In 2014, I resolved to read 100 books. I won’t bury the lede, I didn’t finish and only read 34 books. What follows is a post-mortem of my year in reading, why I like this arbitrarily extreme goal, and some projections for next year’s bookshelf.
I gave myself a few concessions this year, and I think they’re worth maintaining for future efforts: (1) books read for coursework or academic-purposes count, and (2) each ‘contemporary’ novel in a series counts as a single book. Both of these rules are in keeping with my ‘keep reading fun’ ethos. Allowing ‘work’ books to count gives an extra boost of motivation, aside from general learning and stuff, because even Computer Architecture: A Quantative Approach counts towards my goal! Counting every installment of the Hunger Games as its own separate book reduces guilt at reading ‘trashy’ books – compared to years past, when I shockingly read no books, reading two installments of Pretty little Liars while waiting for a plane is a great achievement!
I can’t stress enough that this challenge was about quantity, not quality – I trust myself enough to choose quality reading, and am willing to be understanding when I don’t. When I was a child, I used to devour books, and teachers complained that I read too much during class. But now, my lifestyle has changed, and simply completing a book at all, for work or leisure, is a luxury and a privilege. In emphasizing quantity, I mitigate the temptation of reading 15 longform think-pieces about the existentialism of fitness trackers instead of my book. Seeking large quantities of books is a way of re-training myself to read book after book after book, like I used to!
a brief analysis
A list of books is boring to scroll through, so instead I made some graphs! (I included a full list of 2014’s reading at the bottom of this post, don’t worry)
The book count crept up slowly over time (duh), with more books being read over the summer and winter breaks (as expected). I actually motivated myself to read many library books during the last few weeks of this quarter because of travel-due-date collisions, and appreciate the added urgency library due dates add to my reading habits.
I’m actually quite pleased with the increased slope between October and December - this was when I discovered how to request books to the library by my office. I’m hoping next year more closely reflects that section of the curve more than anything else.
When we talk about quantity, I considered that it may be unfair to judge a book as a static unit, and pages may be more precise. I also guessed that “good books” may be the longer ones, so pages might correlate to ‘intensity’ of book quality. For example, Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon was almost 500 pages, and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami came in at a cool 1000. What I found though, was that page count doesn’t clearly indicate of quality OR quantity. Bleeding Edge had as many pages as The Pelican Brief had as many pages as *TThe Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450-1800 *. Some academic books had short page counts, and some
trashycontemporary novels had weirdly high ones.
When I resolved to read more books, I meant the contemporary newfangled literary fiction people read when they want to be “informed”, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. When I got to graduate school, I realized that ignoring decades of computer history may be a bad thing, so I attempted to mitigate this with Code by Charles Petzold, which everyone says helps them “get it”. I also started feeling the weight of being the only woman in the room, and started reading more about feminism and gender in computing1. I closed the year by realizing I was nowhere close to my goal of 100 books and cranking through some pop-culture memoirs, which were fine but didn’t add a ton to my world view.
Looking at the breakdown of subjects by page count, I seem to have read more nonfiction than I expected, which is a consequence of including coursework in my breakdown. A great deal of the non-fiction is derived from books read for an undergraduate seminar on the history of reading technologies. I also read a lot more science fiction than I remember, which I believe is a consequence of classifying the Hunger Games as science fiction.
why 100 books
As I’ve implied many times over, the goal of reading 100 books was 100% arbitrary. The fun thing about a resolution to read books is that no matter how many I read, it’s still more than none. Unlike resolutions to lose weight or run faster, there’s no way to make negative progress2. Theoretically, I gave myself an unreasonable target just to see how far I could go, and now I can set more reasonable goals for myself. In practice, I will continue to shoot for 100 books until I get there.
One exciting thing about continuing this goal in 2015 is that I’m in graduate school now! Grad school is awesome because I finally feel like the captain of my own time, whereas in undergrad I always felt like I never had time for anything. In my last semester of undergrad, I read 10 books in 5 months and 7 were for class. In my first quarter of graduate school, I read 7 books in 3 months and I picked all of them.
things i learned
I really, really want a good way to count how many books I’ve read. A lot of my methodology for counting books as units is based in the fact that books as a unit are meaningless (how many Pretty Little Liars installments = 1 Handmaid’s Tale?). I’m curious about the ‘Reading Time’ metric that reading apps and Kindles have, and wonder if that may be more appropriate. Until then, I’ll just read a lot and see what happens.
Reading books over other forms of writing is fairly arbitrary, but gave me significantly more satisfaction. There shouldn’t be a difference between books and high-quality online writing, but there is something about reading a text that many people conspired to physically release that inspires confidence in its words, even if I disagree with every single one of them.
I read a wide variety of books this year, and I want to make that variety even wider! My advisors keep recommending me books about (a) titans of industry and (b) the failures of our society, which both sound absolutely miserable to me so I should probably try them. I also want to read more technically-focused nonfiction, because I find reading about technical subjects tiresome and I should try harder there. The Goldfinch has been recommended to me about 100 times, and this might be the year I read Infinite Jest and the Bible!
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450-1800 by Lucien Febvre, Henri-Jean Martin, David Gerard The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making by Adrian Johns Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web by Jerome J. McGann The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft by Anne Friedberg Reading Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Responses to Franco Moretti by Jonathan Goodwin Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History by Franco Moretti The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera Taipei by Tao Lin The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins On Beauty by Zadie Smith Horns by Joe Hill Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard Flawless by Sara Shepard The Firm by John Grisham The Pelican Brief by John Grisham Your Startup is Broken by Shanley Kane The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman The Circle by Dave Eggers Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing by Jane Margolis, Allan Fisher The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon Yes Please by Amy Poehler Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzold
Which helped a lot and if you are a minority struggling in your workplace environment I highly recommend seeking out some literature, which will give you closure and reassurance and mitigate a lot of stereotype threat. ↩
Memory loss strikes me as a way to actually make negative progress, but I’m hard pressed to find others so we’ll just go with it. ↩