That's a wrap: 2020 my year in books and blogging

2020 in Review: Reading Challenges and Blogging Hurdles

Posted January 8, 2021 by Amber in Blogging, Bookish Things, Checking In / 0 Comments

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It’s that annual wrap up time of year again!

When I set up the placeholder for this post a year ago and called it “Reading Challenges and Blogging Hurdles” I had no idea how true that would ring.  I know I was thinking about following through on my personal reading challenge as well as Start On Your Shelfathon… but y’all?  2020 has been rife with reading challenges.  And blogging hurdles.  I am plum worn out.

Usually, I use this post to share Goodread’s “My Year In Books”.  This year, I’m going to pull a little data from that page, but they’ve stripped all the fun graphics off it for some reason?! For the most part, I’m going to be sharing my stats from The StoryGraph, which… if you haven’t heard… I’ve come to love.

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How Many Books Did I Read in 2020?

2020 Reading Goal StoryGraph

Like the previous year, I set my goal for 100 books.  This has become a relatively achievable number for me, but it doesn’t push me so hard that I’m really stressed out about it.  That said, this is significantly fewer books than in 2019.  Even though the 2019 and 2020 goals were the same, I read 178 books in 2019, whereas in 2020, I only managed 143.

What went wrong?  Whelp, I have a couple ideas.

2020 Books and Pages by the Month Chart

You see the biggest dip in April.  I wonder what happened in last March and the entire month of April to cause that slide?

Oh yeah.  COVID.

Usually spring and autumn are prolific reading months for me, both because they’re my preferred seasons… but also because that’s the time of year we usually go away.  I get a decent amount of reading done in cruise ships and at airports that didn’t happen this year because, well, we didn’t go anywhere.  I believe I read seven books on vacationless year, but this year I worked instead… so… that makes up for some it.

I’d also like to credit my FINRA examines for low numbers in May and June.  Almost all my reading time – save the ARCs – went into studying for my SIE Exam.  I was a bit more confident on my Series 99, but I was living and breathing SIE from May until July.  I have finite free time, unfortunately, and it went toward my career in those months, affecting my overall reading.

Longest and Shortest

This year, my shortest book was The Test, coming in at only 108 pages and nonetheless taking the crown for one of my favorite books of the year.  The Test is a remarkable example of how much punch can be packed into a really well-written short story.  I tend to glide past novellas and short stories most of the time… in 2020, I learned that was a mistake.  Between The Test and Foreshadow, I’m thirty for more excellently written short stories.

I actually read quite a few short books this year, particularly over the summer during The Reading Rush.  I tried to give short stories, plays, novellas, poetry, and other short-form story-telling that I usually avoid a chance this year… both because I needed to be less closed-minded, but also because of the burnout I’ve been feeling… I needed to chase anything that could make me feel motivated and engaged.  I’m sure a lot of us have been feeling that way!

The Way of Kings by Brandon SandersonThe longest book I read in 2020 was The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson,  coming in at 1,001 pages.  I’m not particularly surprised by this – my Longest Book I Read This Year award typically goes to one epic fantasy or another.  Spurred by Tolkien and fantasy writers of the last century, epic fantasy just tends to be long and wordy.  If you can encourage yourself through the drier parts of the story – usually near the beginning of the book – the stories contained within are worth the wait.  But there’s no denying that they are long.

In general in 2020, I find that I pick up the same sorts of books and patterns as I have in previous years.  I tend to favor mid-length books, but I pick up longer ones to indulge in their deep world building… and some smaller ones to help recover from the long ones.  Goodreads tells me my average book length last year was 354 pages, and that sounds about right.

