Lifestyles · Reviews

My Year as an Average Reader

            At the end of each year I usually provide a list of my favorite books. However, I’ve found that, since graduating and in the midst of life, the selection to choose from has lessened significantly. A 2016 study found that the average American reads about 12 books a year. Since I keep track of my reading via GoodReads and their annual challenge, I have my stats from the last five years.

  •             In 2016, I read 51 books.
  •             In 2017, I read 41 books.
  •             In 2018, I also read 41 books.
  •             In 2019, I read 40 books.
  •             In 2020, I read 25 books.

            This year, I read 14 books—and two of them were rereads. So, no, from that low number I can’t pick my usual favorite categories or accurately give recommendations. What I can instead give is a retrospective on how reading or not reading affected my life, and generally talk about things.

            I’ve spent most of my memory identifying as a ‘reader.’ From the first moment I was allowed to read harder chapter books in first grade to speeding through reading challenges with my classmates or taking reading quizzes to sharing books with my best friend in high school to starting this blog and writing reviews. And, as an English major, books are obviously a huge part of the deal. When I stopped reading, I felt guilty because without it who was I?

            I’ve found this has been one of my biggest thoughts to unravel during the past two years. I spend so much of my life identifying and valuing myself by what I do (reading and writing especially) that I don’t feel worthy without them. However, the key thing with self-worth and some level of empowerment is the acknowledgement that—even without all the hobbies and trappings and hustles—we are worthy of life, love, and happiness.

            I didn’t push myself to read when I didn’t want to. I started and stopped half a dozen books. I read what I wanted to. So, it’s a pity then that GoodReads doesn’t track fanfiction because that’s where I kept my ‘reader’ identity for the year. Something about familiar worlds and characters is more comforting than taking the time to learn new ones. I don’t know how many stories or words I’ve read. I’ve been reading an ongoing saga that is almost 900k words, binged a 200k story in a week, and usually read at least 15k a night. Compared to “real” books, those numbers still show I’m reading and they count on some level.

Reading for pleasure rather than for escape has become a bit of a foreign concept, to be honest. I had to create intentional habits to get that time in with novels rather than spending time with fanfiction. I’d light a candle and bundle up under my blankets with a cup of tea in some kind of ritual to summon the old me. It sometimes worked. I read outside, too, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the desert wind on my skin in the summertime. Perhaps, in some way, I’ve always had a purpose for reading: for value or self-worth, as an assignment, as an escape. Now that so many of those reasons are less reasonable, I’m struggling to find new ones.

            So, what did I read among those 14 books? My two rereads were Gamer Girl by Mari Mancusi and Look for Me By Moonlight by Mary Downing Hahn, both favorites of my early teenage years. I finally read The Elite by Kiera Cass since my review of The Selection is an oddly popular post; I liked that it gave me more world-building but was still frustrated by the main character and most of the plot. Oddly enough, Sarah Dessen’s The Rest of the Story was one of her rare books where I didn’t care for the romance and was more in it for the family drama and friendship. Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano had been on my shelf for years so I’m glad I finally got to it.

            Soleil spurred three of the books in my reading. We read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls together on a few of our virtual dates. It was a fun new way of reading and easier to do with books meant for younger readers than older. Plus, we got to narrate and do character voices which always adds to the experience. Earlier, I’d read Brian K. Vaughn’s first volume of Y: The Last Man since it involves a couple separated during a bit of an apocalypse. It wasn’t what I expected and not all of it has aged well, but I still like his concepts overall.

            As usual, I always make time for horror stories. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix was my first scary read of the year. Hendrix is one of my current favorites and I’m always a sucker for vampires. I followed that in surprisingly short order with Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians (we love scary deer) and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic (we love playing with tropes). I read Stephen Graham Jones’ novella Mapping the Interior in a single night and it packed a powerful punch. Over a few weeks, I enjoyed Not All Monsters edited by Sara Tantlinger. All of the stories in this anthology are written by women and cover such a wide variety of horror. I was entertained from beginning to end and loved quite a few within.

            I do hope that I can improve or change my reading habits in 2022. I was gifted a Kindle for my birthday this year, which may actually be the bridge I need between novels and my fanfiction habits. I won’t make any promises or put too much pressure on myself. Even if I am ‘Reading Malone’ I am more than that and I always have a life beyond and better than the page. Still, I want to fall in love with reading again – to find a new reason to stay up all night buried in a good book.