Here’s How (And What I’ve Learned)
On a whim, I decided in January to read 100 books this year. Or, rather, to try to read 100 books.
Why? Well, for one, I love to read.
That said, I’m behind, by some standards. I’ve spent most of my adult life exclusively reading historical nonfiction or self-help; for whatever reason, I wasn’t interested in fiction. And because I attended a trade program for my last two years of high school and didn’t attend college, I missed out on quite a bit of “required reading.”
Since I’ve fallen in love with the art of storytelling itself over the past couple years (and want to start writing more fiction myself), I decided it would do me some good to read as many of the classics as I can get my hands on. Which leads me to the second reason …
What better way to improve my skill as a writer than to consume as much material from the “greats” as I can?
So, I set out to read 100 books this year.
Until a few days ago, I tracked my progress in a Wunderlist folder. Now I’m using GoodReads. I’d say the breakdown so far would be something like: ~40% classic novels, ~20% modern fiction, and the rest a hodgepodge of memoirs, historical nonfiction, or self-help.
With Einsteinian mathematical calculation, I measure my success thusly: Two books per week x 52 weeks in a year = 104 books. So as long as I can read two books per week, I’m on target. Some weeks I read no books. Some I read five. Some I read one.
Currently, I’m ahead of schedule: I’ve read approximately 51 and 1/4 books with three weeks left until the halfway mark.
You’re thinking, Wow, this guy must sit around reading all day!
I know you’re thinking that, because when I made a post in r/books the other day, such sentiment was peppered generously throughout the comments section.
But (at the risk of sounding pretentious), I honestly don’t feel like I’ve made any sort of herculean effort to read this many books. My day job is demanding and fast-paced (Director of Marketing at a pro audio reseller and studio design/integration company) and I spend most of my off-hours either working on my own projects (books, screenplays, and music production) or, believe it or not, going outside and doing something.
So how have I managed to cram 51 and 1/4 books into five and 1/4 months? Skimming? Audiobooks at 5x speed? Drugs? The answers are, respectively: no, kinda but no, maybe ten years ago.
I’m a fast reader on a normal day, but I don’t skim books—I enjoy prose too much. Granted, if certain elements of the book aren’t doing anything for me (looking at your dialogue, Michael Crichton), I tend to skate across the words with a little less patience.
As for audiobooks: I usually try to get a copy of the audiobook version of whichever book I’m reading from the local library (I have six libraries on my Overdrive account and counting) and listen to it during my commute. Other than that, I prefer digesting the words visually. There are exceptions to this rule, such as when I’m finding particular difficulty slogging my way through a book—audiobooks make it easier to power through to the end. But no, I’m not listening to audiobooks non-stop to reach my quota.
So HOW? HOW, JUST TELL US ALREADY! you’re saying.
Okay, fine, I’ll get to it:
One, I’ve replaced other activities with reading. For example, most of my TV or social media time. (Except for Reddit—I wish I knew how to quit you, Reddit.) I love TV and films, so it’s not like I quit TV entirely. But those occasions where I settled into the couch and clicked around for thirty minutes trying to find something to watch? Now I just read instead. I usually read for an hour before bed anyway, so this could be one or two additional hours per evening, depending on when I finish working.
Second, I carry a book with me every fucking where: to lunch, to the bathroom, in line at the doctor’s office (or anywhere there’s a line for that matter), even on dates. Everywhere I go, there I cram. All those little chunks of reading move the bookmark a satisfying distance over the course of a day.
So what has this done for me? Should you try to read 100 books next year?
A lot. And sure, why not?
Initially I worried about retention and comprehension from consuming so many books, but honestly I have noticed no difference between the books I’ve read this year, or the books I’ve read prior. (Coming from a music background, I’m surprised by this in the same way I marvel at my ability to remember lyrics and music to a catalog of 300 songs while somehow forgetting what I did last Saturday.)
I’ve combatted this by writing my own summaries and “reviews” in an Evernote folder after finishing a book I like. I even write the review in the author’s own prose (nothing like some blatant plagiarism!) to help remember the writing style. It works, and it’s a fun writing exercise!
Speaking of: as for my own writing…
I can unequivocally say that this challenge has improved my skill as a writer. My vocabulary, as well as my internal context of writing styles, formatting, and punctuation choices, have all expanded. I notice myself spotting mistakes more often or having the confidence to disagree with an author’s choices even though they’re rich and famous and I’m, well, not even close to either.
I’ve noticed benefits outside of the craft of writing as well: enhanced diction has carried over to conversation, making it easier to articulate with real good words and sound super smart and stuff.
Also, book discussion itself is nothing new to me; but now that I’ve digested so many classics or popular novels, I can nose my way into a multitude of conversations with the confidence of a well-read rhinoceros.
The best benefit of all? This has inspired me to write more—which, as we all know, is the best way to improve one’s writing.
Of the 51 and 1/2 books (I took a break from writing) I’ve read so far, here are my top six (because I couldn’t decide on the fifth):
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
You can see the full list on my GoodReads profile.
Interested in getting the most out of each day without burning yourself out? I’m working on a short eBook with time management techniques. Sign Up Here to receive a free copy before it’s released to the public!