What’s Your Pie Chart?

No, I’m not going to do the same pie chart survey that nibs did for FMD a bit ago, as enjoyable as it was. I’m thinking more about the range of books we each read as individuals.

For those who contribute to the First(ish) Monday Book Day discussions, I see what you’re reading at any given moment. But how would you characterize your reading? Mostly fiction? Split between fiction and nonfiction? What type of fiction? Do you gravitate toward classics or do you seek out what’s new? Now, “all of them” is of course an acceptable answer to this question.

I’m doing a bit of traveling this month, and the other day I was telling a coworker about what books I'm taking with me. In case I finish need a break from Infinite Jest, I picked up a couple of books from the library. One is a work of young adult nonfiction about Shostakovich and the other is a non-young adult nonfiction book about the origins of the Civil Rights movement in Minnesota (non-young is totally a term, right?). My coworker commented that I seem to read a lot of nonfiction.

The conversation got me thinking about what my own reading looks like from the outside. The current batch of books is perhaps not especially representative of how I see my own reading. I found nibs’s comment in the most recent FMD about not seeking out much new music interesting--I don’t recall seeking out much in the way of reading material after the jalapeño was born, excepting books about babies, breastfeeding, sleep, and all that good stuff. My brain was just so overloaded trying to make the transition to being a parent that I couldn’t take in anything else. Meanwhile, one of my great memories of my maternity leave with the peperoncino is tearing through book after book, many of them young adult fiction.

I’m an inconsistent reader. I get ambitious, I take breaks. I get books from the library only to end up returning them on their due date not having gotten through a single page. But I also adore the experience of reading, and I get nearly as excited about talking about books as I do about reading them. (Which you can probably tell right now, as you’re silently saying, “Pepper, just wrap this damn thing up already, would you?")

The featured image for this post is a pie chart of my current reading habits. Feel free to share a pie chart of your own along with whatever it is you've been reading lately.

Fun fact: my first attempt at the pie chart added up to a total of 130%. Perhaps I need to read more books about math?

58 thoughts on “What’s Your Pie Chart?”

  1. I've read zero fiction since finishing On the Steel Breeze. I do continue to read a lot of non-fiction. Most of that consists of articles on the web. I also get two physical magazines* that I slowly read over the month. With all of this being "short" pieces, it is not very conducive to sharing on a monthly basis.

    * Scientific American and Popular Science. The latter switched to a bi-monthly schedule at the beginning of the year.

  2. Guys, venn diagrams are not the same as pie charts. I definitely haven't been reading enough books about math.

    1. If you're actually interested in books on math and graphs in particular, I would recommend Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. He argues a lot from example, so it's not filled with equations or particularly mathy, but it's interesting and I think pretty much everyone can take something away from it. I've read some of his later books and he seems to start repeating himself eventually, but the first one is very good.

      1. I'll second that recommendation, and I also needed it.
        In college, we were assigned the chapter on the Challenger Explosion and London Cholera Outbreak, and somehow were able to just by that single chapter, almost like a professional pamphlet.
        I should seek out the rest of the book.

      2. I will second the criticism too. I went to a seminar of his a few years ago in SF. Best part was a spectacular lunch I had nearby.

      3. Went to his data-show in Boston a while back - it was OK. Recently I noticed that sparklines are now available in Excel. FTW.

          1. Ah, a clear sign I am getting old--I've started to repeat myself without realizing it.

            1. You can't be old, because if you're old, what does that make me? On second thought, don't answer that.

              1. My dad always said he didn't mind getting old because he preferred it to the alternative, so I've been brainwashed into that line of thinking. 🙂

                1. And I've always corrected people that it doesn't suck getting old -- getting old is great. It's the stuff that goes with it that is less desirable.

