Lessons Learned by Reading 100 Books

In 2014 I had a reading goal to read 100 books. There are not a lot of people who can claim reading 100 books in a single year, and I count myself rather lucky to be able to include myself as one of those people. For a decent portion of 2014 I had real doubts as to whether I would reach my desired goal, but I did manage to pull it off thanks to a particularly spectacular month of reading last October.

The year started out strong and I stayed at a pretty good pace of getting books read, finished, and out the door. However, in the middle of the year I started to fall behind, coming one or two books short of pace for a few months in a row and eventually saw myself nearly a full month of reading behind. As the year got into its later months I had to make a decision: Do I just give up on this now, or do I make one big push in October and see if I can get back on pace? I decided to give it my all in October, with the idea that if I could get 100% back on pace I would stick it out for November and December and get to the 100 books read mark. If I fell short in October, I was going to cut my losses.

Here is a chart showing how things went for the entire year:

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
7 9 9 8 6 7 8 7 8 16 10 6

Every single month in that chart should have had an 8 or higher, but you’ll notice several months where I only got 7 books finished, and a couple with only 6 complete. That’s why October had to basically be a double month of reading. I did a valiant job trying to stay on pace, but coming up just one book short over the first 9 months of the year really added up towards the end. Thankfully, I can say that October might have been a beast of a month where I came very near to never wanting to see my Kindle again, but the plan worked and I make it all the way to my goal.

Along the way to reading so many books I learned a few things. I thought it might be nice to share some of those lessons for anyone else looking at trying a similar reading challenge in the future. I won’t be trying it again in 2015, but you never know, I could see myself giving it another shot sometime down the road.

Lesson #1: Life Circumstances Play a Big Role

I consider myself to be a pretty lucky man. My wife is very supportive of my reading habits and my keeping this blog, so she makes sure if I ask for a little time to put towards those things that I get that time as much as possible. However, I do have a full-time job as a web developer, two small children (ages 3 and 5 at the time), a home to keep in good shape, social obligations involving friends and church, and other various hobbies.

All of that adds up to a lot of time already allotted to things that are not reading. I’m a quick reader, so I know I can read a 350-400 page book in about 5 hours, give or take, but it’s obviously easier to do that when those hours are in big chunks and not broken up into 20 or 30 minute increments.

If I had no wife, no children, a less demanding employment situation, and fewer social obligations I could have blown 100 books out of the water. I probably could have pushed 150 or maybe even 200 like I’ve seen other reviewers claim to have done. I like reading, and I like it enough that I will give up time towards other hobbies such as World of Warcraft, watching television and movies, or similar things, but I don’t love it enough that I’ll turn my back on spending time with my wife and children. I also don’t love it enough that I’ll put my job at risk to reach a reading goal.

There was a delicate balance that had to be met as I fit extra reading in around the other things I have to be aware of on a day-to-day basis. Trying to hit this goal really put some things into perspective for me as to what’s important to spend time on and what isn’t. For example, the last three months of 2014 saw me post nothing but my monthly recap on what I had read. The hour or so I would spend blogging at any point was better spent reading and trying to hit my goal.

Lesson #2: Choose Your Books Carefully

If you are anything like me, your reading list of books you want to read next features a heavy dose of books over 600 pages in length. I really wanted to read books from some of my favorite authors during 2014, but they were so long I just couldn’t do it. I needed to be able to finish two books per week, which meant if I could carve out 2 hours a day for reading (which was my average), I needed to read books closer to 400 pages in length as often as possible, sometimes a little smaller, sometimes a little bigger.

My average book length for 2014 was 396 pages per book. That’s lower than I wanted it to be, but time constraints led to making choices based on book length rather than genre, author, or other factors. I did still read some big books, Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign, Words of Radiance, The Garden of Stones, Cibola Burn, and City of Heavenly Fire to name a few, but I was also crushed to see books such as Red Mars, The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Thousand Names, and The Emperor’s Blades left behind because I simply couldn’t fit them in to the rotation.

Lesson #3: There Will Be Loose Ends

Due to my penchant for reading science fiction and fantasy, most books are part of a series, or at least a trilogy. That means if I want to read the first book, I probably need to read the second, third, and maybe fourth, fifth, and sixth books. Here’s the problem with that: Every series sees its books get longer and longer the further you read. As I mentioned above, the longer the book, the less of a chance it had of getting read.

As a result, I have a very long list of loose ends I need to tie up in order to finish off trilogies and series that I’ve started, but left incomplete. I’ll be writing a post next week taking a look at that big pile of loose ends in more detail, but suffice it to say for now that there is another entire year of reading to be done to clean it up.

Lesson #4: Consistency Means Everything

If you are going to read 100 or more books in a single year you have to be consistent. You need to create habits around when you are going to read, for how long, and where. It cannot be something that just sort of “happens” whenever you feel like it. Times need to be set when you can sit down for an extended period and hammer through some pages.

I struggled with this for the first few months, but finally found a routine that worked for me. Once I had that done I was able to be more comfortable in staying consistent with how many books I read each month, but even then I was a little behind pace. You can’t just read every third day, it needs to be a daily thing or it becomes too easy to put off until the next day and then you’ll find yourself behind all over again.

Lesson #5: It Can Get Expensive Very Quickly

Borrowing books from the library is not really my thing anymore. I did it a lot when I was in middle school and high school because I didn’t have money to blow on books and I didn’t have a Kindle. Last year I discovered my Kindle is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it makes it easy to read anything, anywhere, but libraries don’t have most mainstream books available electronically yet, so if I had designs on reading something by an established author I was out of luck. Instead, I needed to buy the ebook for myself because I really do not like reading hard copy books very much anymore. I did it a few times when I was in a pinch last year, but I did not prefer it by any means.

One lifesaver for me was the Kindle Daily Deal. Up until they announced the Kindle Unlimited program, the Kindle Daily Deal could be counted on getting me anywhere from 2-5 books a month that I was actually quite interested in reading. At $.99-$1.99 each, that saved me a lot of money, but I still spent a lot more cash than I should have on books.

Lesson #6: You Will Find Wonderful New Authors

As a direct result of my reliance on the Kindle Daily Deal and also as a result of writing this blog on a regular basis (at least for the first few months of 2014), I managed to get exposure to some fun new authors (new to me at least, but also newly published), many of them self-published. I had never read books by established authors such as Scott Westerfeld, Brian McClellan, Michael J. Sullivan, Brandon Mull, and Jim Butcher until last year. I also discovered new talent such as Michael McCloskey, Pierce Brown, Myke Cole, Alex J. Cavanaugh, Rhett C. Bruno, S.L. Dunn, and Cassandra Rose Clarke.

If nothing else, reading 100 books in a year broke me out of my established reading habits and showed me how very many great things there are to read beyond what I already knew to be a vast expanse of genre fiction.

To wrap things up, all I can say is that reading 100 books in one year was amazing, tiring, uplifting, frustrating, and ultimately, fantastic. I applaud those reviewers or general readers who can do that sort of thing year after year after year. Some of which read twice that number in a single year. I learned a lot about myself as a reader and so very much about how different authors operate within the same genre that I’m glad I gave trying such a reading goal a chance.

If anyone wants to see a complete list of what I read in 2014, you can find a dedicated page right here that will give you titles, authors, and page counts, along with a link to any of the books I wrote a review for, which are the book titles shown in blue.

As for commentary on books I did not find the time to review in full, most of them are mentioned at least briefly to some degree in my monthly recaps from last year:

It was a fun year of reading and I hope all of you who may be looking at trying such a lofty reading goal for yourselves can get some benefit by seeing the lessons I learned while doing it myself.

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