Year in Review

2021 Reading Goals and TBR Sketch

I started 2020 with the goal of reading 25 books and participating in r/Fantasy’s bingo challenge for the first time. I considered that ambitious, not having hit 20 books in a year since I was ten years-old and crushing a new middle-grade series every month. But 365 days and one global pandemic later, I’ve read 70 different novels or novellas and am two books away from finishing my second bingo card. Oh yeah, and I started a book blog. I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect a continuation of last year’s lockdown-aided pace, but I think I’m in a position to set minimum goals that would’ve seemed wildly ambitious last year and stretch goals (that admittedly are wildly ambitious now—at least taken as a unit) that would’ve seemed laughable. So here’s what I’m thinking for 2021.

Backlist

In 2020, I read 37 standalones or series-starters released in 2018 or before from traditional or small press publishers. I’m not even going to try to hit that number again, because I’ve signed up for Hugo voting this year and need to devote a good chunk of reading time to newer releases. But the TBR is still pretty long on slightly older novels that I’ve heard are great and haven’t gotten to yet. And in 2020, I started building a collection of older books that weren’t available at the local library, so even when I limited to books I already own, the TBR includes:

  • Mort by Terry Pratchett
  • Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells
  • Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman
  • Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr
  • The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn
  • Transformation by Carol Berg
  • The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer
  • The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts
  • Daughter of the Empire by Janny Wurts and Raymond E. Feist
  • Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott
  • Jaran by Kate Elliott
  • The Hidden City by Michelle West
  • The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly
  • A Sorcerer’s Treason by Sarah Zettel
  • Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel
  • The Merro Tree by Katie Whitman

There are also a ton of authors that I’ve heard great things about but have never read at all, including Becky Chambers, Katherine Addison, Tade Thompson, Max Gladstone, and Robert Jackson Bennett. And there’s whatever else catches my eye over the course of the year, because TBRs are not exactly known to shrink. Suffice to say, there are a lot of options here.

Minimum 2021 goal: 10 standalones or series-starters released in 2018 or before by traditional or small press publishers, not including DNFs. At least five of these come from the list of books I already own.

Stretch 2021 goal: 20 standalones or series-starters released in 2018 or before by traditional or small press publishers, including DNFs at 25% or later.

New Releases

In 2020, I read six standalones or series starters released in 2019 or 2020 by traditional or small press publishers. I plan on shifting a significant amount of reading time to this category in 2021. I don’t have as complete a TBR here, although I do have a library hold on The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. I imagine this category will be determined significantly by reviews and award nominations I see in 2021.

Minimum 2021 goal: 10 standalones or series-starters released in 2020 or 2021 by traditional or small press publishers, not including DNFs.

Stretch 2021 goal: 20 standalones or series-starters released in 2020 or 2021 by traditional or small press publishers, including DNFs at 25% or later.

Self-Published

In 2020, I read 12 self-published standalones or series-starters. I’ve let my Kindle Unlimited subscription lapse, so I probably won’t invest quite as heavily into this category in 2021, but there are some self-published books I already own that I’m very interested in reading this year, including:

  • They Mostly Come Out at Night by Benedict Patrick
  • The Nothing Within by Andy Giesler
  • The Woven Ring by M.D. Presley
  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

I also plan on continuing to follow The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and checking out anything that catches my eye. Right now, I’m definitely intrigued by The Lost War and its 9.25 score through the first two judges.

Minimum 2021 goal: 5 self-published standalones or series-starters, not including DNFs.

Stretch 2021 goal: 10 self-published standalones or series-starters, including DNFs at 25% or later.

Sequels

In 2020, I read 15 sequels and left myself dangling off even more cliffs. Some of my favorites from late 2019 and 2020 were part of series that I haven’t yet finished, including:

  • The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham (read 3 of 4)
  • The Books of Babel by Josiah Bancroft (read 2 of 4)
  • The Inda Quartet by Sherwood Smith (read 2 of 4)
  • The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (6th will be released in 2021)
  • The Steerswoman Series by Rosemary Kirstein (read 3 of the 4 published)
  • The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold (read 2 of 4)
  • The Chasing Graves Trilogy by Ben Galley (read 1 of 3)
  • The Area X Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (read 1 of 3)
  • The Children of Time Duology by Adrian Tchaikovsky (read 1 of 2)

And that list doesn’t include books that I liked and have been told improve as the series progresses, like

  • The Six of Crows Duology (read 1 of 2)
  • The Machineries of the Empire by Yoon Ha Lee (read 1 of 3)
  • The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (read 1 of 3)
  • The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (read 1 of 9)
  • The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (read 1 of 17)

So yeah, there’s a lot that I want to finish.

Minimum 2021 goal: 10 sequels, not including DNFs.

Stretch 2021 goal: 20 sequels, not including DNFs.

Diversity

In 2020, I read 53 different authors, 33 of which were women and 11 of which were people of color. If my shelf of already owned books is any indication, I don’t expect that continuing to read women will be much of a problem in 2021, although I’ll include a minimum goal just to ensure I don’t backslide. However, I would like to address the disproportionate whiteness of the books I read and recommend, particularly the dearth of men of color I noticed when analyzing my recommendations.

