On statistics.

February 25, 2010 at 10:17 am (Reads) ()

Off and on over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been adding some stuff to Goodreads, trying to make it as accurate a snapshot of my reading as possible.  See, since mid-1994, I’ve kept stats on everything I’ve read, from graphic novels to short story anthologies to novels to chapbooks.  For each of those books, I’ve recorded when I read them (by year mostly; I didn’t start adding actual dates I finished them until 2006) and how many pages they were.  According to those statistics, between 1994 and 2009, I read 1,160 books and 330,301 pages.  And now all of that is in my profile on Goodreads.

In addition, I went back and added what books I could remember reading before I started recording my statistics.  Those books comprised a lot of Stephen King, Robert R. McCammon, Dan Simmons, and other mainstream horror writers at the time.  It also sent me down the trail of finding a list of all the Dell/Abyss horror novels that were published in the early 1990s, and from there I just had to remember which ones I had actually read.  That was actually more difficult than it sounds, since I remember very little about the books that I read during that time.

I also tagged the books according to the genres I thought they belonged to, which wasn’t as easy as I expected.  I started to draw a distinction between horror and dark fantasy, though I’m not sure if I could tell you the difference between the two.  I noticed that I have more books that fall under the tag of’ “fantasy” than “horror,” which surprised me because I’ve always been a horror buff.  It could have more to do with my more conservative way of classifying a book’s genre than it used to be, but since “dark” and “fantasy” are different tags (I realized there was such a thing as a dark thriller, and dark science fiction, so I broke “dark” out into its own tag), I figure that it’s a minor distinction.

Of the nearly 1300 books I’ve read, I only tagged 44 of them as “awesome,” which is my tag for recommending a book without reservation.  I’m a harsh critic of the stuff I read, and something has to be really good to have a profound effect on me, but those 44 books represent the best of the best.  It’s an eclectic mix.  Literary classics like To Kill a Mockingbird andTheir Eyes Were Watching God are on that list, as well as quirky science fiction books like The Carpet Makers and Sewer, Gas, & Electric, but Bruce Campbell’s autobiography, If Chins Could Kill, is on there, too.  The eclecticism, I think, is proof that books of all varieties can have profound effects on people.

Going down the rabbit hole of my reading history over the last couple of weeks has led to some interesting revelations, mostly that I don’t remember any of the details of a lot of the books I read during that time.  In most cases, I don’t even remember the plots.  There were a handful of books I came across during this project that I had absolutely no recollection about, to the point where I was convinced that I must not have even read the book.  There were others that I remembered liking a lot, though I couldn’t tell you anything about them, plot- or otherwise.  Lisa Tuttle’s Lost Futures is one I remember liking a lot, back in 1991 or 1992.  I think it involved time travel, but I wouldn’t put money down on that assertion.

The other weird thing about this journey is that I found myself remembering the general things that were going on in my life when I read these books.  I remember reading The Dead Zone while vacationing with family in Maine, during the trip where I got to see Stephen King’s office.  I remember reading Harlan Ellison’s Spider Kiss while working one weekend at a branch of the college bookstore in graduate school.  And I have this inexplicable memory of reading part of Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, with Occasional Music on the side of an interstate — and this is a specific memory where I could even tell you which exit I was near — which makes no sense at all, because I don’t remember ever being stranded on that interstate.

I can also remember my moods from during certain times in my reading history.  My best year, as far as sheer numbers go, was 1998, when I read 174 books for over 51,000 pages.  That was also the lowest point in my personal life.  I can also tell when I first met the woman who became my wife.  For one thing, my numbers started dropping significantly, as I had other things to do with my life; for another, I can see that the quality of the books I read began to improve.  In fact, I can see that I started to veer away from books that I tagged “horror” — dark, negative, mostly nihilistic looks at the world — and started finding my way over more toward fantasy.  I still like dark fiction, and I still have a soft spot for horror, when it’s done correctly (I came to realize that Phil Rickman is one of my favorite horror authors, since he knows how to incorporate atmosphere into his works), but for the most part, I find myself leaning toward more positive outlooks in my fiction.  Even in dark stories with sad endings, like in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Brave New World, the underlying message of the stories is that of hope, and that’s what I’m looking for in my reading.

So, what started off as a statistical lark turned out to be a pretty thorough examination of my tastes, my growth, and my life.  It turned out to take a lot longer than I expected, but I do think it was worth it.  It will  be interesting to see what direction it all takes from this point forward.

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1 Comment

  1. Rick said,

    This was really interesting and makes me wish I had better records of what I have read in the past. Sometimes when I put in a new book, I try and add three of four books I know I’ve read, but to get them all is probably an impossibility.

    Thanks for sharing!

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