Challenge Report: I tried to read 52 books last year.
Spoiler alert: I failed, but I have some advice if you want to try.
At the beginning of 2019 I made a conscious decision to try and read a book a week for the year.
This came from wanting to broaden my interests, educate myself, and most importantly to get rid of some of the “noise” that I felt was increasingly filling up my life. Scrolling through Instagram, Youtube or Netflix, while very enjoyable, had become progressively mind-numbing, and I wanted to commit to using my free time more intently, in a more stimulating way.
For the past ten years of being somewhat of an ‘adult’ (if you can call it that), I have picked up reading here and there with varying degrees of intensity, but I have observed how hard it is for me to get back to it after not doing it for a while. Like going back to the gym after a long layoff, getting back into reading shape gives me headaches every time, before getting progressively better.
Notice how I made a gym analogy, implying (falsely) that I can relate to people getting in shape? Slick. But my point is that reading is a muscle, and while it might be hard to get into, it definitely gets easier and more rewarding with practice and time. There are many benefits to reading, from cognitive to social skills, as explained in this very good article by Markham Heid:
Why Reading Books Is Important for the Brain
The decline of book reading may have costly implications for cognition and social skills
I grew up in a family of readers and have always been an avid bookworm growing up, but it has become increasingly hard to focus and dedicate time to read as I have grown older. This is the case for many of us, may it be caused by phones constantly nagging us, our personal and professional lives getting in the way, or maybe this amazing new show about tigers that you simply just have to watch.
But technology can also become an enabler. My motivation to read more came in part from the website Goodreads, a social cataloging website that organises yearly reading challenges inviting you to set a goal for yourself for the 12 months ahead. Last year I decided “Why not” and dammit, I almost did it:
As you can see, a lot of these are comics and graphic novels. I count them as books because they are, and if you are familiar with some of these, you’ll know how amazing, deep and impactful that medium can be. If you’re not, I truly recommend checking them out, you can get the full list of my 2019 books here.
Now despite the fact that there are only 10 books without pictures in the list, I’ve definitely learned a few things about trying to sustain a constant reading regimen, and I hope to help you do the same thing:
Top 4 mistakes I’ve made
- Getting stuck: The single biggest mistake I keep making. If you don’t like a book, reading it feels like a chore or it takes you 2 months to power through 300 pages: Just stop. It’s not worth it, this is supposed to be fun.
- Huge books: If you haven’t read in a while then don’t kid yourself, you’re not going to just jump in and plow through Infinite Jest. One step at a time.
- Popular books: Don’t believe the hype. Just because everyone is talking about it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for you.
- Business books: 90% of them just suck. Someone has to say it. Turning what could be a great 10-min long Medium article into 600 painful pages just to add “author” to a LinkedIn bio… thanks but no thanks.
Top 4 things I’ve learned
- Read what you want: This might sound obvious, but in the end, this is really what will drive you to pick up a book every day. If it feels like a chore, you’re just not going to stick to it. There are so many great books about so many topics out there, just read whatever you want.
- Make it a habit: Setting reading as part of your routine will make it so much easier to actually do it, rather than just flipping through pages here and there when you have a minute. I read on my commute, on lunch breaks, and before bed.
- Try different formats: I’ve been reading digitally for a few years now, on my iPad first and now on a Kindle and it definitely helped increase my reading volume. I find that it also makes it easier for me to read an ebook and a physical book simultaneously, without mixing them up or getting confused for some reason. Audiobooks are also great.
- Get yourself a niche: Although one of the best things about reading is to explore new content, authors, and genres of books, finding something that you really enjoy -whether it is a specific writer, lore, or genre- will help a lot. As you can tell my 2019 was heavily marked by graphic novels, but 2020 started for me with a lot of Japanese fiction. This helps you narrow down what you like and consequently makes it easier to get from one book to another.
Reading so much last year (a habit I carried over to 2020 so far) has definitely improved my wellbeing in several areas, from sleeping better to being able to focus more and feeling more accomplished. I also feel like I’ve learned a lot, both from the books that I’ve read and the thought processes and discipline I tried to instill in my life throughout the process.
This experience has also been a great opportunity to connect with other readers in my daily life but also with online communities (Goodreads, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook groups) and to find great content online.
Some inspiring content to start reading more:
A Youtube Channel
A Youtuber I’ve enjoyed following and who motivated me to engage in reading more is John Fish, a Harvard student who documents his life as a Computer Science major with a great outlook on learning and life in general. His videos are both inspiring and educational and I’m impressed at how a 20-year-old has such a wise and refreshing take on learning and improving himself. It’s just great:
A set of sweet numbers
An interesting set of facts I stumbled in this video, in which Jim Kwik from Mindvalley breaks down the numbers behind reading a book every week for a year:
- The average book is about 64,000 words a day.
- The average person reads about 200 words per minute.
- On average, it takes 320 minutes to get through a book.
- 320 minutes divided by 7 (days in a week) equals only 45 minutes of reading a day.
Some tips from a nice fella
This seemingly nice guy also reads about 50 books a year on average, and provides some pretty good insights on how he manages to do so:
An inspiring video
How to read more books in the golden age of content by Max Joseph. This is peak YouTube content:
I feel quite proud of almost reaching my goal to read a book a week in 2019. While I learned a lot from the experience and have been trying to keep a solid rhythm in 2020, I also realise that setting a performance metric to an activity that you voluntarily pursue as entertainment can become sort of against the point.
Even though I’ve been caught up at times in trying to plow through books, especially towards the end of the year, to reach my “quota”, I have still managed to keep my reading enjoyable. Because at the end of the day really, you have to make sure you’re enjoying it.