                  1. Aye. I've been trying to get my legs back after a winter of relative inactivity (does throwing a Frisbee for the dog count as exercise?). I'm starting to think it's easier at this age to just stay in shape than get back into shape. On the bright side, I've still got decent wind and despite a lot of recent exertion, no chest pains/angina. On the dark side, the arthritis in my left knee limits my activities to those with very low impact -- walking and biking, mostly, and I've developed a shooting pain in my shoulder in a certain movement range that has me worried about a torn rotator cuff. So physically I've got some issues, but mentally and emotionally I feel better than ever.

                    1. ...mentally and emotionally I feel better than ever.

                      glad to hear this!

      4. Mr. NaCl was reading that a while back and I was a bit intimidated by it, but after I catch my breath from my current books, maybe I'll give it a try!

  3. I'm just spit-balling here:
    30% Fiction (fantasy, science fiction, supernatural fiction, classics, crime fiction, historical novels, westerns, spy fiction)
    30% Non-Fiction (military history, biographies, Essays: agrarian living, outdoors/hunting/fishing, DIY projects, gardening, home brewing)
    25% Articles & Stuff (Current events, sports, politics, foreign relations, business/econ and anything related to the non-fiction topics list)
    15% Children's literature & Picture books

    Currently reading:
    The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization by Thomas Friedman
    The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry
    -and just opening-
    The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

    1. for me, probably about 75 percent "Articles & Stuff", with the balance divided pretty evenly between nonfiction and sci-fi/fantasy.

  4. I would say I read about 90/10 nonfiction/fiction.

    Within the fiction it's one new novel each year that randomly intrigued me based on its reviews (last was Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers) while the rest are "classics" I never got around to before (recently on a Philip Roth kick, before that was great Russian stuff like Tolstoy).

    Nonfiction is mostly history and biographies with a few baseball books sprinkled in. I get on history topic kicks sometimes and really focus on a theme like The Civil War, but usually I just bounce around to whatever book interests me that I can quickly get from the library when I need a new one.

    1. From Goodreads, 90 of 368 books I've logged have been fiction. I've logged 115 as American History, 79 as having to do with the 1950-1970s, 35 with Presidents, 50 with biography, and 65 with baseball.

      While that means about 25% of books are fiction, I would still wager that fewer than 10% of pages are fiction.

      1. I should note than American history post-WWII though Watergate fascinates me. So much was happening both internationally and domestically. It still is amazing to me to think that my f-i-l grew up in New Orleans during the Civil Rights Movement. I think my generation doesn't grasp just how recently it occurred.

  5. Imagine a Pie that's
    75% Field Guides and similar books that don't really count as field guides (nonfiction reference books about nature):
        65% to birds
        5% to mushrooms
        5% others: plants (trees, flowers, edible plants), nonavian vertebrates (mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish), rocks and minerals, arthropods, mollusks, (more?)
    16% Children's Books:
        7% Children's picture books to my children
        5% Children's chapter books to my children (currently, Stuart Little, which I've never read)
        4% Children's books to myself (to see what my kids are reading)
    5% Scouting handbooks (I am the Den Leader)
    3.5% Adult nonfiction, almost exclusively parenting, relationships, or religious, based on my wife handing it to me
    0.5% The Goldfinch

    1. That's books reading.
      I'm not going to add up things I read on the internet, newspapers, and magazines.
      (Note: newspapers and magazines completely also on the internet except my son's Boy's Life and the monthly missal.)

      Also includes studying photos, paintings, and drawings in those books as reading.
      So really it's "looking at and/or reading books".

    2. Purchased last week...
      Sébastien Reeber's Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide, a hardcover book that was just published, because free shipping and 35% off.
      Part of the Helm/Princeton bird family series that's been built for 30+ years, and of which I have a good number. This is the first I've bought new. It's much more obviously a new publication, because, although there are color plates at the front, there are color photos throughout. One of the big advances here are some minute differences in very similar and recently-split ducks, like Velvet and Black Scoters, or even between subspecies of Brant and Bean Geese. Sounds like Reeber's put in one place for the first time much of what's known about Anseriform hybridization. As I've encountered two hybrid ducks already this year, I was very curious to see what there is out there. (Mallard x American Black Duck and Mallard x Gadwall.) Disappointment: I hoped the hybrid illustrations would also show the wings. The half-white speculum of my Mallard x Gadwall was the clinching piece of that ID.

