For someone who is very, very, embarrassingly bad at math, I do love a good chart — especially, as it turns out, when that chart has to do with reading stats. Nothing excites me more than breaking down a year of reading into its individual parts: How many essay collections did I read this year? How many books did I re-read? And, most importantly, why do I always feel like I have nothing to read? Well, that last one is not something I ever thought was quantifiable. At least, that is, until I read Lillian Karabaic's piece for Racked in which she brilliantly decided to make an in-depth spreadsheet of every single item of clothing she owns in an effort to figure out just what exactly was hiding behind her closet doors: what was valuable and well-loved and what just wasn't worth the space. Could I do the same with my book collection? Though my own studies were not quite so involved as Karabaic's, I was determined to find out.
Let's start with some background. I have gotten rid of a lot of books over the years. My book collection is now confined to one three tiered bookcase and a single bookshelf. So, I have already done a massive amount of work to create a home library that reflects my current needs and interests. But what did I really own? And if it is true that the books on my shelves fully represented the sort of reader I am and wanted to be, then why do I so often look at the stacks in utter despair, wondering what the heck I am going to read next? Am I just fickle (totally possible — this is the main reason I have never gotten a tattoo) or is my collection deceiving me? The truth is that I very rarely, if ever, fully take stock of the books I am bringing into my home.
So, I decided to first break down what I knew of myself as a reader: I read mostly books written by women, a majority of which are young adult or nonfiction in the form of memoirs and essay collections. Consequently, I think that most of the books I own are books that I've already read (and know that I want to re-read) or books I haven't read but want to read within those two categories. Here's what I found out:
Total Number Of Books Owned: 196 (I eliminated duplicate copies of books for the purposes of these calcualtions. And when I say duplicate copies of books, I mostly mean Harry Potter books of which I own four — yes, four — different sets.)
Total Number Of Unread Books Owned: 47
OK, I have to admit that number was unexpectedly low. Only about 19% of my collection are unread books. And while I already knew that I don't buy many books, the fact that only 47 of the books on my shelves are actually shiny, new, exciting, never-before-read books? It kind of makes sense that I would gaze over 200 books and imagine I actually had a ton to read. But if I'm not looking to do a re-read, I actually only have 47 books to choose from. Still a lot, sure, but as much as I thought? Definitely not. Does this mean I need to shop more? No, probably not. But I do need to rethink where I'm looking to for next-read inspiration.
Next, I took the amount of unread books I have a broke them down further. How many of my unread books are YA or non-fiction written by women — the two categories I am, for all intents and purposes, mostly interested in reading?
Number Of Unread Books By Men: 19
Number Of Unread Books By Women: 28
And yes, this was one of the stats I was fully expecting: to have more books on my shelves by women than men. What I wasn't expecting (yet again...this will be a trend throughout this experiment) was that the numbers here would be so close. Where did I get a whole 19 books written by dudes on my shelves?! And upon closer inspection, none of them were gifted or sent to me. I actually, at some point, bought every single one of these 19 books. Clearly, despite the fact that I am always looking on my shelves for a new book by an amazing woman...there aren't as many unread as I would have imagined. But, wait, there's more weirdness to come!
Number Of Unread YA: 22
Number Of Unread Nonfiction: 9
Number Of Unread Fiction: 11
Number Of Unread Children's Books: 5
I knew I would have a lot of YA books. I included ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) in my calculations, and because I read a lot of YA for work, I tend to get sent a decent amount of advance YA for coverage. What I wasn't expecting was the next two results: I only have nine nonfiction books on deck? And I have more fiction? While I am mostly a fiction reader by nature, I definitely don't read more general fiction than non-fiction on a yearly basis. While some of this probably goes down to me actually reading the non-fiction I buy and not reading the fiction I buy, this number is still super indicative of my "I have nothing to read" thoughts.
The Final Verdict: I simply have not been keeping as close tabs on my bookshelf as I thought I was. While most of the books I own definitely reflect who I am as a reader by nature of the fact that I read them and chose to keep them...my new and incoming books collection does not reflect the reader I am right now or what I'm interested in reading in the near future. Not only will I now focus more on checking out the library for new reads and see my home shelves more as a curated collection of favorites...I think it's time to let go of some of the books I've been holding on to that just don't fit in with my reading life right now. This has definitely made me realize that I need to start monitoring my shelves like I do any other changeable aspect of my life. And if you feel like you never have anything to read — you probably should, too.