At the start of last year (2016) I set myself a challenge, to read a book a week for the entire year. Of course, in the rose-tinted glow of an empty-plated January, this seemed like a simple, genius and rather exciting task. Could there be a downside to tripling my ‘books I’ve actually completed’ reading list? Erm, yes Spadge, yes there could, did you start miraculously growing a bunch of spare time? 2016 seemed insistent on piling plates higher than ever, taking the magical sheen off my ever-growing pile of books.
I tried to remain realistic of course, and wasn’t specific on what exactly qualified as ‘an entire book’. I learned a great deal about how The Teletubbies make Tubby Toast one week, for example, and occasionally chose a book with more pictures than words, but I’ll happily argue that those books were surprisingly mind-opening. However, along with my loose guidelines, came a bunch of confusion about what books I should prioritise.
The rules when I started out:
- Don’t read the same author more than once, give all a fair chance.
- Don’t read something I’ve read before, make the most of this challenge.
- Vary the genre, explore new ones.
- Read the entire book, no exceptions.
Rules I picked up/added along the way:
- Choose the shorter book.
- Shorter than that.
- For the love of God, read genres you like.
- Try not to murder anyone.
Books soon became a burden to me. I had a ‘to read’ pile, a ‘read’ pile, ‘books I want to keep’ piles, ‘books I should lend to so-and-so’ piles, ‘books taking up much-needed living space’ piles, ‘books to return to lender’ piles. Everywhere I looked, small piles of books were taking over the house.
So, in order to remember this project (because trust me, I’m not doing it again), I have laid out some questions for my eye-strained self. Enjoy my journey and my wisdom, may you be inspired to attempt such character-breaking tasks in future.
- What did you like best about this project?
I very much enjoyed the aspect of sounding well-read and intelligent in conversations at the hairdressers. Not my specific hairdresser, we mostly talk about dance moves, but I would just pop into random hairdressers to discuss Bukowski or the Time Paradox theory. It’s not so much a theory as a definite occurrence, but theory makes me sound more like Einstein. Genuinely, my horizons have very much been broadened, that was what I hoped to achieve, and I feel like I lived 53 different lives in a single year. Mission accomplished.
- What did you like least about this project?
I hoped that this project would make me fall back in love with reading, but, rather like the butterfly that is held too tightly, I started to despise the burden of books that surrounded me. Some authors also surprised me in horrifying ways. At one point I read a book called “Wetlands” that described bodily fluids in far too much detail, yet Stephen Fry’s book “The Liar” will continue to be the most horrifying experience of my year. And that includes the experience of being inside a car that crashed into the central barrier of the A46.
- What did you learn about yourself?
I mostly learned that my determination knows no bounds. In some very rare moments, I happened to be ahead of schedule and bought myself some freedom, other times I literally gave up sleeping to meet my reading deadlines.
- What did you learn about others?
Sometimes people actually really upset me. I can’t tell you the number of times people said “I wish I could just sit around and read all day like you”. Wow. I missed out on a lot of fun opportunities (mostly at the weekends) to ensure that this challenge didn’t affect paid work. On the other hand, it’s been so nice to talk to other people about what they love to read and why. I never would have chosen to read a fantasy book before this year, and after talking to people about why they enjoy it, my mind has definitely been opened.
- Could you pick a favourite book?
Absolutely. The Humans by Matt Haig. I actually had this book on my bookshelf before the project and had never made the time to pick it up. So glad I did because I think it’s fiction at its absolute best. I laughed, I cried, I loved. It’s about an alien who is sent to Earth to replace a mathematician, and the way Haig describes the absolute weirdness that is human appearance and behaviour, it’s just perfect. That’s the most injustice I’ve ever given to a fantastic plot, but check out my review.
- What was a book you liked the least?
The couple that I feel most happy to have made it through are The Liar by Stephen Fry; an absolutely horrific ordeal full of overly complex adjectives and vomit-worthy boarding school stories, and The Trial by Franz Kafka. The Trial is definitely a classic, but I just lacked the patience for how vague, confusing and frustrating the plot was; a man is sent to trial and nobody tells him why or what he’s done. Yep. That goes on for hundreds of pages. It was an effort.
- What are you hoping to read next? What is next on your list?
I’m reading Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig right now, a present from the in-laws after they heard his fiction was my favourite book of the year. This one is non-fiction and is about Haig’s real life experience with depression and crippling anxiety. It’s without a doubt the most detailed and relatable description of depression that I’ve ever read. It’s something I’ve never experienced, by my God I can feel his pain when he describes it. A fascinating read that is very eye opening about one of the world’s biggest killers.
- If you had to do the project again, what would you do differently?
I would do more research into what to read, definitely. It’s easy to look back and think “why did I choose that one?” when you forget how strapped for time and stressed you felt in that moment. I might also do this again but say something like “Choose ten fantasy books for the year and complete them all”. It’s more specific, more achievable and I imagine, would be more enjoyable.
- Do you have any advice to others attempting this project?
Get to know some good, short, classic books. Don’t waste your time on a “this might be good” gamble. Also get to know your own reading speed. A 300 page book wasn’t too stressful for my kind of speed, but as soon as a book went over 400 pages, it became a mission to pass the half way point.
- What’s next?
I would love to get back to writing for pleasure again. I needed that time out to miss it, and to also expand my reading list before tackling writing another novel. Hopefully this blog will become a regular outlet again. I will also make sure to keep up my new healthy reading habit. I will, I will, I will.
Thank you to everybody who lent me books, recommended books, commented on books I posted and generally forgave me when I couldn’t come and meet you for a coffee. I’m very glad I completed this challenge, but I couldn’t have done it alone. Huge love.