The TBR is not quite as rich here, which is why I’m making this my most ambitious minimum goal, relative to what I read last year or have on the docket going into 2021. That said, I have had Tade Thompson, Tasha Suri, Karin Lowachee, and Rebecca Roanhorse on my radar for a while, and it’s probably time to try another book by Victor LaValle (I loved The Ballad of Black Tom) and Nnedi Okorafor (I liked Binti, though I was not wowed). I’ve also recently seen glowing reviews for Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown, and Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. And I’ve somehow managed to not yet read anything by Colson Whitehead. So I have some books to look into, but I’ll definitely need to be intentional about this category. If you have any recommendations, feel free to send them my way!

Minimum 2021 goal: 12 books by distinct authors of color (at least four of which are by Black or Indigenous men) and 20 books by distinct female authors, not including DNFs.

Stretch 2021 goal: 25 books by authors of color, including DNFs at 25% or later.

Hugos

I didn’t vote for the Hugo Awards in 2020, although I did read all of the nominees for best short story (which were extremely heavy, and I hope that there’s a better emotional mix this year). But I signed up for 2021, so I’d better make an effort this time.

Minimum 2021 goal: read enough to cast informed votes for Best Novel, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story.

Stretch 2021 goal: read enough to cast informed votes for Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story, and Best YA Novel.

Bingo

The r/Fantasy bingo runs from April 1 to March 31, so this isn’t strictly a 2021 goal, but it’s a fun way to diversify your reading, as completing a card requires reading 25 books (well, 24 books and a handful of short stories) by 25 different authors. In 2020, I completed a card with all female authors, which I wrote up on Reddit before I started blogging [aside: it’s amazing how your impression of a book can change a couple months after reading. I still have Mexican Gothic at four stars, but I’d move it up five or six spaces at least in that ranking]. I’m two squares away from finishing a second card that doesn’t reuse any of the authors from my first card. All I need is a book by a Canadian and a work in translation, and I’m planning on The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay and Vita Nostra by Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko.

The 2021 card won’t be released for another three months, but after starting and subsequently pausing so many series in 2020, my most ambitious 2021 idea is to complete an entire bingo card using only sequels. Is that even possible? I won’t know for sure until I see the 2021 card. But I do have a sequel planned for one square that appears every year and may seem difficult: Stories of the Raksura by Martha Wells for the Short Story square.

Minimum 2021 goal: complete one bingo card.

Stretch 2021 goal: complete a bingo card using entirely sequels (by March 31, 2022).

Short Fiction

In 2020, I read roughly 25 short stories, but in December, I started getting into a groove of reading a short while eating lunch. If I can make this a habit, I think I can do much better in 2021.

Minimum 2021 goal: 75 works of short fiction (defined as works of short story or novelette length).

Stretch 2021 goal: 150 works of short fiction.

Miscellaneous

A Solo Reread

I’ve listened to some reread audiobooks in the car with my wife, but I haven’t done a solo reread since the first thirteen books of The Wheel of Time in 2012. Discovering new and wondrous stories is fun, but I think it’s time to return to some old favorites—at least one. Candidates for this year include picking something from The Vorkosigan Saga (last read in 2014), seeing if Michael Crichton still holds up with Timeline (last read in…2001?), or rereading Ender’s Game (last read in 2010) and actually continuing on to Speaker for the Dead this time, since I’ve consistently heard it’s fantastic.

A Middle-Grade Novel

Good kid lit can really work for adults too, and while my oldest won’t be at middle-grade level for a few years, there’s no reason I can’t get started. Candidates include investigating the hype behind Percy Jackson, supporting an author that’s local (to where I recently lived) with Tristan Strong, or checking out the aforementioned new release with Amari and the Night Brothers. Despite it being released in 2015, I’ve also seen quite a few positive reviews of The Jumbies lately, or I could wander down to Australia and check out the Nevermoor series, or…well, there are a lot of wildly popular middle grade books out there. The trick is finding the ones that work for both kids and adults.

DNFs ≥ Ratings Below 13

This might take the most discipline of anything on the list. If I pick up a book, I expect to like it. More often than not, it’s been highly recommended by someone who has a history of recommending books that I really like. So my bias is to think that if I keep pushing through a book that isn’t working for me, my opinion will shift. And that’s why I’ve only DNF’d one book in the last decade or so.

On the other hand, I tend to be pretty good about keeping my mind open on a new book, so if a book loses me, it’s probably too late to get me back. I’m not sure I’ve liked a book that I was ready to DNF since The Fellowship of the Ring. So in 2021, I want to stop chasing the Tolkien turnaround and be better about recognizing when a book is not working for me. I’ll do my due diligence to make sure it’s not a notorious slow-starter or something, but I’m going to be intentional about putting books down, even if they’ve been great for other readers. And to incentivize myself a little more, I’m counting DNFs at 25% or more in most of my stretch goals. Hopefully, by knowing I’m not committing myself to the long haul, I’ll be more willing to stretch my comfort zone a little bit with my book selections.

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