How I Read 52 Books in 2018

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that for the last 3 years I’ve read 36 books per year. Being an Enneagram 8 and INTJ hitting a ceiling is unacceptable. I wanted to see if I really put in the work, could I read 50 books this year? With approximately 48 hours left in the year I’ve finished my 52nd and last book of 2018.

Some may be thinking “Psh! I read 52 books for breakfast!” My hats off to you, I’m glad you’re a freakish reading machine, this post is probably going to repeat practices you have already mastered. I’d love for you to stick around until the end and let me know if I’ve missed anything.

For everyone else who is not the Elon Musk of reading my hope is this post will help you read more in 2019. As I was thinking through how to structure this post I became curious about the average number of books Americans read in a year.

According to the Pew Research Center, 24% of Americans didn’t finish 1 book in the last year. In a bit more of an optimistic report, Bustle.com cites another study by the Pew Research Center that claims:

“Americans read a mean average of 12 books per year, and the typical (median) American read four books in the past 12 months.” (How Many Books Did The Average American Read In the Last Year? This New Study May Surprise You)

Based on the data, it’s discouraging to see how little Americans are reading. I hope this post in a small way helps more people read in 2019!

My 3 practices to read 52 books:



1. Make a Plan of Attack:

I started the year by figuring out my strategy. I decided my goal was to read 50 books from at least five categories (history, sociology, race, skill development, and fiction).

Notice I didn’t start the year wanting to average a book a week. As momentum built I just kept working my plan.

Truth be told I adjusted my plan a few times. My first plan was to identify 50 books, put them in the same location, and only read from that collection. My second plan, based on a friend’s recommendation, was to choose books 3 months at a time. In the end, I found my third plan worked best for me. I shortened 3 months of book planning into 1 month. What worked best for me was to start each month deciding on the 4-5 books I would read for that month.

The purpose of making a plan of attack is to create a strategy to obtain your goal. Though my tactics changed multiple times my strategy didn’t ( read 50 books from 5 different categories by years end).

2. Prioritize Reading

Of the three practices this one is the simplest in theory, but hardest in practice. Most people I talk to about their reading habits share something along the lines of, “I wish I had more time to read but I’m just so busy.” I completely understand the sentiment. As a bit of background, I’m an average-speed reader so it takes intentional effort for me to get through books. I also have a life, I’m married with 4 children between the ages of 8 and 2 years old, I work a full-time job, and I regularly have social commitments 2-3 evenings during the week.

How I prioritized reading was threefold:

I took a book everywhere:

There’s a great quote from Malcolm X addressing this practice that’s been making the rounds on Twitter:

Taking a book with me everywhere meant I could squeeze 15 mins of reading waiting at the doctor’s office or 10 mins of reading while waiting for a meeting at a coffee shop. Every chance you get to read helps. Over the course of a year, 10-15 mins here and there becomes hours and entire books being read.

I created a regular undisturbed reading time.

Though I was usually tired the one time I can always get consistent undisturbed reading time is when my kids go to bed. For some people, early mornings work better. I’m naturally more of a night owl and my kids are the lightest sleepers on planet earth. If I wake up at 5am at least two of my kids will be in my room by 5:15. Usually asking what’s for breakfast…

Find a time that works best for you to read and as often as you can stick to that reading time. When you can’t read at that time don’t beat yourself up, just get back to reading as soon as possible.

Don’t think you have to keep a rigorous reading schedule, there were multiple weeks that I didn’t read anything. As a matter of fact, from mid-October until Thanksgiving I maybe finished 1 book.

I chose books I wanted to read.

Too often when people try to start reading they seek advice from people with radically different tastes than themselves. For some reason, I’m in a season where the majority of readers I’m around are really into fantasy. I barely read fiction, and I especially don’t read fantasy. I’ve never even read the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter series. If I relied solely on those in my social network to help me decide what I’d read I would fall into the 22% of Hispanics that don’t read 1 book a year.

Think about interests, issues, topics, genres, and skills you’d like to know more about and build your reading list from there. Like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, and many others, I believe people can learn virtually anything they want from a book.

3. Set Realistic Expectations

In August I became interested in understanding creativity and how it works. This filled my “skill development” bucket but I’d had zero exposure to this topic. Multiple friends recommended books on creativity that ranged from Ed Catmull’s “Creativity Inc” to Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like An Artist” to “Creativity” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I chose the “easiest” of the books recommended and read Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like An Artist” and “Show Your Work.”

Had I started with one of the other books recommended I felt like the works would be too advanced, go over my head, and possibly lead me to stop reading the book, or worse stop caring about understanding creativity. Though I started with something easy when it came to learning about creativity, I read bigger and more complex books on other topics. Reading broadly and consistently is a bit of a balancing act, some topics you can go deep fast, other topics it’s better to stay in the shallow end.

In the end, you have to be honest with where you’re comfortable and capable of benefitting from books. If you want to read classic literature Moby Dick is great, but maybe Tom Sawyer is a better starting point. The goal is to read books, so set yourself up for success by reading books you can finish.

Conclusion

One last practice you might want to consider is the medium by which you want to consume books. I read books exclusively in their physical form (meaning hardbacks and paperbacks). I’ve tried every kindle under the sun, and my iPad and I swear I can’t remember a thing I’ve read within 3 minutes of turning the book off ( I feel gross even saying “turning the book off”). Audiobooks are also a thing and you can get great audiobooks for free from your local library. Again, I’ve been there, done that, and swear I can’t remember a thing when I listen to a book.

These three practices won’t guarantee you meet your reading goals, but they can serve as a blueprint to help you read more in 2019. I’m confident these practices work because I finally broke my 36 book ceiling and surpassed my 50 book goal, by averaging a book a week in 2018.

5 Comments

  1. ruben gomez

    James

    It is your best article that you have written to date. A lot of great ideas to encourage reading. I can’t believe the statistics about Americans and reading. It is a sad state that we find ourselves in as a reading nation. In 2017, I read ten books. As the year of 2018, I only read five.

    Maybe, I can read twenty novels for 2019.

    Happy New Year.

    Say hello to Angela and the SuperGrand Kids.

    Love

    Ruben

    1. James D. Hart

      Thanks for the support! That would be awesome if you read 20 books in 2019. Something that helped me stay on track with my reading plan was an app called “Good Reads.” You can create a “Reading Challenge” for the year where you set a goal for the number of books you want to read. Every time you update a book you’ve read it has a helpful little tracker that shows how far you are from reaching your goal.

    1. James D. Hart

      Mo, thanks for your comment! Toddlers are AMAZING at a lot of things, being a distraction is the chief among them. Taking a book with me everywhere helps me get some reading in here and there without baby distractions. Also, I usually wait until my kids are in bed to read. One thing I did early on to help me read before watching Netflix (If you’re into suspenseful movies and you haven’t already you should definitely watch Bird Box) was to commit to reading 30 minutes. If I read for 30 minutes my “reward” was watching something on Netflix. This way I felt great about watching TV because I had already put in work reading. Hope this helps!

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