Despite dedicating all of my spare time to literary pursuits, my day job actually involves fighting crime. I will admit it isn’t quite as glamorous as I have just made that sound: I don’t wear lycra, have never taken part in a high speed car chase and have yet to develop a uniquely awesome super power (unless you count my ability to ingest large amounts of biscuits in very short periods of time). My contribution to keeping the local community that little bit safer centres simply on crunching numbers – a genuinely fascinating and fulfilling job despite how dull it may sound – but the glazed faces of new acquaintances over the years have convinced me that I need to package my career in a slightly more exciting way. I have always kept my personal and professional passions quite separate, but for some reason this week I have been thinking about merging the two and viewing my reading habits through a data lens, so that’s what I decided to do. (Stick with me kids – I nearly fell asleep just writing that sentence, but it’s more interesting than it sounds, I promise).
Initially prompted by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, my first thought was to consider my literary explorations from a feminist perspective. I rarely consider the author’s gender when choosing a prospective book – consciously, at least – and was interested to find that 56% of the tomes devoured this year so far have been written by females. I remember feeling quite shocked earlier this year (back in February before the world went mental and we lost the capacity to feel stunned by anything) when I heard that Marian Keyes only reads women, because she feels the lives of men are too limited. Like RBG, my own brand of feminism focuses on the empowerment of all genders across the board and I am pleased that in contrast my reading reflects fair intake of both sexes. However, when it comes to non-fiction that balance becomes more skewed, with only 40% of these written by females and none by other, more marginalised groups. Whether this is a reflection on my own choices or on the types of books that are marketed more heavily I couldn’t say, but I definitely want to explore more female and trans voices moving forward.
Once I started this analysis, I couldn’t stop. 75% of my books this year have been by authors I have never read before and I found it gratifying to know I am still open to new experiences even at the grand old age of 41. (Conversely I am also not immune to the comfort of a familiar style, having read more than one publication from 11 writers since January). Shockingly, 45% of my total thus far comes from my Kindle, a finding that surprised me greatly. I genuinely believed I only ever accessed electronic tomes when I was away from home, but given the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named ruined all of my holiday plans this year, I have clearly been kidding myself. (I am going to blame the lack of opportunities to bookshop browse instead. And Brexit – I am definitely blaming Brexit). But as I flicked back and forth through the beautifully bound notebook where I record every book I read, one stark conclusion leapt out more strongly than any other – this has been a bonanza year for books. Since December 2004 when I inaugurated said inventory (that sounds pretentious, but I can remember wishing there were trumpets playing) the most I have read in any 12 month period is 86 texts and I have already surpassed this in 2020. Part of me hopes I never have a year so housebound ever again; part of me is secretly planning how I can better that total in 2021…
We can learn a lot about ourselves through our literary choices, whether they are conscious are not. That being said, all this talk of numbers has just fuelled the fire of my fixation with devouring as many books as I can – after all, life is short and my notebook only a quarter full. So I am putting down the calculator and heading back into textual hibernation. Keep the recommendations coming, Bookaholics. I can’t afford to run out of books!