So, my annual round up has rolled around again. People say things seem to come around quicker as you get older but I gotta say that 2019 has drrraaaaaaaggggged at times. Also got to say that personally, I am not feeling optimistic for 2020 but, hey, maybe it will surprise me.
I set myself a target of 130 books to read in 2019 and I met that target dead on, although it was a bit touch and go towards the end thanks to Real Life getting in the way.
I wanted 20% of those 130 books to be by Writers of Colour and, disappointingly, I failed for the second year running and read 21 (which is 16%). This is an improvement on where I was in 2018, when I only managed 12% but still not where I wanted to be in terms of supporting diverse voices. I can’t even say that it’s down to not looking to pick up books by WOC because I definitely have a lot on my To Be Read Pile both in terms of selecting ARCs and buying them in stores.
Anyway, I think that the solution is to make sure I’m consciously scheduling WOC when I’m working out what I want to read next. Usually I just pick up the next book that meets my then current fancy but I’m trying to be more ordered this year so I am running a mini stack of books that I pre-select to read in the next month. This should also mean that I manage my To Be Read Pile more efficiently (when you see what’s on it behind the cut you’ll understand why I want to get a grip on it).
Gender-wise, I wanted a 50/50 split between men and women in 2019 and I broadly hit it. Of the 130 books I read, 63 were authored/co-authored/edited/co-edited by women, which is 48%. This is slightly down on 2018 (where I managed 48%) and I think that some of that is because I made a conscious effort to read more non-fiction in 2019 and a lot of that tended to be from men.
I didn’t set a non-fiction target for 2019 other than wanting to read more of it. In the end 47 of the 130 were non-fiction works (so that’s 36%). This is an improvement on the 26% I managed in 2018, so I’m pleased with that.
In terms of aspirations for 2020, I’m looking to achieve the following:
- a total reading target of 130. I’ve picked this because my commute has changed compared to last year, so it should be achievable while also leaving me some writing time for my personal, non-review projects.
- a 50/50 gender split.
- 20% of the books read to be by or co-written by writers of colour.
- 40% of the books read to be non-fiction.
As with 2019, I’m not going to be scheduling posts here because I don’t want to put pressure on myself in terms of getting reviews done. This is and remains very much a personal book review blog rather than a ‘side hustle’ and I don’t want it to start feeling like work because I’ve managed to keep my book review blog going since 2006 by making clear it’s my hobby. Similarly, I’m not going to be switching my focus to any specific genre or market (although long term observers will know that I tend towards crime fiction, thrillers and fantasy).
It’s been 3 years since I moved my blog here to WordPress from Livejournal and my hit count has grown year on year, which is pretty miraculous given I don’t do a lot to promote it and I don’t do any of the interviews, competitions or other content that harder working people in the book review community do. Although I do suspect that some of that hit count was from a DOS attack on WordPress over the summer …
My most popular review of 2019 in terms of hits was actually an old one from 2017 – Need To Know by Karen Cleveland. My most popular review from 2019 was The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman (it’s the conclusion to a well done YA historical fantasy if you’re interested).
I’ve set out my favourite books of 2019 below (in no particular order):
The Secret Barrister: Stories Of The Law And How It Is Broken is a passionate, clearly written and damning book that is essential reading for anyone who cares about the United Kingdom they set out how the English criminal legal system should work and why it is going so drastically wrong.
Heimat: A German Family Album by Nora Krug is a beautifully illustrated graphic memoir (which mixes Krugg’s drawings with photographs), in which she examines who she is as a German-American and comes to terms with her attitude to Germany’s recent history by seeking to learn more about the lives of her grandparents under Nazi rule and the role they played in the regime.
Chernobyl: History Of A Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy is a horrifying, moving and meticulously researched book (winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize in 2018 for non-fiction), that depicts the events surrounding the explosion of the No 4 reactor at Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 and the cover up and clear up that followed while going onto explain how it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carré. There’s a reason why this book is viewed as a classic in the spy thriller genre. It’s the third in John Le Carré’s GEORGE SMILEY SERIES (a follow-up to CALL FOR THE DEAD) and although Smiley is very much in a minor (albeit critical) supporting role that doesn’t matter because this ice-cold, ruthless, brutal spy thriller novel is an exquisitely plotted affair about treachery and counter-espionage and how lives become disposable to those in power when it suits their interests.
YOUNG ADULT BOOKS:
Teen Pioneers – Young People Who Have Changed The World by Ben Hubbard is an inspirational YA non-fiction book, consisting of mini biographies for 21 people who were all teenagers when they acted to try and change the world. Some you may have heard of, e.g. Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and the Hong Kong activist, Joshua Wong, and others you will hear more of in the future. It’s the perfect book to wave at any grown-up who dares to complain about young people lacking motivation and seeking to take all the time and it honestly gave me some hope for the future.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS (9 – 12):
The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford is an utterly delightful SF book that takes a dog-mad protagonist to a grim future. The world building is great, Welford makes some excellent points about privilege and refugees and features an interesting morally ambivalent side character who will make you think. Welford is one of my favourite children’s authors and this book is worth your time (even if you don’t have children!).
Death In The Spotlight by Robin Stevens is the 7th in this on-going murder mystery series and another well-plotted mystery filled with some devilish twists and great character development for Daisy and Hazel. I especially liked a key revelation about Daisy and her sexuality (which Stevens does well to contextualise in the time) but Hazel also gains a lot of confidence and self-awareness and I welcomes seeing Alexander and George again. Again, this is one of those series that is worth your time even if you don’t have kids in the target age group – there has not been a duff book in it and they’re genuinely good mysteries that are perfect if you already like the Golden Age detective authors like Christie or Sayers.
The Land Of Roar by Jenny McLachlan is a middle grade fantasy novel that’s gorgeously illustrated by Ben Mantle and the first of a duology (the sequel to which is due out in 2020). It’s a stunningly good read – moving, funny and with a lot to say about facing your fears, embracing the power of imagination and the destructive need to be cool with the ‘in crowd’. It tips its hat at the Narnia and Peter Pan tradition, while updating it for a more tech savvy and less gender stereotyped readership.
My To Be Read Pile now stands at a hideously horrifying 733. At the beginning of 2019 it was 570.
My name is Caroline Hooton, and I have a book acquisition problem. Someone please help me. Please.
I don’t do resolutions, but one of my ‘things’ for 2020 is that I’m going to try not to take every book offered to me for review and to steer clear of bookshops so that I’m not indulging in my book buying habit (which did spiral out of control towards the end of 2019) – some women buy handbags and shoes when they’re stressed; I go on book buying binges.
The full list is behind the cut for anyone interested and, as always, if there’s anything on there that you particularly recommend then please do let me know and I will move it up my list.
Finally, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s checked out this blog over 2019 or liked or left a comment and my very best wishes to all of you for 2020.
THE 2020 TO BE READ PILE OF DOOM! (COMPLETE WITH DATES OF ACQUISITION SO YOU CAN BEHOLD THE FULL HORROR)
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