      The Shorebird Guide by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson. This was Crossley's first book, even though it's not part of his ID Guide series, it works similarly, but without the composite photos to train the reader/looker into ID by gestalt (or "GISS": General Impression of Size and Shape, pronounced and often written the way that would be funniest: "jizz"), including scattered quizzes. The book's laid out much like a traditional pictures-and-text book: Plates up front, text in the back. I should have had this book before I went to South Carolina. I think I would like a Crossley ID Guide: shorebirds book better, but I doubt that's high on his list as this one's still out there. (Next: Waterfowl and Western US.)

      Gerard Gorman's Woodpeckers of the World: A Photographic Guide because free shipping and 70% off. I like the Helm series better, but this is pretty cool: seeing photos of every woodpecker found in the world. I'll still get the Helm guide when I can find it cheap enough. Sonograms would be good for drumming and calls, I think.
      Note: I just discovered that the British publication of this is part of a series called "Helm Photographic Guides". I wonder if Christopher Helm has the Queen's authority to be the only publisher of bird books in the United Kingdom.

  6. Checking the spreadsheet, I find...

    Since 2010 (about 400 books)

    Fiction - 74% (Novels - 62%, Short Story Collections - 12%)
    Non-Fiction - 13%
    Graphic Novels/Comics - 7%
    Poetry - 5%

    I tend to read a lot of new fiction - just under 60% of all the books I read in that timespan have been fiction published in the last 10 years (since 2007).

    1. I was going to comment about you having a spreadsheet, but then I realized most of my reading has been logged on Goodreads, so I could pull the same data if I wanted.

      1. I have Goodreads and Google Doc spreadsheets. Though I'm sure they aren't as full as either of your two's are.

        1. I'm going back and updating my spreadsheet through old First Book Monday posts, so if anyone else is similarly inclined their data could be here.

      2. The spreadsheet is a stolen and modified Google Doc from someone who was using it to track their 52 books in 52 weeks challenge. I've been slowly adding things over the last 5 or 6 years. It's gotten pretty large.

  7. I missed the last book post, so this is a two-month update. I finished Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, and I really liked it. It's got a kind of anecdata style to it that is interesting and I found most of his points to be pretty compelling. Mainly it got me to thinking about death, which I usually like to think about as much as I like to think about taxes.

    I had a couple chapters in Timothy Egan's The Good Rain to finish up, and I finally got around to it. I'm not sure what that book would mean to me if I hadn't spent time in Washington State, but I thought it was an interesting survey of the region with a focus on the history of the environment and related politics.

    Then I moved on to Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. I'd previously read The Road, so I sort of knew what I was getting into, but having now read both, I enjoyed preferred reading Blood Meridian. I liked it, but it was a dark book. I don't think Cormac McCarthy is much fun at parties.

    I think I might have gotten more from it if I could read Spanish, but I also wonder if partly the Spanish was included as an element of realism--settlers at the time would not have been fluent in Spanish when they got there, so at times they would not have understood what people around them were saying. So I read through it, trying to understand those passages, but not running to Google Translate. On second read, should I feel like wading through the bloodshed again, it would probably be interesting to use something like Google Translate to see if that really changes anything.

    I started For Whom The Bell Tolls, meaning to get through it by the time I was in Barcelona, but fell woefully short. I'm not too far in, but I think I'll like it better than I've liked reading Hemingway before. I really was not a fan of The Sun Also Rises, but I think I was also short on the life experiences that might help you appreciate a book like that. Then again, maybe I just don't like Hemingway. Hopefully I'll get back into reading on the bus, I kind of enjoyed a short break from it.

