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The Sunday Salon: A Reading Balancing Act

The Sunday Salon.comSince August is three-fourths of the way through the year, it makes sense to do some bookish stats updates. But instead of doing and entire breakdown of genre, book source, author gender, year, and everything else, I just want to look at something I’ve been curious about: my ratio of fiction to nonfiction and how that’s changed through the year.

At the end of August, I’d read 74 books total. That puts me on pace to read 100 books this year. It’s above where I was last year at this time (72 books), but in 2010 I ended up reading 109 books total. So if past trends continue, my reading could speed up in the fall and put me over the 100 books for the year mark.

Over the first nine months of 2011, my fiction/nonfiction ratio breaks down like this:

Genre Books Read    Percentage  
Fiction 27  36%
Nonfiction    47  64%
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That number is pretty much on par with what I might expect. Last year, I read about 60 percent nonfiction, 40 percent fiction. I think it’s more interesting if you break it down and look at the ratios for January through May compared to June through August:

Genre Books Read    Percentage  
(January – May)
11 23%
(January – May)
36 77%
(June – August)
16 59%
(June – August)
11 41%
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The beginning of the year, my reading was skewing really, really far towards nonfiction — more than 75% of my book choices were memoir, literary journalism, or straight nonfiction. But this summer, I’ve skewed pretty far back in the other direction, reading a lot more fiction than nonfiction.

I’d have to be more awake and have a better grasp of statistical analysis to break down the info I have on my books any further and try to find a mathematical correlation between genre and some other factor. For now, I can only venture a few guesses as to why this might be the case.

The Review Copies

At some point, I made a decision to only accept nonfiction review copies from publishers. I know that’s arbitrary, but it made sense to me at the time. I get a fair number of offers for review copies, and I’m tempted by a lot of them because so many books look amazing. Deciding to only accept nonfiction was a sort of defense mechanism — it was easy to ignore pitches for fiction because my review policy says I read mostly nonfiction.

The result of that was that I ended up with a huge stack of nonfiction books “for review consideration,” and I felt (well, feel) like those books should have a priority in my reading. I suspect if I broke it down, my review copy ratio for the beginning of the year would be really high when compared to the number of my own books I read.

The Move

At the beginning of July, I found out a job in my dream field was opening up. However, taking that job would mean picking up my life in Madison and moving to a very small town in rural Minnesota. Ever since then, my life has been in a state of physical and emotional upheaval, and I found myself getting pulled towards reading fiction (and watching A LOT of television).

The best explanation I can come up with is that reading fiction felt easier than nonfiction. Because this blog is mostly nonfiction, I feel less pressure to do in-depth reviews of fiction titles. When I read nonfiction, I take a lot of notes and think about the books more seriously. I take fewer notes with fiction — mostly just passages I love, feelings I have — and so they just feel like less work. I can just be a reader, not a reviewer or blogger.

The Community

Reading nonfiction can feel isolating sometimes. I love the book blogging community — as fractured and enormous as it’s become — and like being able to converse with other bloggers about some of the big, popular, and amazing books that are out there right now. It just happens that a lot of the conversation seems to be about fiction.

Most of the fiction I’ve been reading has been copies I picked up or received because of BEA, so they’re big buzz, popular titles: Domestic Violets by Matthew Normal, The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta, and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, to name just a few. I haven’t reviewed any of them yet, but feeling like part of the conversation for once has felt nice.

I’m not complaining. Part of the reason for starting BAND was to bring together the community of nonfiction readers, and it’s my own fault I haven’t reached out more with that (see The Move as my big excuse). But I am feeling motivated to do more with that, so maybe BAND will help widen the nonfiction love a bit more.

And So It Goes…

I’m really not sure how the rest of this year is going to play out, reading wise. Maybe now that my fiction reading binge has brought my reading back into the 60 percent nonfiction, 40 percent fiction range, I’ll feel like picking up nonfiction again.

For all that analysis, I wonder if this summer was just my brain reminding me to keep balance in my reading life and let myself read what I want to be reading rather than what some arbitrary obligations dictate. That might be my favorite explanation of all.

Do you ever find yourself being pulled to read books or genres that you normally aren’t interested in? How do you balance the different genres in your reading life? Now that fall has arrived, do you think your reading will change?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kailana September 4, 2011, 8:54 am

    I actually am disappointed about the amount of non-fiction I have read the last couple years. I normally read a lot of it, but I think because of the library I have been cutting back. I hate reading non-fiction on a schedule, so a lot of what I do get from the library I never actually read… I am doing a bit better with reading my own books this year, so hopefully 2012 will bring more non-fiction into the mix. I have plenty!

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:15 pm

      I’m the same way with the library. Once it gets here, I always seem to ignore it even if it’s a book I’ve wanted to read for awhile.

  • Amy September 4, 2011, 9:15 am

    Yay for more nonfiction community 🙂 I bet my reader skews like that too by month, I might have to check that out! Really interesting, and your reasons for it make a lot of sense. I find it hard with blogging to avoid some of the hyped books and young adult books that I wouldn’t be reading at all if it weren’t for blogging. I only really started reading any amount of young adult lit just before I started blogging by which point I’d been following other blogs for some time. Odd right?

