By Grace Williams*
I read 52 books in 2016.
Sure, I was an English major in school and always a voracious reader growing up, but it was still a lofty goal to reach in a year. I wasn’t even sure I could accomplish it. However, my competitive streak got the best of me when my aunt threw down the gauntlet, and I couldn’t say no.
In December 2015, I was lying in bed after an indulgent Christmastime meal when my aunt texted me out of the blue: Do you want to do a book challenge next year?
Curious, I asked her what kind of book challenge, and she proposed that we both read 52 books in 2016.
A book a week. For the whole year.
(Actually, her original idea was two books a week for a grand total of 104 books in a year. I had to talk her down from that one.)
At first, I thought she was crazy. Who had time for that? My boss was out on maternity leave. My current novel project was in shambles. Other hobbies were nostalgic memories rather than active pursuits.
I still said yes.
Burnt out from novel edits and life in general, a reading challenge sounded like a great plan. I tried to read most nights before I go to sleep, so how hard could it be? I'd get to check off a lot of books from my ever-growing "To Read" list on Goodreads, and it would help kick the wintertime blues in my cold, dark apartment. So I rolled into January of 2016 with a new resolution.
A year later, and here’s three takeaways that I wanted to share:
I Broadened My Genre Horizons
If I’m mindlessly picking books to read, my go-to genre is always either fantasy or sci-fi. It’s easy; I know I’ll love it. But this year I read across way more genres than I typically do. Not only did I read a lot of fantasy, I also read a handful of new Young Adult (YA) and children’s series, classic novels (another Jane Austen off the list), novellas, plays, biographies about pirates…
I branched out from my reading comfort zone and found myself enjoying the novelty of other genres. I read those books that had been sitting on my shelf for ages: award-winning, book club-worthy, movie-adaptation type books that I hadn’t hit yet. And, for the most part, I always finished the book more impressed with it than I thought I’d be. Maybe they did win those awards for a reason.
I Missed Learning Things
I constantly joke with my family about going back to school, but the sentiment is real. I loved school. I loved going to class and learning something new every day. In the work world now I’m still learning, but it’s not a liberal arts education anymore. I don’t feel well-rounded in my knowledge.
I’ve never been drawn to read nonfiction, so it was interesting that this year I willingly read more nonfiction than ever before. And I loved it. I realized that reading nonfiction is now a way to fill the void of not learning new things about different time periods or historical figures. 2016 was a year of health changes for me as well, and I read a lot of health and self-help books to supplement my journey, too. I’ll definitely be keeping a nonfiction requirement for myself in the future.
Reading Can Be Social
People usually believe reading has to be a solitary effort (and to be fair, it usually is for me), but the reading challenge brought about some social perks that I didn’t anticipate.
One of the best changes was that I spent more time than usual talking to my aunt on a consistent basis. We would text each other and check in on the book count, asking how close or far the other was from hitting the goal. Eventually the whole family was in on the challenge (not competition!), and it was a great source of amusement during the holidays. It didn’t matter that my aunt and I were reading completely different books - we were in the same game. And that’s what mattered.
Even those people in my life who weren’t reading books were in on the challenge, too. My gym trainer would ask me every week about my book count, and my coworkers constantly asked me what I was reading.
My roommate also completed a reading challenge last year, and we created a nighttime ritual of drinking tea and reading books together after dinner. We had to find the time for it in order to meet our goals, but now in 2017 it’s become a habit, and something I look forward to at the end of a long work day. We’ve mastered the art of being social and silent together.
So will I be doing the 52 book challenge in 2017?
Honestly, no. I don't want reading to become a chore versus a hobby. It's not fun if I'm worried about my book count once October turns the corner, and I did put some other hobbies on hold in order to complete the challenge. But I want to continue pushing myself to keep up a good reading pace and enjoy all of the unexpected benefits I found during last year’s challenge. As an avid Douglas Adams fan, I think that 42 seems like a good number of books for 2017. After all, it is the answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. And I do love a good literary reference.
My aunt and I have already planned a new book challenge for 2017, but I also challenge anyone reading this post to consider their own reading challenge this year. How many books do you read in a year? Ten? Two? None? Maybe it’s time to turn off Netflix and give that stack of books by your bed another try. Go buy that bestseller everyone’s talking about and hunker down on your couch for the night.
If you’re stumped for ideas, browse the Master List of 2017 Reading Challenges to spark your interest. There’s a challenge for all types of readers!
Or maybe it’s not a reading challenge you need - is there something you love to do but can’t find the time for it anymore? Do you want to travel the world? Cook with every spice you own? Make it a priority in 2017. Give it a try and see what happens.
Grace is a project manager at a fast-paced tech company and reading is her stress management system. She lives in Richmond, VA with a roommate and two cats. When not working, she’s probably picking apart her novel draft or cooking something ambitious.
Read her other story on ATOB here: How To Vacation Without a Stove: an Airbnb Story