It is always a good feeling when you set a goal and then meet it. For example, my first goal of every morning is to actually get out of bed, and I'm usually successful. See, I start the day off by meeting a goal! The lesson in that, of course, is to aim low.
Reading a book a week is not aiming low for me. For my oldest, it would be backtracking. For book reviewers, tantamount to vacation. For me? Tough work! Not that I have not always been a reader. I love books. I like the way they look and feel (sorry Mr. Kindle), I like how they look on shelves, and clearly I like what they offer. Books (to borrow a cliche) take me to another world or help me understand my current world better. They bring new light to relationships, challenge conventional world views, and even strengthen my faith (and I'm not just talking books with a spiritual leaning).
So why was this a challenge? Having reached the ripe old age of 46 (now 47) I decided I was not reading as much as I wanted to, but the question was why not? I have four children, and even though two are now recent college grads, all together they take time. I have a lovely wife who cannot and should not be ignored. I work a full time job which calls for night hours on a regular basis, am involved with two non-profit boards, volunteer on the occasional community committee, and like to spend time collecting stamps and listening to accordion music (which would be a funny line if it was not true -- thus, it is just sad). Mix in watching my beloved Redwings whenever I can (and there are 82 games before post-season start), the occasional help I give around the house, and the carting of a 10-year-old to his plethora of extracurricular activities, the problem was clear -- lack of time. I'm a productivity kind of guy (ask my office mates and listen for the groan) so I knew I was making effective use of my time. The only solution? Make it a goal, thus making it a priority, and get reading.
My original idea was to reread a number of classics and dive into a few books I've been putting off too long. But life does not always go as planned, and that is usually a good thing. I started with a book I was reading out of self interest (Blink) and then jumped into a classic (Zorba), but before long I was all over the place. I found that by posting reviews on Blogcritics I could get free books (yes!) so I started requesting books which looked interesting and posting reviews. Needless to say, I was reading a range of books by authors I've never heard of, perhaps because for several it was a first novel. I also found myself reading a lot more non-fiction than I expected and on a range of topics I would not normally consider (e.g. surgery, eco-terroism). Friends and family recommended books, I found a great community of book bloggers who offered and inspired even more ideas, and I even moved into the social media world to share and learn more.
Being a data person, I thought I should figure out just what I read. Although the goal was a book a week, I actually managed to knock off 63 books in the 52 weeks. Here is a breakdown.
Books by men: 41 (65%)
Books by women: 22 (35%)
Fiction: 43 (68%)
Non-fiction: 17 (27%)
Poetry: 3 (5%)
U.S./British Writers: 52 (of minority background: 10) (83% -- 16% of total books by American minorities)
Other countries: 11 (17%)
Not surprising that most of the writers were from the U.S./Britain, although I was pleased that by adding American minorities and foreign writers I found that 43% of writers were non-white. Nothing against white people (I happen to be one), but I like to get other views on life and reading books by people who have had different experiences helps. I was surprised that the number of women was not higher since it felt like I was reading a lot of women writers, but the data does not lie. I think it was more the odds of what I was grabbing then anything since most of my favorite writers are women: e.g Jane Austen, Willa Cather, Danielle Steele (okay, I'm completely lying on this last one).
Only three books of poetry? Actually, that is less than I usually read. I felt a bit guilty reading poetry since it is "easy" to get through a book, so I found myself reading less this year. As a fan of poetry, this is disappointing, but I know that will increase now that the pressure to read certain books is off.
A few people have asked me what my favorite book is of the year. No answer. Jose Saramago completely caught me off guard and I loved both the novels I read. Cormac McCarthy's The Road is outstanding. And I reread Pride and Prejudice which is about as perfect as a book can get (although I'm currently rereading Sense and Sensibility and finding it even better than I have before). Jack Ridl's Losing Season was excellent and is the way to get non-poetry folks into poetry. I've also been asked about the worst book: Good Fairies of New York. Hey, I was stretching out on this one and I'm fairly sure I pulled some muscle in the process. Just not my style. And a collection of Walter Mosley short stories clumsily tied together in a novel was not pleasing either, and I really like Mosley.
So there is the data, a short analysis, and the rationale. But was it hard to accomplish? The fact that I finished 63 books in the year would clearly indicate it was not. Sure, there were a few tough weeks due to time, but no matter how busy, I found myself looking forward to and carving out time for reading. Even since I've finished my goal I'm still looking forward to reading, and now I can read some of the longer works I've had to avoid. Not that I read short books, but I do not like to be rushed with great writing. When work was stressful or too much was going on in the family, my book time was the balm I needed. I've rediscovered the pure joy of reading (and yes I know how that sounds). Just as important, I've also rediscovered the wide range of reading out there for me. Given my limited reading time in the past I was too selective, and as a result missed some great writing. So yes, I met my goal. I read my book a week. But I also met my unrealized goal of reintroducing the wealth of books back into my daily life.
Many of you have read my blog, commented on my Amazon or Blogcritic reviews, made comments in passing, or have simply given me encouragement. Thank you! It was much easier knowing many people were interested in my experiment.
I'll still be writing on my reading, but in different ways. I would love to hear comments so visit me at:
1) Amazon Reviews (and give me positive votes!)
...and now my blog is finished.