    1. "Blood Meridian" is the third McCarthy book I'd read, after "No Country" and "The Road". Man, bleak doesn't even begin to describe it, even for him.

      I really enjoy Hemingway. Re: "FWTBT"(but really, fill in any title here)

      Actual Spoiler SelectShow


    2. I read Blood Meridian last year - my take, followed by some compelling lectures shared by DG.

      I must not have contributed to FMBD, but at some point this spring I read McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses and found it much less bleak and disquieting than Blood. Compared to everything else I've read of his, it's probably the most linear and accessible, or perhaps the least unconventional, of his works. Probably my favorite McCarthy protagonist as well.


      ...got me to thinking about death, which I usually like to think about as much as I like to think about taxes.

      A little Robinson Crusoe/Ben Franklin humor? I like it.

      1. I did read with a Spanish-English dictionary on the table beside me and, where it seemed a passage was especially important, I stopped long enough to at least get a sense of what was being said. The process wasn't ideal.

        Your thought about it contributing an element of realism was something I hadn't considered but it makes a lot of sense.

      2. Thanks for the heads up. I started reading more around January, so I'm sure I've missed a lot from earlier discussions. I'll have to check out All the Pretty Horses at some point. I feel like I appreciate McCarthy's style--what he writes flows well and I find the language very evocative--but I might like it even more in something less bleak.

      3. I liked All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing a bit less, and haven't made it to whatever CM has in store in Cities of the Plains. The only other I've read is The Road but Blood Meridian is on my to read list.

        1. I'm looking forward The Crossing, but apparently, I'm not a good planner as I've now read at least the first of: The Dark Tower series, The Border Trilogy, The Ender Quintet, The Hornblower Saga and O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin books and, save Hornblower, also possess whatever's next in the series.

          I have a real Love/Hate relationship with Half-Priced Books.

          1. Hornblower's awesome, and also fun on AMC with Ioan Gruffudd.

            Aubrey/Maturin way better in the books than on the screen - they boiled down three or four of O'Brian's jewels into The Far Side of The World.

            1. I'm not as down on the movie, although it shortchanged the home front and Maturin's spy angle, but it did give a nice feel for the storytelling. Making the Acheron French was a cop-out though.

        2. The Road was soul-sucking and I wish I could un-read it. Also José Saramago's Blindness.

          1. Maybe it was due to expectations, but I had the exact opposite reaction to The Road. I thought it was an inspiring story about a man's love for his son.

              1. I think my expectations were so low that I was prepared for the bleakness and could focus on the other parts. I had the book for over a year before I finally cracked a page.

                1. IMHO You can't mix familial love and cannibalism in the same work.

      4. I was gonna say CMcC must be a C93 fan, but it turns out the CMcC book precedes the C93 album by 4 years.
        My favorite take on the song is Coil, live:

    3. I read Gawande's Complications in law school. I did a lot of research/writing on health law back then.

      I cannot recommend "The Bell Curve" highly enough. Particularly so because Dr. Warwick was my sister Anna's doctor for her childhood years. There is so much in this one article. Well, well, worth the read.

    4. Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms is a must-read. I actually got to visit the bunkers in the Dolomites this last year where the Austrians and Italians would lob shells back and forth on each other. And on an earlier trip, stayed at the Borromees hotel by Stresa, where in the book, our hero rows a boat up to Switzerland at night. IMO, the non-plausable device in this book (and in On The Road by J.K.) was how they got some uncle/aunt to keep wiring them money with little explanation.

      1. Oh man, On The Road. There's a book where I just didn't feel like I could relate to any of the characters.

    5. I think I was also short on the life experiences that might help you appreciate a book like that

      I started reading For Whom the Bell Tolls at some point in my late teenage years but didn't get all that far. I didn't want to read about war and the female character the protagonist gets involved with (I think he called her his "little rabbit"?) annoyed me. I would be curious to revisit the book now, however, given how short I was on life experiences at the time I first tried to read the book.