2020 Page Number Breakdown

The Bests

According to Goodreads, my most popular book the year was The Giver, which has been also helped by 2,618,734 people.  I’m not surprised at all – The Giver is a dystopian classic and I was really excited when I pulleditout my my TBR Jar earlier this year – I hadn’t rad it in a long time, and it was nice to revisit.  I read the whole thing so quickly, and had been away from the story long enough that I’d forgotten the ending (and was appropriately incensed by it).  Although The Giver is a relatively short book, I think the world building is so interesting and in many way it has influenced books that came after it.  Popularity deserved.

The most highly-rated book I read in 2020 was The Way of Kings.  Again, another reason why I’m glad I slogged through the beginning of that book.  It’s 4.68 average rating speaks volumes for its quality.

Now the last couple years, I’ve gone through and shared my top 12 books by month for the year.  This year, I’m going to give y’all my top twelve overall.  These are all solid books that I loved this yer, for various reasons, and I recommend them.  I’m also going to disclose sequels if I read the first book this year as well – just let it be said that The Lunar Chronicles, The Diviners, and The Gold Seer Trilogy are all fantastic and should be read. 🙂

These are in alphabetical, not hierarchical order.

12 books found

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

 

I think one of the biggest factors in my favorite books this year were the ones that brought me joy.  I rated 44 books 5-stars this year, and they are all solidly good… but the ones that made me chuckle or ignited especial curiosity, or awoke some passion in a year that felt grey and hopeless… those are the ones that made my favorites list this year.

The worsts

After the bests, we of course, we have to have the worsts.  According to Goodreads, my least popular “book” this year wasn’t a book I reviewed on the blog at all (though I’ve done so in the past).  It was the audiobook course for The History of Ancient Rome.  I started listening to this back in March and finished, I think, in November?  It was a haul, and not the best of the Great Courses I’ve listened to (and I think Rome is fascinating… but my own college courses were more enlightening and engaging).  I can see why only 1,378 people have shelved that one.  I did review this on Goodreads and what it came down to was that the professor was really dry and repetitive, and this course focused on only a political overview of all the Roman political leaders and it was, frankly, boring. It was boring.

Joining The History of Ancient Rome as my twelve least favorite books of the year.  These have all be rated 2.25 stars and below, and while they may not be purely awful books… I sure didn’t enjoy them.

12 books found

★½

★★

★½

★½

★½

★★

★★½

★★

The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau

★★½

★★

The Shadow Hour by Melissa Grey

★★

 

These are all over the place because of reasons – some are more famous authors whose books, frankly, reek of questionable content.  Others were just plain boring, or the writing was… ack.  Some – like The Shadow Hour and The Prophet of Yonwood – confirmed for me that I was done with the series.  Some of these books will be objectively much better to other readers, but they were all books I didn’t enjoy reading this year.

What I’ve Been Reading

One of the things I really like about The StoryGraph is the way it breaks down what I’ve been reading – in genres, moods, and fiction vs. non-fiction.  I’ll start with the easiest one!

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

My Fiction/Non-Fiction breakdown looks just about the same as it does every year, although in 2020 this was a bit more intentional.  I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about women in espionage, so I targeted the lady spies during WWII and picked up D-Day Girls, Code Name: Lise, and Madame Fourcade’s Secret War.  All of these were good, but they did get to be a little repetitive due to the limited amount of available information on the topic as well as some overlap on the women involved.  Madame Fourcade’s Secret War was my favorite of these, so if you want to learn more about the involvement of women in espionage operations during WWII, that’s the one I’d recommend.

Moods & Pacing

I think moods and pacing really go hand-in-hand for me, so I’ve decided to combine them in a single overview.  To start off with moods….

Moods Breakdown 2020

Year-to-year, the types of books I pick up are mostly consistent – the mood “adventurous” wins out by a wide margin every year as far back as I’ve checked these stats, and that doesn’t surprise me in the least. “Mysterious” is generally second, but “emotional” and “dark” bounce back and forth depending on the month or year.

I have been trying so hard to pick up lighthearted and funny books lately, so I’m surprised that they didn’t push forward a little higher on the graph.  With the exception of “sad” there at the end, I feel like all the moods I read less of are the positive ones?  I kinda want to change that.

