A question I’m often asked is, “Tom, how many books do you read in a year?” Whereas I used to guess an answer, I’m now organised (read: sad) enough to keep a list, and have done so for the last three years.
When I looked back on my 2018 list, I was somewhat disappointed with my overall haul. The second half of the year in particular saw a noticeable dip in my reading. While relocating to Chichester to live with Emily and starting a new job played their part, choosing tomes capable of propping open doors and breaking backs didn’t help either. (Alas, such is the nature of the Fantasy genre).
Therefore my goal for 2019 was not to only read every day but to aim for 50 pages a day. My hope was to average a book a week—this sounded nice, if not unrealistic.
As an aspiring writer, I not only love to read but I do so to learn. Although it’s important to have a good understanding of the kind of books currently getting published, especially within the genre you wish to write in, it’s also important for a much simpler reason. One my literary idol said best:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
Stephen King, On Writing
Here’s how I got on:
1. Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan (545 pages) Fantasy
2. Elevation* by Stephen King (132 pages) Fiction
3. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (548 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fantasy
4. Lyra’s Oxford* by Philip Pullman (49 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fantasy
5. The Shining by Stephen King (497 pages) Horror
6. Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski (374 pages) Fantasy
7. Foundation by Isaac Asimov (321 pages) Science Fiction
8. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (505 pages) Thriller
9. The Midnight Line by Lee Child (450 pages) Thriller
10. The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (643 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fantasy
11. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie (670 pages) Fantasy
12. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (161 pages, re-read) Horror
13. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (519 pages, re-read via audiobook) War Fiction
14. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (402 pages) Fiction
15. The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor (337 pages) Thriller
16. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (311 pages) Science Fiction
17. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (505 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fiction
18. Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski (315 pages) Fantasy
19. Shift by Hugh Howey (565 pages) Science Fiction
20. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (240 pages) Science Fiction
21. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (223 pages) Fantasy
22. Thinner by Stephen King (340 pages) Horror
23. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (994 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fantasy
24. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (390 pages) Fantasy
25. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (384 pages) Science Fiction
26. The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman (570 pages) Fantasy
27. 11.22.63 by Stephen King (734 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction
28. Invisible Planets edited and translated by Ken Liu (383 pages) Science Fiction
29. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (205 pages) Fantasy
30. The Dry by Jane Harper (401 pages) Thriller
31. The Stand by Stephen King (1325 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fantasy
32. A Dance with Dragons: Part One by George R.R. Martin (624 pages, and, no, that doesn’t include the sixty-plus page appendix) Fantasy
33. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (184 pages) Science Fiction
34. This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay (277 pages) Non-fiction
35. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (531 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fantasy
36. A Dance with Dragons: Part Two by George R.R. Martin (493 pages, same again regarding the appendix) Fantasy
37. number9dream by David Mitchell (418 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fiction
38. Pastoralia by George Saunders (188 pages, re-read) Fiction
39. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch (628 pages) Fantasy
40. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (672 pages, audiobook) Fantasy
41. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (333 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction
42. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (561 pages) Science Fiction
43. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (292 pages) Fiction
44. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (546 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fiction
45. The Slow Regard of Silent Things* by Patrick Rothfuss (149 pages) Fantasy
46. No Middle Name by Lee Child (447 pages) Thriller
47. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (546 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction
48. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (225 pages) Fiction
49. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (233 pages, re-read) Science Fiction
50. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (238 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction
51. Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (512 pages, audiobook) Fantasy
52. Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (766 pages) Fantasy
53. The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden (370 pages, audiobook) Historical Fiction
54. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson (569 pages) Thriller
55. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (392 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fantasy
56. Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski (331 pages) Fantasy
57. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie (662 pages) Fantasy
58. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (613 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fiction
59. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (180 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction
60. The Outsider by Stephen King (475 pages) Horror
61. The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells (256 pages, audiobook) Science Fiction
62. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (309 pages, re-read) Fiction
63. The Time Machine* by H.G. Wells (91 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction
64. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (208 pages, audiobook) Science Fiction
65. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (611 pages) Fiction
66. The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells (176 pages, audiobook) Science Fiction
67. The Humans by Matt Haig (291 pages) Science Fiction
68. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (398 pages) Fantasy
69. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (324 pages, re-read via audiobook) Fiction
70. Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (655 pages) Science Fiction
71. Mort by Terry Pratchett (272 pages) Fantasy
72. Words of Radiance, Part One by Brandon Sanderson (653 pages) Fantasy
73. The Fireman by Joe Hill (762 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction
74. Words of Radiance, Part Two by Brandon Sanderson (556 pages) Fantasy
75. Before The Fall by Noah Hawley (376 pages) Fiction
76. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (650 pages) Historical Fiction
77. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (265 pages) Historical Fiction
78. Gnomon by Nick Harkaway (684 pages) Science Fiction
79. Traitor’s Blade by Sebastian de Castell (384 pages, audiobook) Fantasy
80. A Christmas Carol* by Charles Dickens (85 pages) Fiction
81. The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore (12 pages, including 6 changing pictures) Timeless Classic
82. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle (294 pages) Fantasy
* = novella
And I thought a book a week was unrealistic!
Instead, I averaged 1.5 books a week. This is slightly arbitrary, seeing as I read five novellas (though there are more than enough doorsteps listed there to average them out) and two books that were sold in two parts. (Alas, this is also becoming the nature of the Fantasy genre. Since they’re sold as two books, it seems only fair to list them as such.)
