About My Challenge

I’m in a constant state of self-improvement, and one thing I’ve been finding myself saying over the last few years is that I wish I had more time to read. At first, that thought was quite frustrating to me, because it seemed like being a working adult with a family meant that there’s little time for opening books outside of the coldest months of the year. And yet it occurred to me one morning that I easily spend 1-2 hours per day reading websites, glancing through magazines or otherwise pouring over the written word, often learning very little and getting far too interested in things that don’t give me any advantage (like the news, enthusiast press or comments on social media).

My frustration, I realized, is that I really want to read books – those antiquated, long-form things that are often printed and which are said to contain a lot of redeeming qualities when they’re actually read.

And so, I’ve come up with a solution.

Or rather, I should say, adapted one from something I read. A few years ago, I saw an article by Jeff Ryan on Slate talking about his own journey through 2012 to read 366 books over the course of a year. His solution was to focus on quantity over quality and to vary his reading diet so it included various genres and form factors (including some popular YA books and graphic novels) as well as audiobooks. Even though he read a lot of junk, he also got through a number of books he actually wanted to read.

At the time, I thought it was a great idea, but wasn’t willing to make the time to do it myself. But as 2016 comes to a close and I’ve realized how little I’ve read since coming across Ryan’s article four years ago (enough that I could probably recite the name of every book I’ve read since then), I’ve opted to take on the challenge for 2017, along with the following ground rules:

  • A book can be a lot of things, but it has a definition. A “book” is defined as something at least 100 printed pages in length that has been written for some informative value (if non-fiction) or some literary or entertaining value (if fiction). This includes a broad spectrum of printed materials that go beyond a traditional idea of a book, including anthologies, collections of essays, graphic novels, YA novels, eBooks, reference books, “how-to” books, textbooks and so forth.
  • A book can’t be a periodical, but it can feature content from periodicals. A “book” containing articles, short stories or essays from magazines or websites is sufficient for my challenge if they have been collected and published as a printed or electronic anthology marketed as a book with an actual ISBN. But a lengthy magazine or anthology that would be classified as a periodical would not qualify, even if it met my page requirement.
  • Books written for younger audiences are sometimes acceptable, with adequate justification. Children’s books or YA books are acceptable, but need to have some justifiable literary or cultural reason to be read by an adult. For example, “The Giver” by Lois Lowry is on my list because I’ve never read it and it otherwise meets my criteria. I also plan to read “The Hunger Games” trilogy since it seems to be very culturally relevant. But I could not, for example, count the “Magic Tree House” books I read my children at night, because these don’t meet my criteria.
  • Instructional books, reference books or textbooks are fair game only if I read them from cover to cover. For example, a book of tips on home repair only counts if I read the entire thing, and not just the stuff I’m interested in (though I can certainly skim the detail as I would normally).
  • Audiobooks are an acceptable format to substitute for “reading” a “book,” provided that they’re unabridged or only lacking less important portions that wouldn’t be read anyhow (like appendices). Dramatizations of books may be acceptable if they’re particularly faithful to the text, but are generally too abridged or adapted to the audio format to be considered.
  • If a “book” was originally published in multiple pieces but has been collected into a single volume, it’s up to me to decide how I’d count it. For example, “The Lord of the Rings” was originally published as three books, and I own an edition that collects them all into a single volume. I could read that and count it as three books. There may also be times (often, I suspect, with graphic novels) where I read a large omnibus edition and decide to count it as a single book, even though it contains several graphic novels’ worth of content. I’ll do that to make things harder on myself, which is fine. The caveat is that once I count a collected book or omnibus, I may not go back and break it into pieces to make it easier for me to hit my goal.
  • It’s OK for me to re-read books I’ve read in the past, with proper justification. I will try to avoid books I’ve read before, but there are a handful I want to re-read because I read them so long ago I have been wanting to give them another chance. I will generally attempt these in a different format if possible, such as an audiobook or expanded edition. One of these is “The Great Gatsby,” a book I read in high school, didn’t really understand, and feel a need to re-read because I would like to understand what all the fuss is about.
  • If I start a book, I have to finish it, even if it’s difficult, terrible or hard to get into. This isn’t a rule to punish me, but rather to force me to stick with books that aren’t easy or fun. It will also make me a little choosier about reading absolute dreck.
  • For every book I read, I will post a short blog article here indicating what I’ve read, what I thought of it and how long it took me. (I’m also planning to have a spreadsheet I can later analyze.) This will not only keep me accountable to get this task complete, but also help me keep a record of what I’ve gotten through.

I have a few predictions on what I’ll be saying a year from now:

  1. This will be a hard, but rewarding, challenge I’ll be proud to have taken on. I hope I feel that way, and my experience has been that when I give myself a ridiculous challenge and follow through on it, I often do! (I should note now that I don’t expect to fail, but do expect to struggle a lot.)
  2. My reading diet for 2017 will have consisted of 80% garbage and 20% things I really wanted to read. I expect I’ll be reading a lot of junk. But that 20% I care about will be 73 books over the course of a year – an average of 1.4 worthwhile books per week. I’m lucky now if I read one worthwhile book in a month.
  3. I am going to get ahead early on in the winter, get woefully behind by the spring and spend the rest of the year playing catch-up. This has a lot to do with my workload for the next year.
  4. I am going to push myself to read things I’ve never considered reading before. I tried to make a list of what I want to read in 2017 and couldn’t even get to 100 titles. I already have a feeling I’ll be sloughing through some of my wife’s stack of mystery novels and through weird things I find at the library simply because I need something quick and easy to read.
  5. I won’t want to take on this challenge again for awhile, but I will be a much more avid reader when I’m finished. That would be an awesome outcome. I’d love to be the sort of person who reads a few good books a month. If that’s where I land for 2018 and beyond, so much the better for me.

Feel free to check in on me throughout the year. I hope you’ll find that I’ve done a great job of not only keeping on track, but also keeping this blog updated with my progress!

-Sean

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