This is my fifth year of fastidiously tracking my reading, and so it’s time to look back on what I have read in these last five years. My five favourite books of this half decade have been:1

  1. The Mill on the Floss

In my opinion, the best of George Eliot’s books apart from Middlemarch. She has such a gift for penetrating the human mind, but in a sympathetic rather than the caustic way favoured by more modern writers. Most the action is admittedly driven by a love triangle, but that was surely not so passé at the time of writing. The only fault I can find with the book is that Eliot appeared to write herself into a corner by the end. I don’t want to spoil the ending for those who haven’t read it, but I found it unsatisfying.

  1. Circe

Wrote about that here.

  1. The Secret History

Wrote about that here.

  1. The Lower River

Wrote about that here.

  1. Fierce Pajamas

This is for anyone who is a fan of the New Yorker brand of humour. Some of the funniest short stories and sketches I have ever encountered. In particular, Zeus trapped in the body of a flatulent weakling; a literal account of Desert Island Discs by Keith Richards, and a too competent food writer.

Now let’s get to the stats!

220 books in 5 years. About 44 books per year or 3.5 books per month. Not quite a book per week.

Fantasy is my most popular category; more than two-thirds of my books are fiction; one third of my books are re-reads; and only about a third of my books are written by women. Quite a gender disparity. I put it down to my genres of choice. Fantasy, Science Fiction, and the Classics all tend to be more male-dominated.

For the books I’ve read in the last five years, 387 pages was the average length, and nearly two thirds of the authors were American.

Big Ursula Le Guin fan obviously.

Not sure why April is such a good reading month. If you calculate it by season, though, each season is basically identical. Only a difference of 6 books when comparing the lowest month (Summer) with the highest month (Spring).

1994 was the median year of publication. I’m using the median year because I have five books on my list that are over a thousand years old, which throws off the mean considerably. 2020 is the year of publication for the most books I’ve read–eleven in total. Lots of authors busy during the pandemic.

This year I’ve also started keeping track of how I feel about books. So now I can see which type of books I like, if only for this year.

Essentially no relationship between year of publication and my self-rating of enjoyment (scored on a 10 point scale). I marginally enjoy older books though.

Just by way of explanation, the two scatter plots I’m showing both come with a regression line plotted using a basic bivariate ordinary least squares regression. That line is a line of best fit; it tries to predict the relationship between the two variables (shown on the Y and X axes). I’m not going to be tedious and present the regression tables (this is for fun!), but you can just eyeball the relationships or simply look at the regression line. A negative relationship will be shown as the line sloping down from left to right, and a positive relationship will slope up from left to right. The steeper the slope, the more correlated the variables. In the case of the scatter plot above, the modest slope indicates that the two variables are not well-correlated.

No one genre stands out in terms of enjoyment from the books I read this year.

I was also curious to see if I enjoyed books more that Goodreads rated higher. Since Goodreads rates books out of five, I rescaled my enjoyment score out of five too. As you can see, there is essentially no relationship between the score a book gets on Goodreads and how much I enjoy that book.2 The two variables are uncorrelated (Pearson’s R = 0.1), and a one unit increase in the Goodreads score of a book is only associated with a 0.21 increase in how much I enjoy a book. In other words, the difference between a 1-star book and a 5-star book on Goodreads is only about the difference between a 4 and 5 star book for me. Or to put it even more starkly, the Goodreads score explains less than 1% of the variation in my Enjoyment score. Basically, I am going to stop looking at Goodreads scores as an indicator of how good I think a book is, or how much I will like it.3

And to end, a list of all the books I read and how I rated them:

Title Author Level of Enjoyment
1 Mozart’s Starling Lyanda Haupt 6.00
2 Understanding the Old Testament Various 8.00
3 A History of the Arab Peoples Albert Hourani 6.00
4 Nicholas Nickleby Charles Dickens 7.00
5 Under the Wave at Waimea Paul Theroux 7.00
6 La Perla de Gran Precio Various
7 I, Claudius Robert Graves 8.00
8 Livinia Ursula Le Guin 7.00
9 Among the Believers V.S. Naipaul 7.00
10 Annihilation Jeff Vandermeer 10.00
11 The Iron Ring Lloyd Alexander 10.00
12 Mafeking Road Herman Charles Bosman 9.00
13 Mama’s Last Hug Frans De Waal 6.00
14 Martin Chuzzlewit Charles Dickens 9.00
15 The Family Arsenal Paul Theroux 10.00
16 The Reluctant Boss Part 2 Hector Griffin 9.50
17 The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury 8.00
18 Murder in Mount Holly Paul Theroux 7.50
19 The Lathe of Heaven Ursula Le Guin 9.50
20 The Mill on the Floss George Eliot 9.75
21 Out of the Silent Planet C.S. Lewis 7.00
22 Perelandra C.S. Lewis 8.00
23 Lines of Descent Kwame Anthony Appiah 9.75
24 The Lies that Bind Kwame Anthony Appiah 8.00
25 The Ethics of Identity Kwame Anthony Appiah 8.00
26 Authority Jeff Vandermeer 8.50
27 Acceptance Jeff Vandermeer 8.25
28 Silas Marner George Eliot 7.75
29 The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood 3.00
30 The Making of the Old Testament Various 9.00
31 Adam Bede George Eliot 8.00
32 What Happened at Horse Hair Retreat Bethan Owen 8.00
33 Legacies L.E. Modesit 7.50
34 Destiny Disrupted Tamim Ansary 9.75
35 Darknesses L.E. Modesit 6.50
36 A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole 8.75
37 Picture Palace Paul Theroux 7.00
38 In a Free State V.S. Naipaul 8.75

  1. I also have some candidates for my least favourite book of the last five years: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, and Mozart’s Starling by Lynda Haupt.↩︎

  2. There is also no relationship between how good I think a book is (which I also tracked) and how good Goodreads thinks a book is. There is, unsurprisingly, a strong correlation between how good I think a book is and how much I enjoy that book.↩︎

  3. I’m overstating the case somewhat given that my sample is still small, but I’m tired of tracking the Goodreads score, so there it is.↩︎