This year I set myself a challenge. At midnight on the first of January - as the clock rung in the new year - my eyes narrowed and my jaw clenched. A New Year's resolution had crystallized in my head, and it was the first one I ever made. In 2013, I will read 50 books.
I've always wanted to spend more time reading - as most people do - so this year I gave myself a mission to do just that. Reading 50 books in a year is roughly one book a week. Clearly, how difficult that is depends on the length and complexity of the books I pick.
The thing is, I don’t want to read just any book...
Otherwise I could spend the year reading, say, the complete works of John Grisham and Stephen King. I think that would be a damn good time, but I want a little bit more out of this.
When I'm done, I want to come away with something amazing. I want to be challenged. I want my world to be expanded. I want to have new ideas roaming around my head looking for a fight. And I want my mind to be rinsed out liked a sponge, and then filled back up with lovely new stuff.
So I decided the books I would read this year had to meet two simple criteria. I want to read them, and I want to have read them.
For me, the books that meet these two rules can be summed up in three words. The best ones! The way I see it, if I’m going to spend a chunk of my life reading, why wouldn't I simply work backwards down the list starting with the very best?
Of course, ‘the best books’ are not that easy to define. Everyone has their own views. So I’m picking books that don’t just appeal to me, but cry out my name. Books that I think will change my life, will blow my mind, and also that are 'stamped with the mark of permanence'. Books that I would argue are among the best ever written.
I have a good list in my head - probably a thousand long - of books that I think must be read. But to guide me, I’ve also made liberal use of lists, like this and this.
So, why am I doing it?I think there are four key reasons.
- One - I feel almost a rushing, giddy excitement about breathing-in the world’s greatest literature. The very best of the world - amazing ideas, the vibrancy and crush of real life, and the poignancy dreams - is squeezed like juice into these tiny little books. And I can pour all that wonderful stuff straight into my brain.
- Two - How could I go my whole life without having read Bleak House? Or War and Peace? To me, that’s inconceivable. I've always wanted to see everything, to do everything. So how could I neglect a book that someone says is the best?
- Three - Great books are a way to improve your experience of life. They teach you to make better sense of - and express better - the constant, surging stream of reality. I can't imagine anything much more worthwhile. Living is all we have, so why not learn how to do it better?
- Four - Finally, I feel like a man on a threshold about to plug himself into a machine. Who knows where this will take me, and what these earth-shattering, mind-changing ideas will do to my brain. I can't wait to find out...
My thoughtsSo far, I’m loving it! Reading is taking up more of my life. But I don't feel that it has displaced anything significant. Rather, reading is filling up the cracks in my life.
I don’t really watch TV or mope around much anymore. Downtime is now reading time. And that's great. I also find a couple of times a week I have to sit down and have a serious reading session. Maybe after work I’ll go to a pub, have a craft beer and read for a few hours. Or spend Saturday mornings reading before going out.
The time I spend reading probably adds up to an average of 11 hours a week. I think that's very doable. My job takes up lots of hours too. I work typically eleven/twelve hour days in the week and go out most evenings. Before I started, I seriously didn't know how I would find the time to do this. Now I don't know how on earth I used to spend those hours.
Here's the books I've read so far this year.
2) Poor Economics (I took a non-fiction turn)
9) Hamlet (coming)
10) Hound of the Baskervilles (coming)
10) Hound of the Baskervilles (coming)
11) Lolita (coming)
12) In Search of Lost Time - volume 1 (currently reading)
Wish me luck!