2021 Reading Reflections - Jonathan Liu

Stack Overflow: 2020 Year-End Reading Reflections

Books Columns Featured Stack Overflow

It’s traditional to make resolutions at the beginning of each year, even if many of us don’t manage to stick to them for more than a few months. For Stack Overflow, we make reading resolutions, a mix of predictions and promises to ourselves about what we want to read for the year—and then at the end of the year we hold ourselves to account. What did I finish? What did I forget was on the list? What did I keep looking at on the shelf, thinking I would read it next, but never did?

2020 was a whirlwind year for everyone: a global pandemic, widespread protests, a contentious election, a world turned upside-down. Many of us stayed inside a lot more—good for reading! Many of us had our kids at home full-time for school—maybe not so good for reading! The resolutions we made in January didn’t take any of that into account, but it’s still valuable to stop and reflect on our expectations and how they played out in reality.

So, here’s what some of us managed to read this year, compared to resolutions at the beginning of the year!

Jonathan H. Liu

Well, one of the goals I set myself this year was to clear out enough books (by reading or weeding) to reach my bookshelves without stepping over piles of boxes. Purging books from my collection is always a challenge for me—I’ve got piles of unread books, so deciding which books to get rid of is often an exercise in judging them by their covers. Am I getting rid of a book that would have been my favorite this year? Am I keeping books that are mediocre at best? But I had to admit to myself that, well, there is such a thing as “too many books,” at least when it comes to physical storage capacity, and this year I managed to fill probably a dozen boxes of books that have since made their way into our school library, various little free libraries, internet friends, and used bookstores. That, combined with the fact that the pandemic has significantly slowed down the rate at which publishers are mailing physical books, means that my stacks haven’t grown quite as much as they would in a typical year.

That said … I there are still boxes in front of my shelf, so I have a ways to go.

Before the pandemic, I spent most of my time at home—alone during school hours—so this year has been an adjustment as we’ve rearranged the house to make room for all of us to work from home. That, and it’s been hard to keep myself from constantly refreshing my Twitter feed rather than sitting down with a good book. My reading has been in small bites: part of a chapter during lunch, a few pages after dinner, a late-night flurry of “I should read something!” before I go to bed.

I did manage to read Exit from Eden by Andrew Smith this year, and enjoyed it, but didn’t make it to any of the other titles that I had specifically mentioned at the beginning of the year. I got close to my Goodreads goal of 150 books this year, but not quite. The majority of those, as usual, was graphic novels, but I’m still pretty low on middle grade and young adult books in 2020. I did manage to get a few more non-fiction books, though.

Greg's Books

Greg Howley

Most times, when I’m reading during all the free time I’ve allotted for it, I go through about one book per month. However, most of my reading time has traditionally been during lunch at work. Come March this year, I found myself working from home, and during lunch I’ve been occupying myself with things other than reading, so I’ve not gotten through nearly as many books as I’d have liked. Before the quarantine this year, I went through all three books in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. Shortly after quarantine began, I read the classic graphic novel Watchmen. And of course, I had to pick up both of the new Jim Butcher books the day they came out. It rarely takes me more than a week to go through one of those.

I’d started reading The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, but I’ve barely gotten a quarter of the way through. Instead, I got sidetracked by Allie Brosh’s new book full of comics, and even started the new Cory Doctorow book Attack Surface, which I hope to really enjoy if I ever get time. And I’ve got a copy of Ready Player Two waiting for me if I ever find time.

Perhaps at some point I’ll change my habits and set aside more time for the books I know I’ll enjoy.

Dakster Sullivan

This past year, my goal was to read one book every two weeks or at least once a month depending on how busy I was. Well, despite the lockdown and COVID-19 canceling a lot of my plans this year, I’m afraid I did not read as much as I probably could have, but I think I met the goal. Overall, I read 20 books, 5,094 pages, and spent 83 hours reading. My best day was reading 318 pages in one day. I averaged about 61.4 pages per hour (thank you Bookly app for those stats!). I read everything from biography to self-help with my favorite book being by Rob Paulsen about his battle with cancer. I read my first book from a free little library (Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo) and my first adult historical fiction (My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie). Another favorite was Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews. This coming year, I hope to increase my reading by at least five to ten books with an emphasis on fun reads and not just self-help.

Just some of the books Robin bought in 2020 but has yet had chance to read…

Robin Brooks

As for most people, my 2020 did not go as I imagined it would. I did achieve my goal of reading fewer publisher proofs, trying to concentrate on the books I’d bought. I think I read fewer books this year generally, however, probably the smallest amount of books in about 30 years. 

I’ve been at home more, but then so have the rest of my family. There always seems to be something more important to do than sitting down quietly with a book. Social media has undoubtedly bitten into my reading time too. It probably wasn’t very good for me, but it was very hard to stop checking the latest pandemic/election news. One thing that unexpectedly cut into my reading time was “P.E With Joe.” I started these workouts back when the UK locked down in March and I haven’t stopped! I think I’m fitter than at any point in my life. Sadly, however, there isn’t time to exercise body AND mind, so reading has taken a backseat to push-ups and reverse lunges. 

