Inspired by Nick Cernis’s “Read One Book a Week” challenge, in the new year of 2009 I decided to give it a go: one book every week, 52 books between January 1st and December 31st.
Growing up, I was the kid who couldn’t let go of his book even for dinner, and since then I have spent many nights finishing mysteries that just had to be solved before falling to sleep. But this challenge meant switching to a whole new gear: I now had a goal to read more books in year than ever before. With a two-year old to take care of.
Why Read This Many Books?
You can easily find a handful (and more) reasons why this goal would not work for you: You have a busy schedule. You have kids. You have to cook for your family. You are a slow reader. You do sports every day.
I won’t blame you: the goal does seem unreachable at first.
But it just might make sense to give it a shot anyway: completing the goal feels great, but this is also a goal where even a failure can be a life-changing success. Say, you finish the year with only 30 books read? That’s already much above the average number of books people read per year! And even if you end up finishing just 20, the odds are that you have found yourself a great source of inspiration and happiness for years to come. You will never view books the same way as before.
How to Read 53 Books in a Year
It’s simple: aim for 52, then fail to count the books. In fact, until I started writing this blog post, I had no idea that I had read more than 52 book last year!
But how do you read 52 books then?
- Use every free moment you find: You’ll be surprised how often such moments arise if you always carry a book with you. For me, by far the most important time for reading was my daily 45 minute bus commute to work. I have also been found reading while waiting in line at the grocery store as well as while brushing my teeth.
- You don’t have to finish one book before picking up another one: I believe this is the number one secret to completing many books in a short time. It’s so easy to get stuck with a book that you don’t want to give up completely but still don’t have the inspiration to read right now. If you stick with that book, you will just drain your motivation and make reading feel like work. But if you let the book rest and read something else for a while, you might soon notice that when you return to the book you started from, it will be a better time for reading it!
- Pick books you are interested in: Don’t read books just because some people list them must-read.
- Don’t be afraid to give up on a book and move on to the next: The world is full of great books and there are more coming out every day. There is no way you can read all the good books out there, so if a book doesn’t feel worth reading, move on. But because you are reading for a goal, don’t trash the book just yet. Let it rest for a while, it might be that you want to get back to it. Don’t worry If you don’t, but if you do, it means less pages to read to make the 52 books.
- Pick short books every now and then: Not all the time, but if it looks like you’re falling behind, there is nothing wrong in picking a 120 page story. It’s still a book, and many of the classics aren’t that long at all. Henry Thoreau’s Walking has only 60 pages!
- Check out audio books: In my 53 books, I decided to not include e-books. You can decide differently, there are many good e-books out there and you set the rules for your own goals. Audio books, on the other hand, were within the arbitrary limits I set for myself in this project. What’s good about audio books is that you can listen to them while doing something else. In general, multitasking isn’t a good idea and I wouldn’t replace my daily dose of reading books with listening to them, but I found that listening to books while running works for me pretty well.
- Have fun! Read all kinds of books. Mix fiction with non-fiction and humor with more serious prose. Remember that you are reading for yourself and not to please your old English teacher.
Where Do You Start?
Here’s one list you can use to pick the first few books to start from: The full list of the books I read in 2009, ordered by finishing date. I have marked the ones I recommend and plan to read again some day with a star before the author’s name. Two stars mean a top 3 favorite of the year.
- * Alan Weisman: The World Without Us
- Greg Egan: Axiomatic
- Michael Connelly: Echo Park
- * Kyle Macdonald: One Red Paperclip
- * Leo Babauta: The Power Of Less
- Tim Flannery: The Weather Makers
- * Jonathan Fields: Career Renegade
- Mark Penn: Microtrends
- Juhani Seppänen: Hullu työtä tekee
- Neil Strauss: Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life
- ** Haruki Murakami: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
- * Thor Heyerdahl: Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft
- * Daniel Pink: Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself
- * Mende Nazer: Slave: My True Story
- Drew Jones: I’m Outta Here
- Jerry Connor: Why Work Is Weird
- Mika Waltari: Aiotko kirjailijaksi?
- Jaana Kapari-Jatta: Pollomuhku ja Posityyhtynen
- * Christopher McDougall: Born to Run
- Alan Macfarlane: Japan Through the Looking Glass
- Richard Branson: Business Stripped Bare
- Mikko Yrjönsuuri: Roistovaltion raunioilla
- Frans de Waal: Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals
- * John Hershey: Hiroshima
- Robin Cook: Crisis
- * Oliver Sacks: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales
- Robin Cook: Vector
- * Pamela Slim: Escape from Cubicle Nation
- ** Seneca: Letters from a Stoic
- * Greg Mortenson: Three Cups of Tea
- * Seth Godin: Purple Cow
- * Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns
- Stephen King: Dreamcatcher
- Petri Merenlahti: Ihmisen näköinen Jumala
- Scott Ginsberg: Hello, My Name is Scott
- * Seth Godin: Meatball Sundae
- Stefan Einhorn: The Seventh Day
- Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion
- Heikki Saure: Wilson Kirwa – Juoksijasoturin ihmeellinen elämä
- Michael Connelly: The Brass Verdict
- Daniel Gilbert: Stumbling on Happiness
- (*) Osmo Soininvaara: Fillarilla Nizzaan
- (*) Osmo Soininvaara: Vauraus ja aika
- * Kim and Jason Kotecki: There’s An Adult In My Soup
- Mika Waltari: Lähdin Istanbuliin
- * Tom Hodginson: How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto
- Juha Pihkala, Esko Valtaoja: Nurkkaan ajettu Jumala
- Stefan Einhorn: The Art of Being Kind
- Philip Yancey: Rumors of Another World
- Naomi Klein: No Logo
- ** Muhammad Yunus: Creating a World Without Poverty
- Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Jorge Bucay: Dejame Que Te Cuente
Minimalism, and the Art of Reading Slower
Reading 53 books in a year was a great experience: I got tons of ideas, educated myself tremendously, and had a lot of fun. It is no surprise that the first thought as I closed my last book of 2009 was: “Next year, 100 books!” That’s how addictive numbers are. There is always a bigger number to reach for.
But after the initial excitement faded, I started to think about the meaning of reading: Do I really want to read just to reach a high number? My answer was no. In my quest to complete 52 books, I realized, I had read some books more quickly than I should have, without stopping to let them change me, and just reading them as books rather than big ideas that should be put into practice.
So now, I’m rereading those books from last year’s list. Slower, with a pen in a hand, trying to really understand what goes on inside the author’s mind, what he has to say to me, and how I can make the most out of that message. This year, most likely I won’t reach the 52 books mark. I could do it if I wanted to, and I guess I will get close, but I decide to take more time and let the words challenge me.
Do it Anyway!
In the long run, it is better to read books at your own pace than to count numbers. But even so, the 52 books in a year challenge is a great way to kickstart your reading. If you start today, in a year from now, you will have collected a nice set of new thoughts, quotes and interesting stories to build on! Not to mention the ever growing list of books you want to read next.
From there, you just keep reading as many books as feels natural for you.
Update: If you want to follow my reading this year, here’s a list of books that I update every time I finish a new book.