How I Read 52 Books in a Year

Ready to read 52 books in the next 52 weeks? Yes?!? Alrighty.

Let's begin with two more compelling reasons for why you should read 52 books in a year. 

Numero Uno: You'll develop more interesting and deeper connections. One of my favorite things about this challenge was meeting others who shared my love of books. As I searched for good stories I made new friends and connected more deeply with existing relationships. My favorite question now is, "What's your favorite book and why?" The answers are sometimes surprising and always enlightening.

And Deux: Reading 52 books in a year is a big but achievable goal. While this challenge is not tiny it's fairly achievable if you work at it consistently. You just have to keep reading. For me, reaching a goal that stretched over a year built confidence. Consistent effort demonstrated that I also had the willpower and focus to reach important goals in my business. I learned that I really was able to let go of short-term gratification for something that was more meaningful. 

I know you can do it too. 

So let's talk about how YOU can read 52 books in a year.

Don't wait for the New Year
I'm not really a New Year's resolutions kind of gal. I often get inspired to take on a new challenge like meditating daily or reading 52 books in a year on some random Tuesday night in September. Remembering what Tara told me about the Reading Challenge on GoodReads I almost waited for the year to flip. Honestly I was afraid I'd chicken out if I didn't start that minute. And so I began. Like most things there isn't a perfect moment. Don't wait for the New Year to make the resolution to begin changing your life today. Stop waiting. Start today.

Do it one book at a time
When you begin your quest that number -- 52 -- is pretty daunting. Use Anne Lamott's wise advice from Bird by Bird to help you get started. Focusing only on the next book allows you to succumb to its secret world and enjoy it more. And when you have your face stuffed in the words you'll stop worrying about your goal and begin to truly enjoy the process. This challenge is also much easier when reading only one book at time. For someone who used to have 4 books going at once, this was a difficult but important new habit to form. My mantra? This moment, this book.

Don't shout about it from the skyscrapers 
I used to be a executive coach. During my training we were taught that we needed to "claim" a goal that we were going to achieve. The idea was that by loudly proclaiming it you made yourself accountable for acheiving your goal. But for me shouting out something I wanted to achieve felt strange. I hadn't done it yet. What if it wasn't the right goal? What if I changed my mind for something even better? It turns out there's something to my concerns. In this short little Ted talk, Derek Sivers explains that sharing your goals fools your brain into thinking that you've already done, which means you're less likely to actually go through with it.

I told a few close friends but otherwise kept my mouth shut even to the librarians who saw me every week. It was only at 4 books and 9 weeks to go that I felt confident to share my goal more widely. Even then, I was loathe to talk about it much and definitely didn't blog about it.

Change your reading habits
My dear friend Tara encouraged me to vary what I read in order to be successful. This was the best piece of advice I received. She gave me permission to read what made me happy rather than trying to be a book snob by reading intellectually challenging or epic books. Tara's may have been the best piece of reading advice I received. My advice? Don't pick long reads like Shanatram (944 pages!) when doing a 52 books in a year challenge. If you do pick one longer book be sure to offset it with shorter, easier reads.

Don't slog through a book just because of sunk reading cost
If a book isn't giving you that reading mojo, drop it. There's no sense in giving yourself brain damage if you're not into a book. If you find yourself yelling at the book or rereading a sentence over and over again just say "I'm not that into you" drop it and find a new one that you are into.

Get on GoodReads
This is the best way to track what you want to read as well as what you've read. The last 2 years GoodReads has sponsored a Reading Challenge. While not everyone challenges themselves to read 52 books, it's a great way to discover good books and find camaraderie in your challenge. Although my challenge was spread over two calendar years I was still able to use their system to help me track my progress. Come look me up on GoodReads. You can find me under um, my name. I can't wait to see what you read. And? What you learn.

Why I Read 52 Books in a Year

I was never cool.

As soon as I could read I became a word nerd who enjoyed slipping into the world of words. The endless combinations of words and the stories they produced brought me comfort. Sure, I could converse with people but the truth is I always preferred the wonderment of books. I spent most of my childhood with a flashlight ready so I could read late into the night long after the lights were out. A librarian wanted to promote reading so they offered to dedicate a book to you for every 10 that you read. By the time I was 9 I had more than 12 dedicated to me--at just that library. One weekend instead of practicing for cheerleader tryouts I was engrossed with biographies on Martin Luther King, Pocahontas and Sacajewa. When it came to the tryout I did a halfhearted cheer -- and went back to reading my book. Of course I didn't make the squad, though I was on the journalism staff throughout high school. 

The Part Where I Lose My Love
In college I took every english class available in hopes that I could turn my obsession into a profession. Sadly, my obsession stayed a hobby.When I left the world of higher learning my reading continued but at a far slower pace. Books were soon replaced with the endless blare of the TV at night, a vain attempt at cloaking the days events with mindless blather.  I discovered that literally and metaphorically I couldn't read by the tv light. And so my books became dusty artifacts of a former love. My reading became more limited to articles and blog posts. When I read books they were nearly all non-fiction--anything that could be consumed quickly and turned into knowledge for my burgeoning professional life. 