Audible certainly played its part, allowing me to read an extra 27 books than I otherwise would have. (I should really say re-read, as that’s what I largely used Audible for. That was until I realised my book consumption would never match the infinite growth of my to-read list.) Even so, I was very happy (and surprised) to have read 55 books the traditional way.
Since many of the books could be classed under multiple genres, I referred to Goodreads for the most popular choice. For example, The Stand by Stephen King could, like many of his books, be filed under Horror, Science Fiction or Epic Thriller. I ended up opting for Fantasy as the handling (and importance) of religion was no different to that of a novel set in secondary world. [By definition, what separates a Fantasy novel from a Science Fiction one is the exploration of magic and the supernatural over technology and science-grounded scenarios.]
This is how the nine genres break down:
22 Science Fiction
3 Historical Fiction
1 War Fiction
1 Timeless Classic
That equates to a total of 34,805 pages (that’s an average of 95 pages a day) between 57 different authors, 23 of whom were new to me.
Of these, I finished 2 trilogies/series, continued 10, and started 12 new ones. [Excluding re-reads.]
The authors I read most of were:***
7 Stephen King
5 H.G. Wells
4 Brandon Sanderson
I also read 3 books by Philip Pullman, Andrzej Sapkowsk, and David Mitchell.
***I’m pretty sure the length of A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin would run comfortably longer than the combined lengths of the 5 H.G. Wells books I read. Oh well.
As always, the Fantasy genre was my main focus, since that is the genre in which I would like to become published in. Even so, I did my best not to read too narrowly in order to learn from the widest variety of voices as possible. Just as with a diet, you can’t expect to gain all the health benefits from one food source; it has to be varied and balanced.
I was not only happy with the range and quantity of books on my list, I was also happy with the quality.
Although late to the game and rushed into it by Netflix, I’m now half-way through and thoroughly enjoying The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. The same can be said for Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies, book two of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence, while No Middle Name by Lee Child was a welcome collection of short stories to another beloved series of mine.
I’m also increasingly impressed by Terry Pratchett with every Discworld novel that I read. Like my brother, I’m sure I will come to read all of them—in [plenty] of time, of course. How can an author be so clever and witty?
Though it’s hard to pick a clear winner when it comes to my favourite book of the year, there are four serious contenders. Like last year, I’m not surprised to discover that three of these books were written by authors that were new to me. I’m often blown away that bit more by a new voice when the book is just that good. (Although I may have less expectations, it doesn’t mean I don’t have any.) As for the fourth author, his inclusion was also no surprise.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, while not a perfect book (is there such a thing?), was one of the most original, enjoyable and confidently crafted stories I read this year. It was one of those rare books that you enjoy so much you want to read it as quickly as possible without ever reaching the last page.
It was a similar case for Stephen King’s The Outsider, easily the best new King I read this year—and last—and even the year before that, if it wasn’t for Misery. Though, recalling my earlier comment on genre filing, particularly regarding King, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the book as much if [slight spoiler ahead] I hadn’t known it was a Horror, opposed to the Thriller the first half of the book leads you to believe. Only a writer of King’s talent could pull that off. I now can’t wait for the HBO adaptation.
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi was a cool and incredibly enjoyable start to what promises to be a strong Science Fiction series, one I will definitely continue this year. It’s story was an alloy of exciting concepts, scalpel-fine prose and humour.
As for the last book I read last year, The Last Unicorn, the poetic prose of Peter S. Beagle was the most perfect way to end the year. It is a book to return to time and again.
I discovered that reading more regularly helped me with my own writing. In addition to learning those necessary tools (especially my understanding of story structure), it reduced (there is no cure, unfortunately) my bad habit of absorbing the voice of the author I was currently reading and helped me to realise that writing differently from them wasn’t a bad thing.
Towards the end of the year I started to see Audible as a double-edged sword. Though it was a great way to read more books and to re-read some of my favourites (you can learn even more from a re-reading), and to help pass long, lonesome drives, it also occupied thoughts that might otherwise have been applied to my own novel.
Like driving, watching a film, or having a conversation over dinner, listening to Audible didn’t stop my ideas from coming. They never struggled to tear down a narrative, no matter how compelling, and I would always pause the book I was listening to in order to follow the idea further. I’m sure I will continue to use Audible, just not as much. After all, some of my best ideas have been boredom-born.
Except for when I found myself not enjoying a book***, trying to read 50 pages a day never seemed like a chore. However, it did mean I read some books—or parts of some books—more quickly instead of taking the time to savour them, especially when I knew I could achieve the highest amount of books I’ve read in a year.
***As I said last year, when it comes to books I keep to the philosophy of, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. You can still learn a lot from a book you don’t like.
Having said that, I’m not sure if I will continue my goal of 50 pages a day this year. (I may reduce the amount to 40, we’ll see.) I already know I won’t read as many books in 2020. In fact, I mean not to.
This may sound defeatist, but the main change I wanted to make from 2018 was to ensure I made time for reading on a daily basis. I certainly achieved that and I’m certainly going to continue doing so (I would even like to read more Non-fiction), just not to the same degree. Instead, I want to convert this excess reading time into time spent writing.
My aim for 2020 is to finish the first draft of my novel and to have at least one short story published. (More on that in future posts.) While I’m unsure about writing every day (I believe that time away from the computer screen aids productivity), I want to ensure my time writing rarely comes at the cost of my other commitments. As Stephen King said, you must do two things above all others.
[This is how 2020 stacks up! Cassie alongside my birthday haul.]