I definitely purchased more books than I read this year. As I promised myself, I avoided Amazon as much as possible, aided and abetted by leading UK bookseller, Waterstones and the arrival in the UK of Bookshop.org; a great way on both sides of the Atlantic of supporting independent bookshops. 

I decided that I had a moral duty to support bookshops and authors as much as possible, so I bought books whenever I could, including a couple of lovely special editions from Goldsboro books. I’ll never catch up with reading them all, but I’ll keep on trying!


Rebecca Angel with books
Rebecca’s “to-read” stack. Photo: Rebecca Angel

Rebecca Angel

First, let’s just say there is no guilt for any reading resolutions unmet. Reading is a pleasure and I’m happy my life is structured so that I can enjoy it.

The Stats

Strictly by the numbers, I have almost reached my target GoodReads goal of 50 books, which I may complete by the end of the year since I have time off. Looking at the stats on GoodReads, I’m 3,000 words shorter than the last couple of years at 13,538. My average book was 300 pages long.

My biggest change of my resolution for this year as compared to past years was the types of books I read. I had really wanted to get through the stack I already have instead of reading new books for review on GeekMom.

How did it go?

Not as much as I had planned, but for good reasons. First, although I cut down significantly my new book reviews, I still said “yes” to some that came my way when the author was non-white. Like many book reviewers, there was a push mid-year to include more diversity in my reading and reviewing. Books like Legendborn by Tracy Deonn and She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore.

There are only so many books I can read in a month, and since I’m in two book clubs, that makes it tough to get through my own stack. I’m not complaining, I LOVE my clubs, but that’s a big factor. Finally, I started getting into Webtoons, an app for webcomics like “Lore Olympus,” “Let’s Play,” and “Poppyland,” which I can’t log as “books” even though they are the same as graphic novels. I blame my son who first introduced me to the app!

Female Speaking Character Project:

It’s going strong. It’s my thing now. I haven’t yet compiled the stats, but I will soon. At some point. I’d rather just keep reading books than do the statistics. Maybe I can find a grant for this project and get paid to do the statistics? (Or pay someone else to!) You can keep up with my FSC on GoodReads, Instagram, or RebeccaAngel.com and keep up with my reviews on Between the Bookends!

Some favorites of the year:

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory was a book club pick and I really liked the characters. It’s the start of a new series by this talented author set in 1600s England with strong women dealing with men who are afraid of strong women. I’m invested in seeing what happens to this family next.

I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn is a sweetheart of a book that takes place mostly in Japan during the summer before college for the protagonist. I passed it along to my daughter and then sister-in-law who also loved it. My 14-year-old niece gave it back saying, “There was kissing and no magical powers. I didn’t like it.” Ok, so she’s not there yet.

The Nemesis By SJ Kincaid was the final book in a fantastic sci-fi series. I read this book right when the pandemic hit and I was completely absorbed back into that world. What a great escape. Also, lots of scarily similar issues on government and leadership.

Patricia Vollmer

How Did I Do?

Last year I mentioned that I had planned to finish a number of unfinished books. I had nearly a dozen books that I had started, but then some shiny ball bounced into my field of view and I ran off to tackle other things. For much of 2019, I blame a book group that I had joined. I read some great stuff, but it did leave many books in the original stack unfinished.

Did I read everything in this list that I had shared one year ago? Not even close. But that’s okay. Image credit: Patricia Vollmer

I was able to knock off a couple of unfinished books, such as Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall and A Case for Sugar by Gary Taubes. But most of the rest continued to just sit. I am probably most disappointed in myself for not finishing The Innovators yet, since I have another unfinished Walter Issacson book waiting for me, his Benjamin Franklin biography, which I had started on a holiday trip to Pennsylvania last year.

While last year I cited my deteriorating distance vision as one of my excuses, I can’t use that one this time. I got my first pair of progressive glasses at the very end of December 2019, and it’s been much easier to read. 

So What Happened?

The biggest change to my goals this year related to our family asking “What can we do?” after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this past May. While it was in the thick of the strictest springtime COVID-19 lockdowns in our community, our family of four decided to start our own “Anti-Racist Book Club.” Between the four of us, we read and discussed over a half-dozen books about race and racism, including The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, While Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (a family favorite), How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I was able to listen to many of these books on Audible while I commuted to/from my new job, which is about 30 minutes in each direction. 

Additionally, over the summer my sister picked up a copy of the classic, Dune, by Frank Herbert. That inspired me to say “Hey, sis, I’ll join you in that.” In fact, a copy was sitting in my bookcase, a free gift from attending a Random House publisher reception at San Diego Comic Con in 2019.

She’s a pretty fast reader.

I am not. 

My dear sister ended 2020 celebrating in Instagram that she has finished the first three books, while I just cracked the halfway point of the first book. I suck.

Do I Have Plans for 2021?

Well actually, I do. My sons and my sister gifted me books for my birthday and Christmas, and I have those in a new stack that I promise to be better about:

This is the 2021 stack. Plus there’s what I have in the queue on Audible and on my Kindle. Yes, The Innovators is still in the stack. But for now I’m still needing to wrap up Dune.

Thanks for joining us on our reading journeys! Stay tuned for our 2021 reading resolutions next week.

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