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:16 pm

      The only YA I’ve really gotten sucked into because of blogging was The Hunger Games series and some John Green. Most of the bloggers I read regularly don’t do a lot of YA, so it doesn’t tempt me as much. But I definitely see the connection!

  • Jillian September 4, 2011, 9:22 am

    I’m definitely feeling like I’ll be reading more novels, and heavier novels, once fall and winter hit. I’m not sure why. The Victorians are calling!

    If you like nonfiction, you might Google the Past as Prologue blog — dedicated fully to non-fiction. (I’d offter the link, but that might send this comment to Spam.) 🙂

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:17 pm

      The Victorians just seem so winter-y though, don’t they?

      I tried Googling the blog you mentioned and didn’t find it? Maybe leave the link if you get a chance 🙂

  • Gwen September 4, 2011, 10:21 am

    It really is hard to feel like part of the community when the majority of what you read is nonfiction. I often find myself reading some of the big buzz fiction just so that I can know what the “cool kids” are talking about! Usually, that isn’t a bad thing though.

    The other problem with nonfiction is that there are so many genres/types. (just like fiction I guess) Even when you find others who read NF, they don’t read the same books you do….grr.

    I like the idea of only reading and possibly accepting pitches for NF. It would save me a lot of time and heartache!

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:19 pm

      It is like getting in the convo with the cool kids 🙂 It’s funny to feel that way about books.

      I’ve often wondered if you can get the same sort of feeling in fiction (not finding people who read your particular niche of fiction), or if nonfiction reading is somehow different? Maybe I just haven’t met my nonfiction soulmate yet 🙂

  • Erin September 4, 2011, 3:04 pm

    What an interesting post based on such a seemingly simple statistic. I like your decision with respect to review copies. Actually, I sometimes feel review copies in general pull me away from what I really want to be reading, and I’ve been considering not accepting any for a while as an experiment. The pull of what is already on my shelves is getting too strong!

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:20 pm

      Thank you! When I started the post, I wasn’t sure what I might discover about my reading. I’ve been thinking about not taking review copies for awhile as well. I actually haven’t accepted many recently, and I think it is helping with the couple shelves I already have.

  • Anastasia September 4, 2011, 3:40 pm

    Sometimes I feel the need to read paranormal romance, even though normally I hate it. I’m not sure why; maybe because I keep hoping the next time I read a PNR it’ll be a really awesome one instead of just mediocre. I like the idea of a PNR, it’s just that usually the execution is really annoying.

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:21 pm

      I can see that happening with a certain genre or even a certain author. I can’t give you any good PNR recommendations 🙂

  • christa @ mental foodie September 4, 2011, 4:55 pm

    I was reading about 75% NF for a couple of years… then I started blogging, and saw all the recommendations for fiction, and I started reading fiction more (I used to read pretty much murder/mystery only). Also, as work get really busy, I read fiction since I don’t have to “think” as much, so I read to escape, instead of learn (from NF). I am hoping this will be a 50-50 year, but I am still reading a lot more fiction. I have now decided I don’t really care about the %, I will just read what I want to read, depending on my mood.

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:21 pm

      I think I am having the same sort of “thinking” reaction to fiction v. nonfiction — especially with the move, I just didn’t want to think much at all.

  • Sheila (Book Journey) September 4, 2011, 9:08 pm

    I find myself reading more and more non fiction… I think it would be interesting to see how my books are – non fiction vs. fiction… I am also excited about BAND! 🙂

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:22 pm

      Yay, more nonfiction! Let me know if you want some recommendations.

  • Violet September 5, 2011, 3:49 am

    I know what you mean when you say reviewing non-fiction is easier than fiction. I love non-fiction too but I cannot read the same genre day after day even if I like it a lot.

    74 books is awesome. I will have to count how many I’ve read.

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:22 pm

      Yes, it’s hard to read the same sort of thing over and over. I don’t think i realized how much nonfiction I was reading until the summer when I started to change things up a bit more.

  • Savvy Working Gal September 5, 2011, 5:06 pm

    I find myself reading more and more nonfiction. Now that I have discovered BAND (great idea by the way) I have added even more nonfiction titles to my TBR list. I would like to try science fiction and have a list of fiction books as well, but since I prefer to blog about nonfiction my nonfiction TBR list always wins out.

    • Kim September 5, 2011, 9:23 pm

      I think that is exactly why, until recently, my nonfiction TBR was always winning — I needed to feed the blog and nonfiction was/is more my style to write interesting things about. But even with a change in reading habits, the blog still exists, so maybe we should all feel less pressure 🙂

  • Rebecca Reid September 7, 2011, 6:25 pm

    I really miss nonfiction in my normal reading fare. It’s been steadily declining since I started blogging…and now I feel like I have no time to read at all, so not sure how to work it back in. I do love it, at least I can still participate in BAND discussions when I can, huh. And somehow, I’ll get in the nonfiction groove again…

    • Kim September 7, 2011, 9:01 pm

      It’s hard to make time for nonfiction when reading time is short. I tend to get through fiction faster, so it sometimes gets harder to do nonfiction. I am glad the BAND discussions so far are open for people who love nonfiction, whether or not they’re reading a lot at the moment.