How to Read 100 Books in a Year

Some of you may recall that last year I had a New Year’s resolution to read at least 50 books, which half-way through the year I amended to 100 books. How did I do? Well, I had a bit of a shaky autumn, but with a concerted late-December push, I got myself over the finish line, and read exactly 100. And yes, I was sufficiently nerdy to keep a spreadsheet recording the details every single book I read. And I can remember enough about pivot tables from my time working in an office so that I can now play around with my own reading statistics, and tell you that, for example, my preferred format (with 58% of total titles) was the paperback, that my favourite genres were fantasy and science fiction, and that, as a result of making a concerted effort to catch up with contemporary writing, I read 68 books from the 2010s but a mere 8 from the entire 20th century (and 6 from the 19th century).

When I tell people about my reading achievement, I get reactions ranging from dismissal (’only 100 books? Easy!’) to disbelief. One common response is a slightly awestruck wistfulness: an ‘I wish I could read more books but…’
Well, if that applies to you, fear not! I am here to share with you my secrets, and get you past that but.

1) ‘I wish I could read more books, but I don’t know where to start.’

I confess this one is a novel (see what I did there?) problem for me, because I always have dozens of books I want to read. However, help is at hand. The simplest approach is just to ask friends and family for their recommendations, and there’s always the good old-fashioned try-asking-in-your-local-bookshop method, but these days there are all kinds of electronic resources as well, from Goodreads to Amazon algorithms to countless book bloggers. The main thing, I think, is to accept that tastes differ and you’re not always going to enjoy something, however highly it comes recommended. If that happens, don’t give up: try the next thing. Sooner or later you’ll find the book for you, and then you can read everything by that author, seek out things in that ‘if you like x, you’ll love y!’ category, and delve into the fanfic. Discovering stuff you might want to read has never been easier.

2) ‘I wish I could read more books, but they’re expensive!’

They can be. But if you want to read, there’s no need to shell out on a load of brand-new hardbacks. I’m consistently astonished by how few people make use of libraries – they have hundreds of books! And you can borrow any of them for free! It’s amazing! And I can’t speak for all library systems, but the one in Derbyshire is pretty good (for now, at least) at keeping stock up-to-date and arranging inter-library loans for the princely sum of 45p if the title you want isn’t available locally.
If e-books are your thing, I’ve heard about (but not tried myself) something called Bookbub, which sends you emails recommending cheap or free books. There’s also Kindle Unlimited, although I personally found their selection of titles didn’t match up to my reading interests. And, while genuine second-hand bookshops are a rarity these days, there are charity shops a-plenty, not to mention millions of second-hand books being sold online, many for 1p+p+p. Getting hold of cheap books has never been easier.

3) ‘I wish I could read more books, but I don’t have the time!’

This is by far the commonest reason I hear why people can’t read more. My invariable answer is: audiobooks. Listen on long drives. Listen while you cook dinner. Listen while you exercise. Audiobooks let you read while you do that other stuff that keeps you busy. They’re great, and these days thousands of them are available via your phone (I use Audible and I swear by it). It’s never been easier to find books to listen to. Another idea: if you can’t find the time to commit to a full novel, try short stories. You can get a complete narrative in just twenty minutes or so. Perfect for the time-strapped.

In summary, it’s never been easier to find books you’ll want to read, in the format you want, at a price you can afford. In theory, it’s never been easier to read. So why do so many people seem to struggle to consume as many books as they say they’d like to? Well, the answer is obvious: because it’s also never been easier to get distracted. Just as thousands upon thousands of great books are now readily available, so are games and movies and TV shows and YouTube videos and web forums and blogs and cute cat pictures and every other thing you can possibly think of (and an awful lot more you can’t think of and probably don’t want to). And I feel like, behind 90% of those ‘buts’, the real reason is that the person would rather spend their spare time watching Netflix or playing World of Warcraft. Which is fine – I’m not going to get snobby about different forms of entertainment – but I have to say, if you really really want to read more, there’s ultimately only one way to do it: you need to put down the Internet and pick up a book.

