2019 book reading in review

Russ Allbery eagle at eyrie.org
Wed Jan 1 12:49:13 PST 2020

In 2019, I finished and reviewed 40 books, the same as in 2018.
Technically, I read two more books than 2018, since I've finished two
books (one just before midnight) that I've not yet reviewed, but I'll
stick with counting only those books for which I've published a review.
I did a little bit better this year in spreading my reading out over
the year instead of only reading on vacation. Finding time to write
reviews was another matter; apologies for the flood of catch-up reviews
in the last week of December.

I met both of my reading goals for last year — maintaining my current
reading pace and catching up on award winners and nominees — but only
barely in both cases. 2020 will bring schedule and life changes for me,
and one of my goals is to carve out more room for daily reading.

I have 10 out of 10 ratings to two books this year, one fiction and one
non-fiction. The novel was Arkady Martine's brilliant debut [1] A Memory
Called Empire, which is one of the best science fiction novels I've
read. It's populated with a fully imagined society, wonderful
characters, political maneuvering, and a thoughtful portrayal of the
cultural impact of empire and colonialism. I can hardly wait for the

The non-fiction book was [2] On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger, a
brilliant piece of investigative journalism that looks at the working
conditions of the modern American working class through the lens of an
Amazon warehouse job, a call center, and a McDonald's. If you want to
understand how work and life feels to the people taking the brunt of
the day-to-day work in the United States, I cannot recommend it highly
enough. These jobs are not at all what they were like ten or twenty
years ago, and the differences may be different than what you expect.

The novels that received 9 out of 10 ratins from me in 2019 were
[3] The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, and [4] The Shell
Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. Kowal's novel is the best fictional
portrayal of anxiety that I've ever read (with bonus alternate history
space programs!) and fully deserves its Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards.
Pilcher's novel is outside of my normal genres, a generational saga
with family drama and some romance. It was a very satisfying vacation
book, a long, sprawling drama that one can settle into and be assured
that the characters will find a way to do the right thing.

On the non-fiction side, I gave a 9 out of 10 rating to [5] Bad Blood,
John Carreyou's almost-unbelievable story of the rise and fall of
Theranos, the blood testing company that reached a $10 billion
valuation without ever having a working product. And, to close out the
year, I gave a 9 out of 10 rating to Benjamin Dreyer's [6] Dreyer's
English, a collection of advice on the English language from a copy
editor. If you love reading books about punctuation trivia or
grammatical geeking, seek this one out.

Below is some additional analysis plus personal reading statistics,
probably only of interest to me.

In 2019, I read and reviewed 40 books, the same number as in 2018. I'm
happy with that total given how many distractions the year had for me.
Page count was up considerably, so the books this year were longer.
Average rating ticked very slightly higher yet again.

Overall statistics, with the change from last year:

Books read     40     (+0)
Total pages    14,130 (+1390)
Average rating 7.13   (+0.01)
Pages per day  38.7   (+3.8)
Days per book  9.13   (+0)

Breakdown by genre:

SF and fantasy 27 67%
Mainstream     1  3%
Non-fiction    9  22%
Graphic novels 3  8%
RPGs           0  0%

Still no RPGs (and I still haven't finished reading the one I started
last year). The balance between non-fiction and fiction shifted
significantly back towards fiction, and I read three graphic novels, up
two from last year. Mainstream fiction continues to be a small part of
my reading.

Of the SF and fantasy novels, here's a rough breakdown of the books by
reason for seeking them out. (As always, each book is only counted
once, and reasons higher on the list override reasons lower on the list
if both reasons apply.)

Award winners    5  19%
Award series     1  4%
Re-reads         0  0%
Genre classics   1  4%
Favorite authors 10 37%
Current SF&F     5  19%
Recommendations  4  15%
Random           1  4%

(Percentages do not add to 100% due to rounding.) Compared to last
year, I significantly increased the amount of current SF&F I read. This
was partly by reading all of the Hugo nominees, but also by reading
several new 2019 releases that people were excited about. I also
increased the number of award winners I read and dipped more into
recommendations from others. This is more diverse than last year, which
makes me happy.

I intended to read more award winners and award slates in 2019 and was
only partly successful. I did read all the Hugo nominees and caught up
on a few nominees from previous years, but I didn't make much forward
progress in reading award winners from previous years. The one gap in
my otherwise complete record of reading all Nebula winners continues to
be Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, which for some reason never feels
like the book I want to read. The gap in my Locus best SF novel reading
requires reading the rest of Cixin Liu's Three-Body Problem series.

We'll see if I'll feel inspired to read more award winners in this
upcoming year.


  1. https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/reviews/books/1-250-18645-5.html
  2. https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/reviews/books/0-316-50899-3.html
  3. https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/reviews/books/1-4668-6124-X.html
  4. https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/reviews/books/1-250-06378-7.html
  5. https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/reviews/books/1-5247-3166-8.html
  6. https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/reviews/books/0-8129-9571-6.html

Russ Allbery (eagle at eyrie.org)             <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>

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