A new year means new blogging features, or at least it does around the afthead parts. Today, I’d like to introduce you to “Afthead Reads.” This is a totally self serving new feature, because I’ve always wanted to keep track of how many books I read in a year, but can’t handle another social media time sucker like Goodreads. So, I made a new page on my site to keep track of my annual reading. You can access it by clicking “Reading” on the top navigation. Inside you’ll find a low tech list displaying the name of the book, the date I finished the book, and a rating from one to five asterisks, where five is good and one is bad. If there is no date and no rating then I’m still reading the book.
My reading is categorized into:
- Read – these are books I actually read in my head all by myself.
- Listen – these are audiobooks I’ve listened to in their entirety.
- Read Aloud – these are books that I read to my daughter.
I count all of the above methods as legitimate book reading, but if you disagree with me there are subtotals on each category to make adjusting my reading totals easier. Now, the caveats:
- First, any book I finished this year is counted, so even things I started back in December count toward 2017. I do this because unquestionably I will start a book in December, which I won’t finish so things will mostly even out.
- Second, I only include entire books I read. If I don’t finish it, or just page through it, it doesn’t count.
- Finally, the books I read my daughter which are completed in a single session also aren’t included. The kid books have to be at least a three night activity.
How am I doing so far? In January I read 11 books. Wondering if that’s a lot or a little I turned to my friends at Pew Research Center to learn more. There I learned that:
“Americans read an average (mean) of 12 books per year, while the typical (median) American has read 4 books in the last 12 months. Each of these figures is largely unchanged since 2011, when Pew Research Center first began conducting surveys of Americans’ book reading habits….”
This was eventually fascinating to me, after I did some web searching to remind myself what mean and median are. The mean is just all the books read divided by the number of people who read the books, while the median is the middle number in the range of books read by people. So say five people read 1, 2, 4, 11 and 42 books in January. The median would be 4 (just like above) and the mean would be 12 (just like above). I don’t really get medians, unless I think hard about them. For this study, I’m assuming they present the median because it shows that there are big outliers in the data, like the 42 above. More about that later. For now I’m sticking with the tried and true mean or average for my next analysis. On average Americans read 12 books a year? I had no idea the number was so low. Because I’m a super dork I dug into my specific demographics from the study and found:
Women: 15 books in 12 months
White: 14 books in 12 months
30-49: 14 books in 12 months
College +: 17 books in 12 months
So if I continue at my current pace I will have read 132 books this year. Even compared to the average college educated person that’s a crazy ton of books. Now maybe January was a fluke for me, and maybe I’m reading dumb young adult books (I am) so that pace might slow down during the year, but the truth of the matter is that I have already read more books this year than the annual average for a person, white person, or 30-49 year old person, and by the end of the week I will have tied the annual woman number.
Now I’m annoyed. Really, why can’t there be a reading Olympics? Maybe I could medal, or at least make the national team, or get an invite to try out? If I was able to participate in a sport at this level, I imagine I’d be pretty good, but no one other that Pew seems to be evaluating all us readers.
Back to the super interesting math. Considering I’m one of those outlier readers that made the Pew folks present a median value, now I’m more interested in the median. For grins, let’s take my range from before and throw in my estimated 132 books in as the top value, so now we have 1, 2, 4, 11, 132 as our range of numbers. Now the mean (average) jumps from 12 to 30, but the median (middle number) is still 4. What?!? Isn’t that amazing? So knowing the median really helps you know that there are some big numbers at the top of this range, even if you didn’t know the numbers in the range. For the Pew study, I don’t know how many books each of the 1,520 readers read, but I do know that 625 of the people interviewed only read 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 books, because of the median value. That’s a lot of people who didn’t read much. It also makes me wonder if within the Pew range of 1,520 interviewees I might not even be an Olympic caliber reader because they have a pretty large sample size. I bet there are some big numbers at the top of the range to bring up 625 not-readers and to a mean of 12. The more values you have in a range the harder it is to increase the mean. But I wonder. Are those big estimates really accurate? How many super readers are keeping a detailed tally of their annual book consumption?
Uh, wait… have I lost you? Are you shaking your head and saying “Johanna, this is a reading blog post! What the heck is up with all these numbers?!?! You tricked me!” Sorry about that. Anywhoo, if you are looking for good book recommendations you can always check out my new page and find the five asterisk books. (And if anyone hears about a secret reading Olympics, please let me know. I think I’ve got a shot. If you are a big reader too also let me know. Maybe we can train together in a book club.)
Thanks to Unsplash for the image!