Back when I was a kid, I used to read a LOT of books. Then, over the last couple of years, movies and TV series somehow stole the thunder, and with it, my attention. I did read a few odd books here and there but not with the same ferocity I used to before. I could also feel my attention span dwindling so I had trouble reading longer/slower paced books. It was always easier to consume media to satiate my curiosity and experience something new especially with the rise of beautiful video essays.
Everything changed this year. I learned to let go of the expectation of finishing a book and go back to why I enjoyed reading them in the first place. As a consequence, I’ve read more books in the first 6 months of this year than I have in the last 4 years. This led me to questions about my reading patterns. How have they evolved over time? What were my favourite genres?
I already knew these answers for movies. I’ve been on Letterboxd for a long time. For the uninitiated, Letterboxd is the better version of IMDb. It’s a site with great design, awesome rating system, and has a great community of people who love movies and make brilliant lists. Above all of these though, the thing I love most is their stats page. A quick glance shows me that I’ve watched movies from 47 countries and my most-watched director, to my absolute dismay, is David Dhawan.
I wanted something similar for books. My first stop was Goodreads but their stats page was nowhere as good as Letterboxd. I did some more research and came across The StoryGraph. It’s a new site that’s in beta but shows much promise. Each book is tagged with parameters like “mood” and “pace” of the book which they consider while giving personalised recommendations. Think of Spotify’s Echonest algorithm but for books. The nerd in me was delighted.
I logged as many books as I could (a paltry 168) and imported it into The StoryGraph. They have their own stats page which gave me ideas to create new visualisations. I reached out to Nadia from The StoryGraph and she sent me a dump of all of the data that I had logged even though the feature is not open to public yet (thanks Nadia!).
A quick word about the data. I have not logged any comics I’ve read yet. Two reasons why:
- I’ve read too many (at least 800 issues of Batman, 300 issues of The Flash, 100 issues of Tinkle, etc.) and logging them is going to take some time.
- Secondly, this would massively skew my data so I’ve not added them as yet. I logged in almost every book I could remember reading.
The Surface Dive
For the first one, I bucketed books into three - <300 pages, 300-500 pages, 500 pages+ to see their progression over time. I started out with a lot of small books and then when I finished my board exams, I read a LOT of large books for the next couple of years. Then I started working and still read a lot of medium sized books. Over the last couple years, I’ve gone back to reading a lot of small and medium-sized books and I hope to read a large book soon.
I then charted pace of the books I’ve read. I’ve always gone for fast-paced books and they make up majority of the books I’ve read. However, I’ve always consistently read slow paced books as well and I was really surprised to find that almost all the books I’ve read this year are slow-paced.
I already knew the fiction/non-fiction divide. I’ve always preferred fiction and even scoffed most times at non-fiction. I knew I’ve read a lot of non-fiction recently but was surprised to find that all the books I’ve read this year are non-fiction, including the book I’m currently reading.
The Entire History
The breakouts were cool but I wanted to see my entire history using a single visualisation. Also, since there are multiple genres of a novel, I’ve tagged each book with a “main” genre for this visualisation. This took some time since there are some books that gave me sleepless nights. Is Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveller’s Wife romance, or sci-fi? How about Vikas Swarup’s Q&A? What even is Old Man and the Sea?
Enter the below visualisation. It looks like a sankey diagram but is spiritually a parallel sets plot. Hover on any of the years to see all the attributes of the books I’ve read in the year. The genres on the right are ordered by appearance in which I first read them.
I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy but was very surprised that I hadn’t picked any fantasy book up until very late into my reading years. Once I did, I was unstoppable. 2004 was entirely thriller & fantasy!
I still wanted to see all the genres I’ve read across the years so made the titular “Landscape of Literature” for genres. The graph at the beginning of the article is exactly that, but while it looks pretty it's not the best for analysis, which is why the Ridgeline Plot is a better option. I’ve accounted for multiple genres of the same book in this visualisation.
Adventure was a huge theme when I began (Journey to Center of the Earth, Treasure Island) before reading a lot of mystery books (Secret Seven, Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew). Then graduated to fantasy (LOTR, Harry Potter). The spike of mystery, history, and thrillers starting from 2003 can be attributed to The Da Vinci code and all the books similar to it that I read. Fantasy then makes a comeback because of A Song of Ice and Fire and continues almost through the whole decade. A big twist was Sci-Fi; for a genre that I love so much, I’ve read surprisingly few. In the last couple of years, non-fiction genres like design and business have been surging owing to a lot of reference books I’ve been reading and catching up on.
My last visualisation deals with the moods associated with the books I’ve read. Although adventure as a genre tapered out in my childhood, almost all the books I’ve read are adventurous in spirit. The second prominent set are dark, mysterious, and tense books that almost increase in frequency on cue as lighthearted tapers off.
That's a walk through the history of my reading so far. Feel free to linger around and dive into the data.
I still have multiple improvements planned for this and more ways to dig into data - author diversity, book formats, the difference between my "Read" and "Want to Read" lists, etc. I also want to make this a real-time dynamic page à la Letterboxd. Let's see how I get along with that a month or two from now.
If you have any suggestions please feel free to drop them in! You could have insights slightly different than mine so please feel free to leave them in too.