The Underrated Effects of a Yearly Reading Challenge
I read 25 books in a year. And yes, I know that number is a bit anticlimactic when compared to those who read 100+ books a year, but my experience taught me this: small habit changes can have a much broader impact than you initially intended. Let me explain.
A year ago, I was in a reading drought. Well, more accurately, I was addicted to one fictional series whose books are absurdly long and thus did not leave much room for other books; I’m more of a one-book-at-a-time type of person. As much as I loved the storyline, I knew I needed to feed my mind some new material going into a new year.
At the end of 2019, I told myself I wanted to read one book a month — so 12 books, for those who may be unencumbered by Western standards of time. From the start, it didn’t seem like a tall order, and the competitive edge in me thought, “I bet I can read more than that.”
However, I didn’t have any frame of reference for how possible it would be to pick up such a regular reading schedule. I knew one book a month if your average book is 300 pages meant around 10 pages a day. However, I should clarify I didn’t parcel my reading to meet a daily quota; I just read when I felt like it, making sure to have at least one book read by the end of each month. That was all that mattered.
A few things happened with this small challenge I gave myself.
First, I inadvertently started to replace electronics
The first few months were pretty standard. I read my one book a month, usually reading at night. For quite some time, I had wanted to get better about putting screens away 30 minutes to one hour before bed (parenting myself, basically), so the new addition of reading materials made that transition easier than quitting cold turkey. I needed something to simultaneously occupy and wind down my mind before it was lights out, and as much as I love sitting in absolute silence, I knew I wasn’t ready to do that for an hour just yet.
Replacing that evening time with a book, I eventually started to see reading as a better outlet than watching TV. But let me be clear: I didn’t stop watching TV or movies by any means. But, whenever I couldn’t pinpoint my viewing desires, instead of scrolling through every streaming service for 20+ minutes (seriously, time yourself scrolling Netflix one of these days), I would just go to my book. I figured, “Hey, I have a goal to meet; might as well get ahead.”
And that’s exactly what happened as my reading speed increased.
I wouldn’t say I was ever a slow reader. For one, I have a degree in History which required a lot of reading on its own. But when it came to reading for myself, the speed at which I finished a book was exceptionally slower. Knowing this is what prompted my one-book-a-month assignment because I knew I wasn’t at a reading pace to finish one book a week.
As the months rolled on, it got to a point where one month I finished my monthly book ahead of schedule. Then, instead of waiting for the 1st to roll around again, I immediately started the next book. It was no longer a question of “what book should I read in June?”, but rather making sure to always have something at my bedside. While it took continued effort to instill this habit, it led to something I didn’t realize I was missing.
The more I read, the more curious I became.
I suppose knowing I was in a reading drought was my way of realizing I needed more intellectual nourishment. I was missing novel ideas (pun intended) that could foster my curiosity, creativity, and identity by exploring new perspectives at such an increased rate.
I don’t believe reading solely from social media or news outlets provides the same level of curious stimulation. There’s this interview of Denzel Washington being asked his thoughts about fake news, to which he says,
“One of the effects [of too much information] is the need to be first, not even to be true anymore.”
I think about this statement often, from the context of what is and is not valuable information.
While he refers to journalists needing to find and tell the truth about people, I relate his words to the fact that we all have a truth within us that needs to be explored. Reading can help us with that, as books are typically deliberate in the messages they expound, and it is a very intentional action to sit down and give someone else's views or ideas the time of day. This is not to bash journalism as a field or social media as invaluable platforms, but Denzel Washington’s words do hold some truth: these outlets are vying for our attention, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the content they provide is valuable or impactful. Anything worthy of such adjectives takes time, which books manifest in physical form.
The biggest takeaway from my reading challenge was not that I exceeded my goal. Reading 25 books is not extraordinary to well, probably most people. But setting the goal and following through actually led to benefits in my life that I was not expecting. The process helped me question, fine-tune, and clarify the way I view the world and myself.
I leave you with this: Challenge yourself to something new; you really have no idea where it is going to take you.
My 2020 Reading List (In Order):
- Originals by Adam Grant
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
- The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
- A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
- The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde (Included “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, “The Ideal Husband”, “A Woman of No Importance”, & “Salome”)
- Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris
- Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art by Kyung An and Jessica Cerasi
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates
- Thinking, Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- A More Beautiful & Terrible History by Jeanne Theoharis
- Strangers in the West by Linda K. Jacobs
- A Golden Haze of Memory by Stephanie Yuhl
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön
- The Rose That Grew From the Concrete by Tupac Shakur
- All About Love: New Vision by Bell Hooks
- The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or just want to chat about any of the books listed above!