For the last three years, I have read a minimum of 50 books annually. To some, that number may sound daunting. I get that. In fact, I haven’t always been much of a reader. In 2016, the year before I started this challenge, I only read two books. In 2015, I don’t think I read a single one.
The reason I was able to stick with my reading challenge is that I genuinely enjoyed the lifestyle change. I love participating in an aspect of culture I was previously unaware of. (It has also provided an incredible distraction from the daunting news cycle. Sure, the world may feel like it’s going to end at any given moment, but at least I can hide in my books.)
Of course, I didn’t manage to accomplish my goals without a little bit of strategy.
Here’s what I did to keep up my reading habit, and how you can read 50 books in one year:
Make your commute enjoyable.
My commute, from Queens to Manhattan’s financial district, is an hour-long subway ride. The idea of it pains me, but the reality isn’t so bad — that’s two hours a day I can devote to reading. During my commute alone, I’m able to read 80-120 pages a day (depending on the density of the book.) As long as I’m lucky enough to have a seat, my train ride is genuinely an enjoyable experience.
If you drive to work, you should really explore audiobooks. The members of my book club are obsessed with Libby, which is a free app you can use to download library books. There is some debate in the bookish community on whether or not audiobooks count as reading. To which I say, who the hell cares? You’re consuming the same information — this is meant to be something fun.
Optimize your lunch break.
When I started my 50-book challenge, I was blessed that I lived only four train stops away from work, but that meant not a substantial number of commute hours for reading. Luckily, I had a one-hour lunch break. Every day, I ate at my desk and used my break as an opportunity to read in a coffee shop. I don’t order expensive drinks (tea was ~$2.75), and it was a lot more affordable than buying my lunch. If anything, it actually ensured that I’d bring food so I wouldn’t miss out on my cherished reading time. During the summers, I would wear tank tops and read in the park during my break ($0), which was even better. (Until I discovered a nearby smoothie shop — more like $10.)
Always carry a book.
I’m old fashioned in the sense that I don’t have a kindle. Everywhere I go, I’m most likely carrying a hardcover book (I’m lucky enough to be gifted a lot of new releases from publishing houses). Having a book (or e-reader) with you at all times makes it easy to find time to read. Whether you’re sitting at the doctor’s office or at a bar waiting for your late friend, you’d be surprised to find how much time there is to get a few pages in.
Set a page goal.
My set goal is to average 50 pages a day. I work from an office three days a week and usually get 300 pages in during those days. This way, if I don’t read over the weekend, it doesn’t really matter. Much of the time, this is equivalent to a full book.
Keep track on Goodreads (or a spreadsheet).
There are a lot of legitimate criticisms of Goodreads. It’s owned by Amazon, you don’t have the option of giving half-stars, and ultimately, people can be assholes. Just because a book has a low Goodreads score doesn’t automatically make it a bad book! That being said, I have yet to find a better system for organizing books that I’ve read and want to read. For logistical purposes, I recommend Goodreads.
Optimize the library.
When I first started the 50-book challenge in 2019, most of my books were borrowed. I had not yet figured out the process of requesting new releases, so I chose all my books from the “librarian’s choice” section of the Queens Public Library. As a result of trusting the staff, I ended up reading some of my absolute favorite books. Also, it’s the obvious financially responsible decision.
Read like you’re on vacation.
There is nothing better than laying on the beach with a good book. For many people, the only time they pick up a book is at the Hudson News before going somewhere warm. But just because you’re hanging out in your apartment doesn’t mean you should forbid yourself from reading a “beach read”! Ultimately, this goal is for your own personal entertainment. If you love Elin Hilderbrand books, read them. Page-turners feel more like watching TV than doing homework.
Stop reading the book you hate.
Life is too short to read books that don’t speak to you. I understand feeling compelled to finish books you paid for, but at the very least, close that library book you hate. That book that everyone loves, but you can’t get in to? Give yourself the gift of your time back. I’m currently debating whether or not to continue reading a National Book Award winner, and I think I should just let it go.
Give yourself deadlines.
If you’re trying to finish 50 books in a year, the obvious answer is to commit to a book a week. Some books simply take longer to read, but that does not mean they aren’t worth reading. There is no shame if it takes you 2.5 weeks to get through Becoming because you can always read a romance novel or a mystery in a day later on. Otherwise, it’s a pretty easy rule-of-thumb. I aim to have read half of my goal by the beginning of July.
Plan your reading in advance.
On my blog, I do a regular roundup of everything I read the previous month, and what I plan to read the upcoming month. Obviously starting a blog is a major commitment, and not necessarily something I recommend. But it helps me commit. I’m also a member of several private Facebook groups where they discuss books, and I have a group chat devoted to recommending books. Another way to do this is to participate in a book club. Whether it’s virtual (like mine) or an IRL meetup, book clubs are a great way to hold yourself accountable and provide reading inspiration.
Read YA books!
I’ve never met a YA book I couldn’t finish in three days. There is no better genre to get you ahead or catch up with your reading goals. They’re often just easy reads about complex topics. Two of my favorite YA books last year were The Nowhere Girls and American Royals.
Are you ready to set a reading goal for 2020?
If you’re looking to set a goal that will improve your life in an enjoyable way, I highly recommend setting a reading resolution for yourself. It doesn’t have to be 50 books, but I wouldn’t underestimate what you’re capable of. My reading goals freed me from my addiction to the news and allowed me to participate in a part of culture I was previously excluded from. I still spend too much time on Instagram and keep up with all the popular TV shows — but they aren’t my main form of entertainment anymore, and that’s a win for me.
Image via Unsplash