Monday, May 2, 2011

100 Books in 365 Days

A year ago I was thinking about how many books I read in any given year. “I bet I average about 100 books a year,” I said to myself. After some soft calculations, I realized I average 70 or so books. “Easy to challenge myself to read 100 books,” I thought without studied insight.

My efforts got off to a great start. I began with Rutherford’s New York, an 800+ page history-by-the-pound, Micheneresque novel of New York City. My kind of book: historical fiction, long, well written and educationally entertaining. It took until book 11 to dawn on me that at my current rate, I would never complete my goal. The books became shorter in length and remained true to my preferred genres of historical fiction and mysteries.

The exercise brought to focus what I was reading and what I should be reading. Wasn’t this the time to broaden my reading habits and peruse other genres? Not a good idea. I kept track of the number of books (unfortunately not the titles) I started but did not finish. Twenty-nine, of which I took no credit of any kind in the climb to 100 or the page count read. It was like the cannibal adding slaughtered cow to the human boiling in his kettle. Spoiled the enjoyment of the meal.

It was around book 25 that I stopped to analyze the entire challenge. Did I think I could do it? (Yes.) Did I realize at what pace I needed to read to reach 100? (2.5/week.) Was this realistic? (Maybe.) Worth it? (Probably.) How would this project impact my life and my husband? (Unknown.) Did I have other goals like reading all of one author’s works? (No.) Should the list include books on subjects like garden plants and things to do in Christchurch, New Zealand? (Yes.) I wondered out loud if reading “board” books to my grandchildren counted and a friend responded with, “Only if they are able to discuss the book afterwards.”

From April 21, 2010 to April 21, 2011, I read 104 books, 29,366 pages plus two audio books and 25 hours on CDs of a course on opera (the latter not in the book count.) I started another 29 books and was accused of working too much overtime at the library when a lady in the grocery store commented that she saw me “in there all the time carrying a big stack of books that I must be shelving.” I don’t work at any library and tend to check out six books and complete maybe three of them, all of them looking interesting at first blush. I am not compelled to finish books I do not like.

Bob saw me much less often, the house was quieter but not as clean, I resented people who interfered with my reading time, meals became less sophisticated or absent, I did not write much, the number of colas and snacks I consumed increased, and I surmounted the obstacle of two-and-a-half months of travel into this challenge.

Of the 104 books completed, I circled 53 as recommendable to others. I liked or tolerated the remaining 51 books enough to finish them but would not recommend them for one reason or another. It was a good topic of conversation. People looked at me with anywhere from awe to bewilderment. A few said they had read 100 books in 12 months. The project was different (more self-imposed pressure) and more difficult than I imagined at the outset. Only once around book 75 did I think about quitting. By book # 88, I thought, “I am going to do this!”

Many people ask for my book list. I wonder why. My reading tastes are mine, not yours. If you want book recommendations, tell me what genre you prefer and I may have some of the circled 53 titles to recommend. Better sources of recommendations are reviews, the NYT book reviews and top-ten-books-of-the-week lists.

To put things in perspective, according to USA Today, 8/21/2007, polls by Gallup, Associated Press-Ipsos and the National Endowment for the Arts stated that 53% of Americans do not read one book in a year. Of those who do read, the number of books read per year is four or nine depending upon the poll. More women read than men, more readers are college graduates and more are over the age of 50. The most popular genres are mystery and suspense. E-book readers polled revealed that 40% said they read more books than before using their e-books. Kindle readers reported they were reading 10.7% slower than reading a print book while iPad users said their rate was down 6.2%. (Wall Street Journal, 8/2/2010) One article reported that a man gloated to himself while reading on an airplane. The traveler next to him had to turn off his e-reader during take off and landing while he could continue to read his print book.

I will continue to read voraciously. I like to be transported to other countries, other times, other views of the world and others talents for writing. Reading 100 book in twelve months? Been there, done that.


Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Wow, 2.5 books per week for an entire year! I thought I was reading a lot when I had to read 1.5 books per week while attending Vermont College. Kudos to you Jennifer for setting such an inspiring, educational goal, and following it through to the end.

Jessie Gunderson said...

I giggled my way through your post. Love it. Although, I would have included the books that you started but couldn't finish. It's not your fault they stunk. :)

Of course, I've traditionally been a "read every word-er" no matter how terrible. A New York Best Seller actually broke me of that. I read an author's 1st fiction (an author I now respect and enjoy reading) after about a year of intense study on writing and I couldn't believe all the "mistakes".

I love books. Thanks for your post.

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Love this post! Your accomplishment is inspiring, Jennifer. I'm a voracious reader but I never thought to keep track of what I've read. I've even had the humbling experience of picking up what I thought was a new-to-me book and thinking "Hm, this sounds familiar," before realizing I'd read it before.

A friend of mine was recently confined to bed/couch/easy chair for a few weeks following knee surgery. She's an athletic type, not a reader, so the stillness is driving her crazy. Me, I'd set a tower of books beside the couch and be right as rain. (I think.)

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

I enjoyed reading about your 100 books ( read) in a year endeavor .... Congratulations on teaching your goal! The stats about fellow readers is interesting.