A year ago I decided I wanted to do a long-term project. I’d been working 60 hour weeks in a career I really didn’t care for – running all over the place, being a “public figure,” trying to fit in with people literally twice my age. I was looking for an escape.
Growing up I hated reading. And it showed. My yearly test scores consistently said I was behind in both reading skill and reading comprehension. There were, I think, two parts to this. 1.) I was very rambunctious. Even as I’ve grown older, it’s been difficult for me to sit still and not fidget for more than half an hour. 2.) My parents very strongly pressured me to read. And like any child, I wanted to do the opposite of whatever Mom and Dad thought I should.
Fast forward to college, and I began to enjoy reading. A lot of what I was having to read was finally interesting, even though it came mostly through forced assignments. But there was another aspect to reading in college that, I believe, was a turning point for me in life (as melodramatic as that might sound).
If you had to choose one phrase for my personality, it would be “outgoing introvert.” Effectively this means that I’m a rather social person, but I re-energize, decompress, what-have-you through quiet time, alone. In college, constantly surrounded by dozens of others at all times, reading became a way of escape.
It was good for my grades, and it’s been good for my mental stability ever since. So when I realized I no longer wanted to continue in the career mentioned above, spending all my energy on something I didn’t love, reading once again became my escape – a way to take back control, really.
I realized how much I’d missed reading, how much I’d missed a lot of things I’d used to do. And I felt I needed to add a few of those things back into my daily life, for pleasure as well as to keep myself sane (and I mean that in the most literal, psychological way).
What I Did
On Sunday, November 16, 2014, I decided I was going to start a year-long project to read a book week, or rather, 52 books in 52 weeks.
I didn’t necessarily care about finishing a book every single week. What was important to me, at the outset, was that I make a habit of taking time for myself. After all, quiet time, particular for introverts, is one of the most important parts of anyone’s day.
As I began building momentum, completing a few books, and then a few more before New Year’s, I began referring to a good friend of mine (Will Malone) who’s been doing year-long projects (what he calls 365’s) for the past five years or so.
In referencing him, I began to make more of a public show of things – and people actually paid attention! (This goes into my recommendations, which I’ll expound on more below.)
A few people here and there began taking interest in the fact that I wanted to read 52 books in 52 weeks. After all, how many people consciously set out to do that?
Some said I was inspirational. Others thought (not incorrectly) that I was crazy. Either way, there’s several things I’ve learned along the way that I think everyone else should be aware of as well.
When you read over 50 books in a year, it’s not the same as binging on your favorite television shows. When you read over 50 books in a year, you’re constantly growing your vocabulary. You’re continually learning. You’re broadening your knowledge, your framework of experiences. And you’re preparing a developmental pathway in your brain that will yield exponential progress as you get older.
Over the last year, my vocabulary has grown immensely. My reading skills, which have always been incredibly poor, have developed into the average/above-average range, and I’ve become a surprisingly better writer (given, still not great).
For me in particular, there’s been three important benefits.
First – I’d always been one that’s had trouble finishing anything. I’d always had all these creative thoughts running through my mind, but even as an Eagle Scout and college graduate, it’d been difficult for me to set out to do something and actually complete it. On a very personal level, reading over 50 books in a year was the first self-propelled project I’ve ever finished. And I’m damn proud of that.
Second – I’ve learned an incredible amount. You can’t read 50 books (fiction or non) without learning something, whether it be a few new words, or, in my case, several concepts that have actually helped me be better at my job, and a better citizen.
Third – This project has helped me understand internal motivation, and how to hone it for constructive purposes (i.e. self-actualization). There’s so much I’ve learned about time management, about how to prepare for and execute a long-term project. I’m very much a Creative with an entrepreneurial spirit, and I can honestly say that if I hadn’t done some project like this, there’s no way I’d know how to become a Creative who can actually support himself through his creative endeavors.
How You Can Do This
Sadly, too many people look at what I’ve done and say “Wow, that’s great! I wish I could do something like that.” This is very discouraging to hear, because I know a lot of people do a lot more difficult things on a daily basis. By all accounts, reading is rather low on the strenuous scale. But I want every single person reading this to know without a shadow of a doubt that yes, you can actually do something like this.
Let’s do some math. You’ll notice below that I’ve written out every book I read during this project, along with the number of pages and the date I completed each book. In total I read just over 15,000 pages – 15,023, to be exact. This part isn’t going to be perfectly accurate, but the industry standard is that there’s 250 words to a page for a book. 15,023 pages multiplied by 250 words per page brings us to 3,755,750 words that I read in the last year.
The average person reads between 190-200 words per minute (wpm). For round numbers, let’s use 200 wpm. 3,755,750 words divided by 200 wpm equals 312.979 hours that, should you keep an even reading pace, it would take the average person to read 52 books within a year.
312.979 hours worth of reading divided by 365 days in a year brings us to just under 52 minutes of reading per day that it would take to read over 50 books within a year. I strongly believe that you could do that, and here’s some recommendations on how to make it happen.
When I started, I would read in the morning as soon as I got up, and in the evening just before falling asleep. I do not recommend that you do this. If the average person reads about 200 words per minute when they’re fully conscious, that number is effectively cut in half whenever they’re trying to wake up or keep from falling asleep. I do recommend that you take a few minutes to wake up in the morning, particularly with a cup of coffee or six, and then begin reading.
All in all, I read an average of just over 41 pages a day. Something to keep in mind is that not all pages are created equal. For example, 41 pages of Harry Potter is vastly different from 41 pages of The Lord of the Rings. As is 41 pages of Malcom Gladwell compared to 41 pages of Jane Austen. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you more than an hour a day to read 40+ pages of a particular book, because some are simply more difficult to read than others. But do try to stay balanced with some light reading in between dense pieces.
