This time in 2015, I was pretty close to hitting my target of 20 books. I achieved it, but a lot later in December. It was the fifth or sixth time I had set myself a reading challenge. In 2012, my target was 10 books; in 2013 it was 15 (but I only read 8); in 2014 it was 5; in 2015 it was 20. This year, I set (and surpassed) a target of 40 books.
It’s an indication of what life is like, the number of books you think you can read. In 2014, my business was just starting, and I’d ramped up my dancing, so reading was neither here nor there. Interestingly, I’ve done more in 2016 than I thought I could ever fit in, between work, dance, and travel. What I did do this year was discover the art of asking myself, What can I do? Oh, and taking breaks. Reading during breaks is a powerful way to get through your day filled with energy.
When I was kid – and for most of my life – I’ve been a rabid reader. I loved those primary school days of raising money during the MS Read-a-thon. (Sadly, that amazing program doesn’t exist any more.) For those of you overseas, the MS Read-a-thon was a short period of time in which kids pledged to read a certain number of books in exchange for sponsorship from friends, family and neighbours. All of the money went to the Multiple Sclerosis society, and the winners gained some seriously massive prizes.
I was rubbish at the money-raising, and fantastic at the reading. I think my priorities were in the correct order.
Later in life – in my first business, actually – I was proud to be able to donate a prize for the best regional school in South Australia, as judged by schools that raised the most money. That was how Bordertown Primary School gained a full day of incredible workshops, where kids learned the Direct Camera writing technique.
Fast-forward to the end of 2015 as I sat contemplating the number of books to read. I had achieved 20, so it was fair to say I should increase the goal.
That was how I came to ask people on Twitter how many I should read. ‘I’m thinking about setting the bar a bit higher and hitting 30 books’, I mused out loud.
One of my great friends, the fabulous UK book blogger Brizzlelass, asked me innocently: ‘Why not 40?’
Well, yes, I thought. Why not 40? I didn’t have an answer of any kind. I have a busy life, sure, but time isn’t an excuse: If you really want to achieve something, you find the time. Not having the books was not an excuse. In fact, when I reflected on the idea, the only excuse I had was a fear of not being able to do it. And that was completely unacceptable.
So, not having a response of any kind, I said to her: ‘Good question. Forty books it is.’ Then I went over to Goodreads and set my challenge at 40 books.
Today, I hit that target. More to the point, I hit that target in only the second week of December.
40 books in a year… what were they?
Here are all the books I read this year, in order of completion:
- Edin, Kathryn, $2.00 a Day: Living on almost nothing in America
- McKeown, Greg, Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less
- Coelho, Paul, The Alchemist
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, Flow: The psychology of optimal experience
- Levitin, Daniel J, The Organized Mind: Thinking straight in the age of information overload
- Manguel, Alberto, A Reading Diary: A passionate reader’s reflections on a year of books
- Little, Brenda, Companion Planting in Australia
- Palmer, Amanda, The Art of Asking: or, How I learned to stop worrying and let people help
- Baxter, Alan, The Darkest Shade of Grey
- Duhigg, Charles, The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business
- Christensen, Clayton M., The Innovator’s Dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail
- Zweig, David, The Invisibles: The power of anonymous work in an age of relentless self-promotion
- Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An introduction
- Kafka, Franz, The Complete Novels of Kafka
- King, Stephen, On Writing: A memoir of the craft
- Chang, Ha-Joon, Economics: The user’s guide
- Jiwa, Bernadette, Meaningful: The story of ideas that fly
- Buffett, Mary, Warren Buffett’s Management Secrets: Proven tools for personal and business success
- Vallejo, Cesar, Selected Poems
- Cassidy, Anne, Moth Girls
- Ishiguro, Kazuo, The Buried Giant
- Coelho, Paul, The Pilgrimage
- Rugg, Julie, A Book Addict’s Treasury
- Govindarajan, Vijay, How Stella Saved the Farm: A wild and woolly yarn about making innovation happen
- Collins, Jim, From Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t
- Watts, Duncan J, Everything is Obvious: Once you know the answer
- Baxter, Alan, Obsidian
- Baxter, Alan, Abduction
- Zasio, Robyn, The Hoarder in You: How to live a happier, healthier, uncluttered life
- Schroeder, Alice, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the business of life
- Ries, Al and Trout, Jack, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
- Holiday, Ryan, The Obstacle is the Way
- Holiday, Ryan, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a media manipulator
- Orwell, George, A Collection of Essays
- Gyatso, Kelsang, Eight Steps to Happiness: The Buddhist way of loving kindness
- Sacks, Oliver, The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
- James, Clive, The Meaning of Recognition: Essays 2001-2005
- Priestley, Daniel, The Entrepreneur Revolution: How to develop your entrepreneurial mindset and start a business that works
- Griffiths, Andrew, The Me Myth: What do you mean it’s not all about me?
- Goswami, Amit, The Self-Aware Universe: How consciousness creates the material world
Where’s the 41st? It didn’t have a date (because I failed to record it). But that was Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude: How to find, build and keep a Yes! attitude for a lifetime of success.
Reduced to a list, it really doesn’t feel like that many. Until you realise that The Snowball was nearly 1000 pages long; and that some works – like Kafka’s complete novels – were both substantial and intellectually or existentially difficult.
Some of them made me stare at the wall in thoughtful contemplation every time I read a paragraph. Some took months to finish. Some were audiobooks, and mark periods of travel. Some grabbed my soul and moved me to tears (Cesar Vallejo’s poetry will do that to you).
Some of these books, like Jiwa’s Meaningful, were absolute rubbish. Others, like A Book Addict’s Treasury were so good you didn’t want them to end.
Reading over this list, I feel like it’s a pretty good indication of who I am, really: Fascinated by the depth of the world and other people’s ideas, keen to stretch my own intellectual horizons, and occasionally just really into good fiction.
Where to from here? What’s the challenge for 2017?
Right now I’m considering committing to 52 books. It’s only 12 more, but at a book a week it will be a stretch.
As for the reading list, my journals over the past year, which include references to books from the books in the list above, are much larger than 52 books. There will be no trouble finding the books to read; the challenge is making it enough of a priority that I actually do it. I’m considering going out to find – and read – every collection of Best Australian Essays ever published. Wouldn’t that be a fantastic feat?
In 2017 I also intend to keep a book-focused journal: Simply a list of books read and some notes about it, with the URL to the review. Books about books: So meta.
You can read my reviews of most of the books in this year’s challenge. All you have to do is click here and follow the links.