Why I Must Read 52 Books This Year

photo: cbc.ca
photo: cbc.ca

RESOLUTION: Read 52 books in 1 year.

No limits placed on books — long, short, fiction, non-fiction, biographical, poetical, boring, interesting. I just need to read, read, and read some more. Who knows how close I’ll get to accomplishing this — I do read a lot as it is, so I think I stand a pretty good chance — but the point of this challenge is more to have motivation to broaden my horizons continually, to pursue self-education actively and self-improvement aggressively, and to create “culture” for my brain in an environment that’s not naturally conducive to it (as in spending my days at home with two children).

A number of recent experiences have planted this seed of aspiration. I first got the idea from a writer on Huffington Post who said she makes the same resolution to read 52 books every year. Some years it works, others not, but the point is it keeps her reading. Then I read an anecdote in Mary Pipher’s book Seeking Peace: her aunt told her as a child that, if she spends life as a non-reader, she’ll enjoy seventy or eighty years’ worth of life experience, if she’s lucky; but if she chooses instead to read, she’ll have access to more than three thousand years of enlightenment, philosophy, and thought. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

The other influence leading to this resolution was a long overdue coffee date with my dear friend Lauren and her new man, Paul. Over gulped-down lattes and chocolate-almond croissants, we shivered in a frigid Toronto park while watching my kids burn off energy in a playground and talking about self-development and the plight of the Artist in society. Of all people, they know what that’s about. Lauren is a musician — violin and piano teacher, songwriter, singer — and Paul is a fashion photographer. Paul articulated some of the sagest advice I’ve heard in a while: “You’ve just got to start doing what you want people to hire you for.” As frustrating as it is that this world loves to take advantage of the poor artist and ask for free favours in the name of “exposure,” the reality is that exposure — or, at least, making it look like you really know what you’re doing — is what gets artists into the jobs they crave. (See my mom’s blog post about this very problem: A Freeze on Freebies.)

How does this tie into reading 52 books? It’s all part of that package of learning and knowledge that will sculpt me into becoming the professional book-writer I want so badly to be, not to mention having a well-rounded perspective and informed opinions about the world. I need to take the necessary steps to give myself the foundation on which to build a literary career and the best place to start while living in the middle of nowhere with very limited access to both mainstream and alternative “culture” is by pushing myself to read beyond what’s comfortable. There are no extensive libraries here, no university courses, no theatre, opera, or Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I can’t go to public readings, writing workshops, or even inspirational indie bookstores. Books are my only recourse for now and, lucky for me, pretty much the best education out there anyways.


17 thoughts on “Why I Must Read 52 Books This Year

  1. I keep a journal of everything I read. No comments, just the title and author and the year and month I read it. It’s interesting to look back and see what I’ve read, and also to see how much more I read as my kids got older. I read 51 books at the cottage this summer.

  2. There is one very small library here, made up of books donated by ex-pats. I have to say that since moving here, I’ve read some of the best books ever, just because the choice is so limited and I’ve been forced to move away from some of my favourite authors.
    I do impose fiction fasts on myself though, when I’m actually writing creatively myself (not the planning stages, the actual getting it down). Otherwise I find that when I’m struggling with something, it’s too tempting to dive into someone else’s fine words. I’m currently in the planning stages of a non-fiction book, so It’ll be interesting to see if I need to impose a fast when I get down to the actual writing (probably – my willpower takes a lot of effort!).
    Like Kelly, I also keep a list at the back of my journal of everything I read – just so I don’t forget.

    1. Yes, I can see that. I’ve discovered wonderful authors by being forced to read them, especially in university classes. I’m curious about your prep for writing non-fiction. I have an idea for a book but I find that research so daunting. Where do you even start? How many months/years do you plan on studying and reading before writing something?

      1. You’ll like my low-tech approach to planning as it involves a nice big notebook, which is my working document when I’m ready to get writing. I basically haven’t changed my formula since my high school essay-writing days. I make lists, with all the sections I want to cover, and as this is non-fiction, I’ve detailed who I want to interview, ideas, phrases I think are clever (ha ha!), tone, possible graphics, what is missing from other books on the same subject, etc.

        For this book, I’m working with a co-author – she is not a writer but I need her for her knowledge and to get access to people in her field. I have been thinking about the subject for the last month, but only when I met her by chance a couple of weeks ago, did I see the book clearly. She is not a writer and I’m leading the project, but she is key to it and therefore in my mind will deserve equal credit. I believe in striking while the iron is hot, so I’ve knocked up my loose plan, and we’re meeting again on Tuesday evening to discuss it and which section to cover first (it will be the one where it is easiest for her to arrange access). I’ll then start writing that section, while we organise the interviews etc…that is the plan anyway!

        Also for me, as much as I need a framework, I need to get on with the actual writing quickly as I always seem to get snared up in structure issues early on and the only way I can get into the flow is by hammering these (and myself) into shape as soon as possible.

        This book feels ‘easy’ for me at the moment (I am a ridiculously optimistic person though!) as it’s basically just a long article. So I’m within my comfort zone and that’s probably why I’m happy to just get on with it quickly without too much thinking.

        I hope this helps a little at least! Everything I’ve read of yours has been a jolly good read – you write so well and clearly that I know you could turn your hand to ANY subject and make it interesting. That is a talent that not everyone has and in my mind, much more important than ‘expertise’ when it comes to writing a book that people actually want to read. 🙂

  3. I am aiming this year to read more fiction. Most of my reading in the past few years has consisted of The Economist, Macleans and the odd non-fiction book.

    One of the most interesting books, one which I will need to read again to further digest the material, is ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Fascinating book that sheds light on how single events drastically change the world. I was directed to read it after the sub-prime mortgage market collapse sent the world economy into a nosedive. In the book Nassim states that he does not recommend reading newspapers as they reduce one’s knowledge of the world! His logic is that newspapers look at the world through a lens that looks in one direction at at time, in practice the things we expect to happen rarely do. He believes that reading books is critical in expanding our knowledge of the world and what the future may hold.

    I’m looking forward to reading the Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson after watching the American version of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” I really want to experience more of the complex characters portrayed in the movie.

    1. Hi Brent,
      “The Black Swan” sounds fascinating. I have also heard that spending a lot of time reading newspapers can be problematic, but mostly from the standpoint that it portrays such a terribly depressing view of the world. Most ‘news’ is bad news, it seems, and getting bombarded with it incessantly gets even the cheeriest person down on themselves. That’s one of the reasons why we don’t have a TV. The book sounds a bit similar to “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein, all about disaster capitalism and how natural disasters are manipulated by world leaders, esp US, to twist circumstances to their advantage.
      Good luck with your reading project! My goal is to read more biographies/autobiographies and 20th-21st century fiction, as I tend to get caught up in 19th C British lit, my favourite area of study.

  4. Just as the call of the loon, the advent of the robin and the biting of black flies are sure signs of spring in Dorset, the appearance of Kelly Alter under her sun umbrella on her cottage deck, book in hand, heralds the summer at our lake. I find myself straining to see that beautiful, relaxing sight on the far shore each year and feel no small amount of envy. That woman knows how to enjoy summer.

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