Jake McCrary

Reading in 2020

At the beginning of every year I reflect on my reading from the previous year. I take a look at my records, fix errors, and think about reading goals for the upcoming year.

Here are links to my previous end-of-year reflections: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

I’ve continued to keep track of my reading using Goodreads. My profile has nearly the full list of the books I’ve read since 2010. Here is my 2020.

2020 Goals

Last year I wrote:

I was encouraged by how many non-fiction books I read this year and how many of them ended up earning a five star rating. I’d like to continue that trend of reading high-quality non-fiction books.

I’ve also been reading a lot of books but I haven’t always been the best at trying to consciously apply the lessons from those books. I’m going to try to improve that this year.

Those are pretty fuzzy goals but I’m alright with that.

I’ll come back at the end of this article and reflect on if I hit it or not.

Highlights

Here are my five star books from 2020. The titles are affiliate links to Amazon. If you click one and make a purchase I get a small kickback.

If I wrote a review on Goodreads then the my review link will take you there. In the last couple of years, I’ve been writing fewer reviews on Goodreads than in the past so many books do not have a review there.

If you’re missing these reviews, I have started sending out an email every month or two and it frequently includes small reviews of what I’ve read since the previous email. You can subscribe to that here.

Here are the 2020 five star books:

The Hard Truth: Simple Ways to Become a Better Climber by Kris Hampton

This is an excellent dose of wisdom about climbing and improving your performance. It does this through suggestions of how to change your mental relationship with climbing. Improving is about putting in the work, reflecting, and trying hard.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk

I really enjoyed this book and made hundreds of highlights while reading it on my Kindle. I’d suggest reading reviews on Goodreads and seeing if it is something that would be interesting for you.

Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski

This was a good book that, unlike what the subtitle claims, did not transform my sex life. But I didn’t go into it expecting that. I’m not the main audience for this book but still got some value from it. I particularly enjoyed the parts that talked about stress, responses to stress, and emotional systems.

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

This book is about psychedelics, such as LSD and psilocybin. It combines the history of these substances, old and new research being done with them, and sort of a travelogue of Michael Pollan’s growing experience with these substances.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

I’ll just link to a friend’s review of this book.

The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I devoured all of her writing this year, both fiction and non-fiction, and the highlights are above. None of her writing earned less than four stars.

Between starting and finishing writing this article, I learned she published a new short story, Zikora, and immediately read it. It was pretty great.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading fiction is that it provides a window into the experiences of others. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writing does exactly this and does it with beautiful prose and compelling stories.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

This was a reread of the first Neal Stephenson book I read. I wanted to reread this book as I had been recommending it as a relatively short introduction to Neal Stephenson’s writing but I was second guessing how much I enjoyed it.

I was wrong to second guess that. This story was still great the second time through. This book covers so much and feels prescient despite being read 25 years after it was originally published (February 1995).

Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Octavia Butler builds a new religion in this series and, honestly, that religion is tempting. These are fantastic science fiction reads that explore human connections and what we could be as a species.

Other notable reads

These are books that for some reason I didn’t give five stars but I still think they are worth recommending. All links below are to Goodreads.

Piranesi by Susanna Clark

This book was weird and I enjoyed it. You follow a character that lives in a weird, infinite building made of corridors lined with statues.

Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

This covers the American political system and how we got to our modern form with deeply polarized parties. I thought it was a pretty interesting read.

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

I read this at the very beginning of 2020 and think that everyone should read it. I highlighted a ton of passages and plan on going back and reviewing those passages.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy

I read this at the very beginning of 2020 and highlighted a ton of passages. The book is about listening and how we do a bad job at it. It includes suggestions about how to get better.

Pair this book with I hear you, a book I read last year, and you’ll have the tools to become a better listener.

Diaspora by Greg Egan

This was a stupendous science fiction read. It takes you on a wild journey into a far future where sentient beings can exist in software.