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Questions and Authors

Writing is a bit of a lonely vocation, consisting as it does mainly of sitting at my computer, on my own, typing out whatever comes into my head. But I still occasionally get invited to events where I have to interact with other humans, practising my rusty social skills. When I mention I’m now a full-time writer, I get a variety of responses, some of them leading to better conversational results than others. Here’s a brief selection:

‘Have you thought about self-publishing?’

There’s been a lot of publicity around self-publishing recently, so it’s natural that many people ask me about this. The short answer is no. Sadly, I’m not very good at giving the short answer, so I find myself going into long and involved conversations about the publishing business and the rights and wrongs of Amazon while my companion’s eyes glaze over and they start wishing they’d asked about holiday plans instead.

‘Oh aye, 50 shades of Ruth is it?’

Certain people, when told I’m a writer, leap to the conclusion that I must be writing smut, presumably typing one-handed. Telling them that I actually write fantasy doesn’t seem to help, nor does telling them that I can touch-type with two hands. Sorry to disappoint, but no, I am not currently planning to make a living from writing erotica. But hey, if you’ve got a paid commission in mind…

‘I always wanted to write a book, but I’ve never got round to it.’

I appreciate this is an attempt to find common ground, but I’ll be honest, I find it difficult to answer. Am I supposed to say ‘Well get on with it then’? Or perhaps, ‘Funny, I always wanted to be a [insert other human’s job here], but I’ve never found the time’? I don’t know. Any advice welcome.

‘Gosh, you’re brave.’

I don’t really feel that brave to be following my dreams – mostly I just feel very lucky to have this opportunity. But hey, it’s always nice to be complimented. And I’ll just ignore any possible glint in the eye which suggests that by ‘brave’ is actually meant ‘foolish’ or ‘downright insane’.

‘Oh, you write fantasy, that’s great! I love fantasy.’

I love you too. I mean, er, not like that. I mean I love people who love fantasy, because they love me. No wait, that’s not what I meant either. I mean, er, so who’s your favourite writer? Phew, think I saved that one.

‘Have you got a publishing deal yet?’

A fair and reasonable question, and yet it always makes me smile. Trust me on this one, if the answer to that question is ever ‘yes’, you won’t need to ask me.

A vanishing pleasure?

Happy new year all, and welcome to my 2014… it’s not been a stellar year so far, but there is at least plenty of time for it to improve. And early January is always enlivened by the new shiny objects received at Christmas, including of course several books to add to the reading list. I should really try to make some more headway with said list and spend less time looking at Buzzfeed. My reading habits have been put to shame by my husband, normally quite a slow reader, who has munched through 5 books in the past couple of weeks, exhausting all available volumes of interest. So today we ventured out to Waterstone’s to get something new.
It’s funny how, over the years, Waterstone’s has gradually transformed, without actually itself changing all that much. I remember when it was an ogre of the high street, gobbling up lesser shops like Dillon’s and Ottakar’s and putting poor independent booksellers out of business. Now it’s a beleaguered symbol of old school retail, under threat from the evil empire of the Amazon, a fire kindled under its profits. I don’t actually have that much sentimental attachment to Waterstone’s, not compared with late lamented Borders and its very generous approach to allowing customers to read books in store, or Blackwell’s in Oxford which nurtured me through my academic career. But I was struck today with the sheer joy of book shopping, the pulse-quickening sensation of walking into a whole building dedicated to books, and being able to wander around tables covered in books and shelves full of books, and browse through hundreds of the things, picking them up, feeling the weight, flipping through them, admiring the covers of the special editions, the gloss and the matte, the hard back and the soft, the fiction and the non. And then the excitement of walking out with a fresh purchase, longing to get home to try it out, every book a present waiting to be opened. I love reading physical books, I love having them on my shelves, and I love shopping for them. I don’t know how much longer book shops as a species will last, but I’ll miss them when they’re gone, and I’m going to enjoy them while I can.