Readers were more likely to abandon books
If you’ve recently felt more inclined to set aside a book unfinished, you aren’t alone. A large number of readers described having less patience with titles that didn’t immediately grab them. Whether that’s a case of dwindling attention spans or a tendency to seize the day after being continuously reminded of our own mortality is up for debate.
“My reading was way off this year,” wrote Jenny Sowry of Mooresville, N.C. “Usually I finish 250 to 300 books per year. This year I’ve only finished 180. I’ve started at least twice that, though. My DNF pile” — that’s book-speak for Did Not Finish — “is huge and it’s definitely (mostly) a case of ‘Dear Author, it’s me, not you.’ My ability to concentrate and connect is currently nonexistent.”
“If a book didn’t capture my heart, mind or imagination in the first two or three chapters I did not continue reading it,” wrote Tracey Williams of Dallas. “I downloaded a lot more samples of digital books before purchasing.”
Readers wanted lighter fare as a counterpoint to real-world devastation
While a few readers expressed an interest in leaning into the news and reading books that helped them gain a better understanding of what was happening — continuing a trend in 2020 — many of our respondents were looking either for escapism or messages of hope.
“I have lost patience for fiction with bad news settings and good people in peril through no fault of their own,” wrote Ann Sayer of Santa Cruz, Calif. “These days I prefer a great plot and engaging characters.” Meanwhile, Nancy Jones of Minneapolis wrote, “I’ve always read ‘serious’ fiction, along with mysteries and lighter fare. The ratio used to be 50:50; now it’s more like 2:1 in favor of what I call ‘good junk.’ ”
For some, reading was nearly impossible at the start of the pandemic. In 2021, it got easier.
When we invited readers to share their thoughts with us last year, respondents were somewhat evenly split: Some read much more during the pandemic; others found the idea of picking up a book too taxing. A number of people got their reading mojo back this year. For quite a few people, dabbling in other genres was the key.
“My reading life tanked in 2020 and this year it slowly improved,” said Jayme Champagne of Lake Charles, La. “I did find myself reading more horror than usual, but I don’t know if that is because horror you read is better than the horror you’re living?” Danita L. Twedt of Bozeman, Mont., said: “I’ve always read literary works whether fiction or nonfiction, until the last two years of covid. During that time, I found myself unable to concentrate on anything but mysteries and thrillers. Several months ago, I started reading literary works again which has been so satisfying.”
Audiobooks were a popular choice
Reflecting larger publishing trends, our readers discovered the wonder of audiobooks. The result: Household tasks became much more entertaining.
“I listened to so many audiobooks this year,” wrote Sarah Bonamino of Brooklyn. “I started dipping my toe into the audiobook world last year, but this year almost half of my reads were via audiobooks, most of which I borrowed via Libby,” the app used by many public libraries. Nicole Finch of Albuquerque used audiobooks to quiet her anxiety and “as a bribe to do my chores.”
Still others found that audiobooks were a way to get back into reading. Judy Brubach of Cary, N.C., found it “difficult to focus” in 2020, but then: “I tried audiobooks in January, ’21, and it worked! I was ‘reading’ again. I’m now back to reading print. Another pandemic related issue resolved.”
Some people shared ingenious reading ideas you might want to steal
If you’re looking for a unique way to fill out your 2022 reading lists, here are some interesting ideas.
“I made a conscious decision in 2021 to select two writers with works from previous centuries and read all their books,” wrote Katrina Salts of Temecula, Calif. “I chose John Cheever and Jane Austen. I had read none of their books before, except for a few Cheever short stories, and I enjoyed discovering both authors. I’m 58 and probably enjoyed them more now than I would have at a younger age.”
To stay “well-rounded,” Laura Beth Vietor of Summerfield, N.C., reads a different genre each month. For example, Vietor read a romance in February, a memoir in May and historical fiction in September. That’s also a helpful way to narrow down the overwhelming slate of new book releases.
No one made reading sound more idyllic than Shannon Lupetin of Northern Virginia. “There were more reading marathons on long lazy Sundays this year,” she wrote. “I started a habit of reading in the afternoon with a pint of new beer and a bowl of maple peanut popcorn in the front room, the TBR [To Be Read] room, among stacks of the next books on an undertuned piano.”
Talk about aspirational.
The top books of 2021, according to our readers
“Firekeeper’s Daughter,” by Angeline Boulley