Pick something you love. If you’re going to do a reading goal, do not read books simply because they’re lying around or because you feel like you should. I read The House of the Seven Gables because we had it lying around the house, and because I didn’t want to spend $20+ on a new book. Worst three weeks of my year. But if you love something, like how much I enjoyed Outliers or Choose Your Own Autobiography, you’ll get through it much faster, and be happier about it.
If you’re choosing to do a year-long project, whether it be this or anything else, I’d strongly recommend you tell as many people about it as you can. This helps keep you accountable to others to actually complete what you’re working on, and it creates a really fun talking point. At least once a week I had someone enthusiastically ask me “How’s your reading project going?” or “Read any good books lately?” or “I’m putting a reading list together. What would you recommend?” By doing a long-term project and telling people about it along the way, people will reach out to you for advice, as well as genuinely find interest in what you’re doing.
What I Read
Here’s the actual list I kept of every book I read during my year between November 16, 2014 and November 15, 2015. But in case you can’t read my less-than-stellar handwriting, I’ve also typed out every book and noted my favorites.
* I’d read this book at least once before I began my year-long project
** I highly recommend this book.
- Blind Spot, Gordon Rugg, 281 pp. — Completed November 23, 2014
2. A Praying Life, Paul Miller, 270 pp. — Completed December 8, 2014**
3. The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris, 381 pp. — Completed December 13, 2014**
4. The New Coffeehouse Investor, Bill Schultheis, 181 pp. — Completed December 14, 2014
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling, 309 pp. — Completed December 21, 2014* **
6. The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis, 192 pp. — Completed December 22, 2014
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling, 341 pp. — Completed December 27, 2014* **
8. Blink, Malcolm Gladwell, 286 pp. — Completed January 3, 2015**
9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling, 435 pp. — Completed January 6, 2015* **
10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling, 734 pp. — Completed January 23, 2015* **
11. Multiply, Francis Chan, 333 pp. — Completed January 25, 2015
12. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling, 870 pp. — Completed February 6, 2015* **
13. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling, 652 pp. — Completed February 12, 2015* **
14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling, 759 pp. — Completed February 19, 2015* **
15. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 180 pp. — Completed February 22, 2015**
16. How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, 248 pp. — Completed February 25, 2015
17. Watership Down, Richard Adams, 426 pp. — Completed March 15, 2015**
18. Quiet Strength, Tony Dungy, 301 pp. — Completed March 26, 2015
19. Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw, 133 pp. — Completed March 29, 2015
20. Why Does God Allow War?, Martin Lloyd-Jones, 126 pp. — Completed April 5, 2015
21. The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 365 pp. — Completed April 19, 2015
22. The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien, 305 pp. — Completed April 30, 2015* **
23. The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien, 458 pp. — Completed May 17, 2015* **
24. How to be Rich, Andy Stanley, 135 pp. — Completed May 28, 2015
25. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, 120 pp. — Completed June 3, 2015*
26. The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien, 398 pp. — Completed June 21, 2015* **
27. Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan, 266 pp. — Completed June 26, 2015**
28. Wise Words and Quotes, Vern McLellan, 296 pp. — Completed July 1, 2015
29. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand, 416 pp. — Completed July 10th, 2015**
30. Spark: Igniting a Culture of Multiplication, Todd Wilson, 82 pp. — Completed July 13, 2015
31. Crossing the Chasm, Geoffery A. Moore, 241 pp. — Completed July 22, 2015**
32. In the Name of Jesus, Henri J. M. Nouwen, 101 pp. — Completed July 24, 2015
33. The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien, 340 pp. — Completed August 5, 2015* **
34. Quidditch Through the Ages, Kennilworthy Whisp, 105 pp. — Completed August 16, 2015
35. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, 356 pp. — Completed August 17, 2015
36. Ordinary, Michael Horton, 211 pp. — Completed August 29, 2015
37. The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket, 162 pp. — Completed September 4, 2015*
38. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander, 88 pp. — Completed September 5, 2015
39. The Reptile Room, Lemony Snicket, 190 pp. — Completed September 9, 2015*
40. The Two-Second Advantage, Vivek Ranadive & Kevin Maney, 223 pp. — Completed September 13, 2015
41. Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, 285 pp. — Completed September 17, 2015**
42. The Wide Window, Lemony Snicket, 214 pp. — Completed September 18, 2015*
43. Choose Your Own Autobiography, Neil Patrick Harris, 291 pp. — Completed September 22, 2015**
44. The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, Karl Iglesias, 234 pp. — Completed October 3, 2015**
45. The Miserable Mill, Lemony Snicket, 194 pp. — Completed October 3, 2015*
46. Bossypants, Tina Fey, 275 pp. — Completed October 5, 2015
47. Creating Unforgettable Characters, Linda Seger, 221 pp. — October 27, 2015
48. The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis, 175 pp. — Completed November 1, 2015*
49. Adulting, Kelly Williams Brown, 262 pp. — Completed November 4, 2014
50. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, 280 pp. — Completed November 11, 2015**
51. I Am America (And So Can You!), Stephen Colbert, 217 pp. — Completed November 12, 2015
52. The Go-Getter, Peter B. Kyne, 79 pp. — Completed November 13, 2015**
I’d highly recommend doing a year-long project like this! Take an hour a day – even if that means you don’t get to watch as much of your favorite show – and put it towards a long-term project that you really want to do. Something you’ve been saying to yourself for years you need to do might be a good one to choose. If you just want to get better at something, you’re bound to if you spend an hour a day on it for an entire year! What I’ve done is, admittedly, not that difficult. But I hope you’ll use it as a catalyst for your own project!
Check out this coming year’s project of publishing 100,000 words: click here.