The Return of Reading & A Big Challenge
A few years ago I found my way back to my beloved. Though my book binges weren't anywhere near my previous state, it felt good to be cradled inside stories again. I wondered how I could plot a more frequent presence of books in my life. My inspiration was Andrew Hyde and Tara Anderson Cahliman who had both recently finished reading 52 books in a year. For 6 months I tried to screw up the courage to attempt to read 52 books in 52 weeks. A book a week when I was barely reading one a month? (gulp) What if I failed? What would it mean for my love of books if I didn't make it? Worry danced in my head like flame on a campfire. One day I just decided that I could do it. Or at least, I could try.

Why read 52 books in a year? 

  • Open myself to new ideas different cultures
  • It was time to pry myself away from the tv 
  • To rediscover my former love affair with words
  • Reading good writing makes you a better writer
  • My intuition kept egging me on
  • To see if I could do it

The biggest reason I did it was to challenge myself to do something that mattered to me even if it didn't have a direct impact on my business.

So, I did it. I actually read 52 books in a year.

I started (and finished) my first book Apron Anxiety on September 16, 2012. I read the last line of my final book Born Standing Up on August 12, 2013. 

Now that you know why I did it, in my next post I'll tell you how I did it and how you can too. (You know you wanna...and I know you can.)


How to Get that First Draft Done

Need to update your marketing copy but are worried about your writing skills? Procrastinating on that blog post because you're afraid it won't sound as good on paper as it does in your head?  Sometimes you may need to hire a professional to clean up that messy first draft. (um, hi!) However, writing the initial draft can coalesce your thoughts on your brand or your position on a topic and -- get it out of your head so you can think about other things. This infographic offers great advice for writers or anyone who's working on copy. Well. What are you waiting for? Barricade yourself in and start writing!


10 Rules for Writing First Drafts
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

Joan Didion on Why I Write took me some years to discover what I was.

Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a ‘good’ writer or a ‘bad’ writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.

Joan Didion


Thanks to Brain Pickings for reminding me of this quote. It's such a delicious quote about a topic I care deeply about. I too am a writer, compelled to pick up pencil and put to paper or to furiously type on a keyboard daily. Since I was a kid I've enjoyed many hours enamored with words on paper. While I've held a number of titles throughout my life--project manager, executive coach, CMO-for-Hire, buying assistant--being a writer is something that I am everyday regardless of my title. It's just a part of my genetic makeup. I simply can't help myself.

I have this notion that each of us have something that is so endemic to who we are that we are compelled to do it; a compulsion that comes within the deepest part of who you are. For me arranging words on paper is my compulsion. It helps me process my thoughts and to understand the world around me. When I am in my deepest despair you'll often find me curled into a corner of a library or bookstore. Once I've sorted through my thoughts I feel much more at ease. I suddenly know how to approach a problem or take a creative approach to a project. If I don't write for a day I just don't quite feel like myself.

Writing? It's just a part of who I am.

What is your compulsion? And what compels you to do it?

Break the Rules But Do It On Purpose

Growing up the daughter of an advanced composition teacher words were a big part of our household. Our board games mostly consisted of boggle, scrabble and the like. My father, although an engineer, also cared about the use of words and grammar. I vividly remember him at the kitchen table, dictionary and thesaurus next to him, while he wrote a report or speech. Whenever he got stumped he'd yell to my mother to ensure he was using a word in the correct context. He once scolded me at length for answering the phone "This is she." rather than "This is she speaking." While I hated the correction I am grateful now that he cared that I knew how to speak properly.

Creating content calendars, writing blog posts and communicating on social media is just a part of my everyday life so it's pretty safe to say I feel most at home when surrounded by words.  That's right I'm a word nerd. I care about it so much that this is one place in my life I become a bit judgmental. I'll admit I have a hard time dating a man who can't spell and poor grammar in a blog post instantly turns me off to a business. There's a particularly well known blogger (nope--not going to give their moniker away) who has good content that I'm very interested in but the writing is so amateur that I only read about a quarter of the posts. It's such a shame. Don't even get me started on people who use cliches way too liberally. A post for another day.

As content quickly becomes a key differentiator for businesses on the social web understanding how to write well is critical. It's ok to break traditional grammar rules especially when writing for a digital landscape. Just be sure to know the rules first and to do it purposefully. Otherwise you might just look like a fool rather than a cool, smart business person who stands out for all the right reasons. Here are a few particularly vexing grammar blackholes:

One space or Two?

In a 140 character world every character matters. So. Much. In a character limited world it's perfectly fine to use one space between sentences rather than the traditional two.

Real estate is valuable on the web.

It's ok to abbreviate a word-just be sure it connotes the right thing. For example, using Assn. for Association rather than Ass. (a real example used by a former boss before I corrected him).

Writing for social

When writing for social media make sure to know the proper usage of a hashtag before using it. For example, FTW means For The Win not For the Whales. Or Finish The Wine. Although you should always finish tasty wine.

The Oxford Comma Dilemma

The good old oxford comma is an unnecessary extravagance when writing for the web. Don't know what an oxford comma is? It is a serial comma, the name of a song, and something that is no longer needed for proper grammar but of course you can use it if you'd like. By the way, the last comma in that sentence is an example of an oxford comma. Here's a great little ditty about the modern use of the oxford comma by Grammar Girl.

I hope this has helped you treat words better. They're like my children. Please don't mangle them. And? You will be judged.  But only because I love you and I love words.