      1. I'm not very far in yet, but the book does not seem to have very progressive views on women.

        1. Two things you can count on with Hemingway - less-then-enlightened views towards women and unhappy endings. I still love his prose, but often find myself shaking my head as I read.

  8. I'm like 80% fiction, 20% nonfiction for book reading, but that's been trending more towards 60/40 lately. I am like 80% online articles/20% books over the past few years. I always mean to rectify that, but haven't.

    1. Sadly I'm about 98%/2% on-line articles to books at this point. I started Order of the Phoenix two months ago and I'm all like tl;dr whenever I think about it. My attention span has gone to hell with smartphones.

  9. I've been bad about keeping my GoodReads up to date so I'm not sure what my pie chart currently is; I tend to oscillate between NF and F for long spells.

    If I had to guess I'm probably 60/40 NF/F but if page numbers matter its likely more 70 Fiction 30 Non-fiction.

    That is only for books. I read all day (mostly) for work, the balance of which is online, but that would only skew the numbers.

  10. Fun post, Pepper.

    about Shostakovich Am reading Julian Barnes The Noise Of Time about Shostakovich. I'm at the point in the book where they have just performed his first opera (Lady Macbeth of Mtsense District) - Stalin was in the audience, and left after the 3rd scene, and now Dimitri Dimitriyevitch is waiting by the lift at night for the NKVD to take him away. В гостя́х хорошо́, а до́ма лу́чше.

    Re: reading pie: 75% fiction (of late, catching up - Joyce, Pynchon, Mann, Camus - mostly classical), catch the Man Booker prizers, sucker for A. Perez-Reverte/O'Brien/Furst/Cornwall. The Economist. Random picks from the library.

  11. The Sympathizer - by Viet Thanh Nguyen
    I had just finished this book about a week before it was announced as the Pulitzer Prize winner. It's a really good book. The main character is complicated and constantly trying to straddle the line between how he is presenting himself and what he actually believes. The narrator is a North Vietnamese spy who has been living in America only to be captured as part of an invasion scout team of South Vietnamese. So. Layers abound and the whole thing comes together really nicely. Highly recommended.

    A Manual for Cleaning Women - by Lucia Berlin (short stories)
    If you like short stories, then you should read this collection. They are roughly autobiographical and they tend to just kind of dissipate into their endings. After reading a bunch of these you start to feel like the endings work the way they do because the stories and the world they are set in just keeps going even after you stop reading about them. It's only because of Berlin that we get a glimpse. I really loved this book (it was recommended to me by Kelly Link - I loved her story collection Get in Trouble as well).

    Signs Preceding the End of the World - by Yuri Herrera
    A short novella, translated from Spanish, this tells the story of a border crossing from Mexico to the US. It was spare, slangy, and poetic. The woman narrator navigates the Mexican Underworld and America equally smoothly and assuredly. The cover and the title caught my eye when this book appeared on some list somewhere online, and I'm really glad I picked it up and read it.

    A Darker Shade of Magic - by V. E. Schwab
    Perfectly good fantasy. I loved the idea of four different Londons linked by magic but unaware of each other (kind of like a platform 9 3/4 situation, but less whimsical than the Potterverse). That setting made most of the first two-thirds of the book fly by as all the characters are introduced (this is book 1 of a trilogy, which occasionally becomes obvious) and the conflict is set up. The ending wasn't what I had hoped, so I left a little disappointed, but it was a good enough read. I'll probably grab book 2 at some point.

    All the Birds in the Sky - by Charlie Jane Anders
    I've liked a lot of Anders' short stories, but this was just OK. Characters are pretty broad and the final resolution of the conflict is ... mostly unbelievable. Still Anders is a playful writer, so it had its fun moments.

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