This was very close to receiving five stars but I kept getting bogged down in some of the explanations. I know this is why some folks enjoy hard science fiction but that isn’t why I’m reading these stories. This book delivers an interesting, complex, and very speculative far future. If the blurb sounds interesting to you and you’re willing to put up some with advanced theoretical (real? fake? I don’t know) physics then pick this book up.

Stats

I read 43 books and 12,093 pages in 2020. The data also doesn’t capture three books that I’ve started but have yet to finish.

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| Year | # of Pages | # of Books |
|------+------------+------------|
| 2020 |      12093 |         43 |
| 2019 |      15994 |         42 |
| 2018 |      13538 |         36 |
| 2017 |      18317 |         48 |
| 2016 |      22790 |         59 |
| 2015 |      21689 |         51 |
| 2014 |      24340 |         71 |
| 2013 |      19815 |         60 |
| 2012 |      14208 |         44 |
| 2011 |       9179 |         19 |
| 2010 |      14667 |         46 |
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Last year marks a decade of me tracking my reading and it was the second lowest page count in that decade. For many reasons 2020 was an unforgettable year and one where I spent a lot of time at home.

I would have thought that would have lead to a large number of pages read but I think much of my time ended up being taken up by non-book reading activities. For better or worse (probably worse), a lot of my time was spent reading articles about the on-going global pandemic, the USA election, and the other non-stop news cycle of 2020. Between that and the increase in newsletters and podcasts I’m consuming, I’m not that surprised my book reading has taken a hit.

Here is a breakdown of books finished by month.

Book and pages count by month

This graph tells a slightly different story than the one I presented above. I did not finish many pages in January through March, the pre-pandemic time period in the United States.

Those months I was extremely dedicated to training for climbing and was starting a new relationship. I’m very happy both of those took up my non-working hours during those months.

I was still commuting to an office from January till mid-March and would have expected more pages finished on the train. I’ll blame podcasts for that as this year I did start listening to those while commuting, since I can enjoy those while walking to and from the train as well.

The number of books read in February is high because I read a short story collection where each story was published individually on Amazon.

Unsurprisingly, electronic books continue to be the dominant format.

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|           | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 |
|-----------+------+------+------+------+------+------|
| audiobook |    1 |    0 |    0 |    0 |    0 |    0 |
| ebook     |   41 |   43 |   37 |   37 |   56 |   47 |
| hardcover |    0 |    1 |    1 |    7 |    0 |    1 |
| paperback |    1 |    7 |    5 |    5 |    3 |    3 |

Below is the breakdown of fiction vs non-fiction books. Fiction started to regain its dominance after having non-fiction catch up in 2019.

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|                           |   2020 |   2019 |   2018 |
|---------------------------+--------+--------+--------|
| fiction                   |     26 |     28 |     29 |
| non-fiction               |     17 |     23 |     14 |
| fiction:non-fiction ratio | 1.53:1 | 1.22:1 | 2.07:1 |

Here is the star rating distribution.

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|             | 2 stars | 3 stars | 4 stars | 5 stars |
|-------------+---------+---------+---------+---------|
| fiction     |       1 |       8 |      12 |       5 |
| non-fiction |       0 |       4 |       7 |       6 |

Did I hit my 2020 goals?

I succeeded in reading a solid number of non-fiction books that earned a high rating. I read fewer non-fiction books than fiction but managed to have more 5 star ratings. I’m going to count this as successfully hitting the non-fiction part of my 2020 goal.

Did I get better at applying the lessons from books? Not at all and I barely even tried to do so. Definite failure here.

2021 goals

I have quite a few unread books sitting on my virtual and physical bookshelf. This feels like setting a really low-bar but this year I’d like to read some of these unread-but-owned books.

I’m also planning on reading at least one book on writing and one book on climbing. This goal is almost a subset of the above goal as I have books on both these topics sitting on my shelf.

It is interesting to have been collecting this data for a decade now. I haven’t done much in the way around looking at multi-year trends but I think it might be interesting to do so.

If you have a book recommendation, feel free to reach out and contact me.

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