In my efforts to find lighter, easier reads this year, I leaned heavily into fast-paced books… or at least, I tried to!

Pacing Chart 2020

These numbers are very close – 54 books were medium-paced, 44 were fast-paced, and 45 were slow-paced.  I really think I was trying to read a fast-paced book for every slow-paced one.  These numbers were more tilted in 2019 – I read almost as many slow-paced as medium, and fewer fast-paced.  I think I’ve been a lot more conscious of reading burnout this year and have tried to balance it better.

Genres

As you can see, I read all over the place, but consistently, my loves are YA and fantasy, and these bars are just as full in 2020 as they’ve been in 2019, 2018, etc.  I don’t really expect that to change – or, at least, I hope it doesn’t?

2020 Genres Chart Breakdown

Beyond the big, obvious things, some of the other numbers surprised me.  I think, in part, that’s due to Goodreads’ genres vs. The StoryGraphs.  Goodreads chooses book genres based on user shelves, whereas The StoryGraph pulls they actual marketed genres.  I felt like I read a lot more thrillers and romances because of the way Goodreads ranks things.

The thing to remember about genres, too, is that this is when the book is about that thing.  Not when that thing is present in the book.  I froze up when I saw “Race” was only one book (How to Be An Antiracist)… but it’s true.  I didn’t read a lot of books specifically about race.  I read fiction books were race was a central theme (A Song Below Water is a great example of this!) but the book wasn’t about race.  I know that The StoryGraph was working on some stats tracking stuff down the line related to authors and I’m really curious to see what the team comes up with, because I would really like to have an easy way to track the diversity of the authors I read.  I’ve been working hard at that.  But that doesn’t mean there’s not already a lot of room fo me to grow.

Ratings

My average rating in 2020 was 3.94 stars… which is pretty good.  I also really like that The StoryGraph uses half and quarter stars, because I feel like that gives a more accurate feel for where books fall against one another.  I am a generous reviewer, and going into 2021, I want to make sure I’m actively looking at my own rating chart and following it as opposed to using just my gut, haha.

2020 Star Ratings Chart

I also didn’t start using half and quarter stars until mid-way through the year, since Goodread didn’t offer them.  Using these in 2021, I’m really interested to see how different my chart looks next year.  But I would agree that in general, I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read this year.  There have been some duds – there have been whole months that were duds, but all in all… not bad.

Reading Challenges

This year I participated in two reading challenges, and two small readathons.  I think that, overall, the reading challenges were pretty successful, and the readathons were… middlingly so.  I think I do better with long term reading goals.

To start with the readathons, I only participated in The Reading Rush and a small Our Own 24-in-48 Readathon.  I utterly failed the 24-in-48.  Frankly, I can’t sit still that long!  I don’t think I’d do a time-based readathon again – they’re not to my personal taste.  While I was successful in The Reading Rush this year, it fell at such a bad time that I picked up a lot of really short books and maneuvered my way into not failing.  In some ways this was good – I ended up reading The Test which was one of my top books this year – but on the other hand… I definitely felt like I was cheating.

The hosts of The Reading Rush were highly criticized for ableism in one of their suggested prompts (“read outside”) as well as the fact neither of them read their book club pick, and because they announced the readathon on Juneteenth.  There’s been some interesting discussions in the community about performative allyship around this debacle, one such of which you can read on Medium.  I’m not sure if they will be returning in 2021, but if they do, I hope the Rush will look much different.

As far as my reading challenges went…

Okay okay.  I feel as though The Great Bookcase Crusade and Start on Your Shelfathon go hand-in-hand because… they do.  The Crusade is my personal endless journey to overcome my personal library, and the Shelfathon was encouragement to read the books you own.  I was excited about the Shelfathon because it was essentially the same thing!  I can talk to others struggling with this!  Community and stuff!  Plus, I adore The Quiet Pond.  While I loved the graphics (you can check the constellations out on my wrap-ups), I found that the Discord sorta… died out early in the year.

