’ll leave it at that. Oh, but I must thank you for mentioning the spreadsheet: if my introduction to obsessing-about-books-in-cells was helpful, I’m very happy to know it, and if anyone else is curious I’m willing to share with you too!

    As you know, better than most having worked from the same sheet for just a short time, before the edits, there are tonnes of areas where our tracking aligns and some that don’t, so when I see your additions and elaborations I immediately want to add those too. But, in the end, it IS still time stolen from the books themselves and the books are greedy aren’t they? Heheh And, having said that, I’m debating whether to trouble sharing my stat’s next year; as you know, it’s not simple, and I’m weary of some of the related chatter, so I’ll still track them but haven’t decided past that yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The spreadsheet helped a lot with this year-end roundup — so much better than making paper and pen tallies and having to triple-check my numbers because they don’t add up.

      I know what you mean. Did you ever read that essay by Andy Miller about feeling like he has to defend how much he reads (having been booed, by bookish people, at a literary festival, for revealing the number!)? And you see it everywhere on Twitter and blogs, people feeling like they have to have an excuse, or a caveat, or a self-deprecating putdown. ‘Some of these were for work’ or ‘Oh, but a lot of these were short’ or ‘yeah, I have no life’, etc. Instead of just stating a fact: this is how much I read. Which is what I do, and you do as well, but it does seem to open us up to charges of boasting and who knows what manner of silent judging, no matter how matter-of-fact we may try to be.


      1. I’d forgotten about his experience (I haven’t been following backlisted as closely since they went to Patreon) but it did resonate for me at the time. Definitely! The sense of pressure to offer an explanation is troubling; I’ve seen that (and felt it!) too. I don’t expect someone to tell me why they’ve read 12 books in a year: they are living a life in which 12 books fit.

        I love sharing and bookchatting, and I’m happy to continue to share with the other curious readers who have commented on my 2021 post, but it’s a time-consuming process to create that data in a share-able form, and I’d rather just calculate it for my own purposes and share with the folks who are also curious and interested.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. […] material – even if just 2021 or 2020 releases. This is actually higher than my 41.8% new releases last year, so it looks like I failed to live up to the letter of my resolution, but still happened to read […]


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