What 78 Books in a Year Taught Me
First, let me say this: not everyone wants or needs to read this much. Some of you read twice this number in a year (I see you, Goodreads friends!) This post is simply to tell you how reading 78 books in 2017 changed my own personal reading life, not to make you feel guilty if you read less than that.
In fact, the number of books that Americans most frequently report to reading in a year is four. If you are reading four or more books per year, you are right on track with the American average.
I've been a lifelong reader, but I went through times of feast and times of famine. Until two years ago, I did not track my reading at all. In 2016, with the encouragement from one of my favorite podcasts, I set the goal to simply track my reading--no expectations, no numbers, just write down what I finished. That year, I finished 46 books.
In 2017, I set a goal to read 50 books, and ended my year with a grand total of 78. I’m here to report just how much that has changed my reading life.
1. I don’t feel guilty about quitting a book. Before this experiment, I felt I HAD to finish each one. Now, I give each 50 pages and abandon it if it’s not for me. This past year, I quit a book that was recommended by a trusted source, left a book for my book club, and even abandoned an award-winner. Just because it won a prize or someone else liked it, doesn’t mean it’s the book for you. Move along!
2. Reading a book doesn’t take as long as you think. If you read on a Kindle (or the app), you’ve noticed that it tracks your reading speed. My favorite way to utilize this is to check how long it will take me to finish the chapter (5 more minutes and then I’ll go to bed….), it also made me realize that it only takes me about 3-4 hours to finish the average novel. While I rarely read a book in one sitting, I usually find those 3-4 hours over several days (more on that in a later post), meaning I can read 2 books a week if I really wanted to.
3. Supply vs. demand reading. In an article written by Laura Vanderkam, she describes these two types of readers. The first, supply readers, read anything they can get their hands on and usually read as a matter of routine (every night before bed, or every afternoon, etc). Demand readers read when they have something they are excited about, but otherwise can be found doing something else. In order to overcome my own demand-reading-tendency, I keep a steady supply of books I’m excited for at my fingertips. I have an entire bookshelf filled with books, a long list of library holds, and books on Kindle. This way I always know what I can read next.
4. Source matters (to me). How I am able to keep such an on-going list? I learned to cultivate good book sources. I have several friends that I always count on for suggestions (and I trust their taste implicitly) and I listen to this podcast religiously. Through my year of voracious reading, I learned that I do like to read the newest and best books rather than older classics, so I can also turn to valued sources like the New York Times or online lists. (I'm also a loyal Book of the Month Club member).
5. The library rocks!! Ok, so this one may be obvious to you, but I admit that I did not utilize the library often. Maybe I was under the misconception that the library wouldn’t have the newest releases. Or perhaps I didn’t have the patience to wait for a library hold. When faced with the prospect of reading at least 50 books in a year, I knew I needed to find a way to save money. Here is my “system:" first, I check to see if my library has the book in question. I do prefer to read real books, rather than electronic versions, so if it is available, I will put a hold on it. I pause, skip and cancel holds a lot, depending on what else I’m reading, so this is easily managed with my library’s website. If the said book has a long waiting list, I will then buy. I will typically buy for Kindle since it's cheaper, but I also love to frequent my favorite independent bookstores. I also keep a close eye on Kindle Deals of the Day, and will grab any $1.99 books I can. As a member of Book of the Month Club, I can get any past selection in hardback for just $9.99, which saves a ton. I would say around 50 of the titles I read last year were borrowed from the library. (Thankfully my local library does not charge late fees!)
6. You make the rules. When you set out to make a reading goal (or a goal of any kind), you also get to decide the rules. Did I count the two Harry Potter books I re-read to my kids this year? Yep. Did I count the 50-page Gillian Flynn novella? Sure did. Did I count audio books? You betcha. (Especially since, to our brains, listening is the same as reading). I did not, however, count picture books or books I abandoned after 50 pages. The point is, don’t make it too hard on yourself! I wasn't doing this for a college class or for a job—just for my own enjoyment. So don’t set yourself up to fail.
Tell me--do you track your reading? What's your goal for this year? (Remember, if it's more than 4 than you are reading more than average!)