But that’s okay!  I kept reading!

I read 56 hardcopy books in 2020.  My goal was 4/months – some months I didn’t make that, but I also surpassed many months!  This is the most hardcopy books I’ve ever read in a single month, and I credit that to Start on Your Shelfathon, as well as my light load of ARCs this year (definitely something I’ll be maintaining in 2021), and the fact that I’ve actually started making myself a physical TBR!  It sits on my dining room table (which we never use) and motivates me when I see the books moving along and I get to draw a new star from my jar.  I’d really like to meet this number in 2021.

For 2021 as well, I have a new year-long reading challenge I’ve joined, called the Psych Reading Challenge.  I’ll introduce that in a post soon.

Highlights from the Blog

I made some major changes to the blog this year, started with the rebranding in January, and cumulating in the addition of my Problematic Authors database (which will continue to grow as I read).  I’ve also started to overhaul the Great Bookcase Crusade page… which I get is mostly for me 🙂 and in 2021, I really want to look at my About Me and Review Archive pages.

As far as posts go, here are some popular things this year:

Most Popular Discussion

Old posts such as Why You Should Read Lord of the Rings (Even Though it’s a Bit of a Chore) and Gumbo is the Queen of Delicious Soups (+ Recipe) won again this year and I … ?!? Okay.  Well, those posts exist and the internet seems to like them, but the most popular post I’ve written this year is 10 Things About Goodreads That Make Me Want to Tear My Hair Out.  Which wouldn’t fit on my featured image, but nonetheless, these are valid things.  Little did I know when I wrote this post in February that I would end up moving over to The StoryGraph in June.  I do still post reviews and stuff on Goodreads, but it’s not my hub anymore.  Yay!

Most Popular Review

Book Review: The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

While a few older reviews got more hits (House of Salt and SorrowsAngels and Demons, and Fourth Dimension specifically), the most popular book review I wrote in 2020 was The Fountains of Silence.  If you haven’t read this book and you enjoy historical fiction… really, it’s fantastic.  It’s perfect romance (from someone who doesn’t like romances) and it takes you into a part of history that doesn’t often show up in the books… and only barely romanticizes it, which is good.  This may have not made my top 12 books for 2020, but it certainly makes my top 20.

My Favorite Post to Write

This was such a difficult one to chose because the discussions I posted back in January and February feel like a lifetime away. I think the post I’m most proud of is Vetting Books by Their Authors and the Guild of Loving a Book But Deeply Disagreeing With the Person Who Wrote It.  I published this near the end of April and… I feel like I have come on a journey in the intervening months.  It was a topic I struggled with early in the year because I didn’t know where to place myself on the scale of art vs. artist.  I think the JKR abomination over the summer helped me define where I stand.  This is the post that eventually lead to the creation of the Problematic Authors database and my own personal stands at an author-by-author level and being more conscious about what I choose to read and by whom.

I’m also deeply grateful for all the individuals who chose to enter the discourse and talk to me on this post – it’s a loaded topic that has led to many passionate social media fights and also a deep need for each of us to confront our own privilege.  Thank you to all who helped me on this journey.

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And with that, over 3000 words later (if you are still here, thank you!), I think we’ve thoroughly wrapped up 2020.  And honestly, good riddance to the thing.  I know our problems aren’t over – we’ll be seeing backlash from the pandemic and political events of 2020 for years.  It’s important we maintain our allyship and share difficult truths and make major changes in the world while maintaining kindness and respect for our fellow humans.  2021 is a new beginning, and I hope we use this new year to start bringing joy and equality into our world.

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How did 2020 go for you?  Did you read more than you expected?  Less?  Were there any blog posts you wrote in 2020 that you were particularly proud of?  If so, share them in the comments!

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