Collectively, Dunbar-Nelson’s journal entries clearly indicate that she preferred reading fiction to non-fiction. Out of over a thousand recorded titles, 71% of the selections are fiction, whereas only 29% of these books are in the nonfiction category. Nearly three-quarters of her reading was devoted to novels, short stories, poetry, and drama. This reading encompassed strategic literary scholarship, literary criticism, and pleasure reading. Her reading of over three hundred titles in non-fiction, however, evidences more than just the passing curiosity of a dilettante approach to the social sciences. It demonstrates serious investigation into a range of academic subjects including history, education, psychology, sociology, and race relations.
Dunbar-Nelson’s habit of recording the various genres of the books she read allows for a granular display of her reading choices. The labels used to categorize the assortment of genres and subgenres included in the journals come directly from the journals themselves. As previously noted, Dunbar-Nelson read significantly more fiction than non-fiction. Under this broader category, the majority of titles she read, around 41%, were identified as novels. Mystery and detective novels accounted for a collective 6% of all titles she read in the fiction category, placing these genres at the highest levels of in terms of selection. Another 6% of this divide fell into the drama and short story categories, respectively. Around 5% of these titles were works of poetry. In terms of non-fiction, the largest share went to history, which made up another 5% of all titles. Next, at 4% of the total, were titles identified as either text (e.g. instructional textbooks, scholarly monographs, etc.) or essays, followed by 2% of the titles given to the subjects of education and psychology.
Looking at publishers, a collective 30% of the recorded titles make up the higher end of the scale. Here, the highest share at 10% was afforded to the Harper Brothers (now Harper) imprint, the publisher of such authors as Mark Twain, Thornton Wilder, and Edna St. Vincent Millay (all read by Dunbar-Nelson at some point). At 9% was Macmillan, with authors like Hugh Walpole and Rabindranath Tagore also appearing in Dunbar-Nelson’s journals. Books from the Alfred A. Knopf imprint, who published the works of Willa Cather and Nella Larsen, accounted for 6% of the titles in the journals. Dodd, Mead, & Company, the publisher for both Dunbar-Nelson’s second book and the works of her first husband, Paul Laurence Dunbar, made up of 5% of the total. The collective 20% of publishers on the lower end of the scale (i.e. less than 5% of the total amount for each individual publisher) include Doubleday, Little, Brown & Co., Scribner’s Sons, A. L. Burt, Putnam & Sons, Frederick Stokes, Lippincott, Viking Press, Henry Holt & Co., and Albert & Charles Boni. The remaining group includes publishers whose titles accounted for less than 1% of the total listings.