Sunday 2 June 2013

The Thousand Books Project

I have always read books. I cannot remember a day in my life when I didn’t read at least a page. Other interests have come and gone, but reading has been my one constant leisure pursuit. My reading was disorganised, though. I would have several reading piles, and sometimes get caught out, picking up books from the library I had already read, knowing there was perhaps one book in a ten-book series I hadn’t read but having no idea which one it might be.

Many times, I considered starting a proper record to list the books I read, but always I discounted the idea. What about the hundreds of books I’d already finished? How would they end up getting catalogued?

In late July 2005 I was in a hotel in Mumbai, India on business. July 2005 saw a world record broken in Mumbai:

When 944mm of rain fell on the city in one day I suddenly found I had time on my hands. No planes were flying, no business was going to be done and I had to be patient. Leaving the hotel was not advised. Fortunately I had a pile of books with me and decided that the time had come to start logging what I read.

I knocked up a quick Access database on my laptop, and entered the details of a few books into it as I finished them. Over the years since, I have entered details of every book I have read, as I finished it. I’ve built queries and reports that can show me the data in different ways and track my progress through the several book series I am in the midst of.

A couple of years after I started recording my reading, I printed off some reports and analysed what I had read. It was an odd mix. There was fiction – mainstream and genre – as well as biography, self-help, business, history and an eclectic mix of general non-fiction. I noticed that there was very little in my reading that could objectively be judged ‘worthy’. The occasional Jane Austen was the exception rather than the rule. I wondered whether I should seed more of the classics into my reading. I decided not to. Indeed, I set myself a rule that would largely keep me away from the classics. It was simply this:
Only read books you want to read.
I decided that committing to this rule should be coupled with an ambitious goal. I resolved to read a thousand books within ten years of July 2005. This wouldn’t be easy; at the time I was reading around seventy books in a year. A young family meant I had a limited amount of time to devote to reading, but my target meant I would have to make much better use of the time I did have. And I have never skim-read a book. I have to read every word on every page, and I am not a particularly fast reader.

But what I could do then (and can do much better now) is focus on what I’m reading without getting distracted and having to go back and re-read a paragraph because I have no idea what I just read. I could also find ten minutes here, an hour there that might have been wasted had I not been carrying a book with me. I now always carry a book (or my Kindle) with me. It gets many hits each day.

So, cutting an already lengthy story short, it turns out I am nearly there. I have finished 962 books in the (almost) eight years since that monsoon. Another 38 will see me meet my target. That will happen in late July or early August if I maintain current rates.

How have I done it? Well, the decision to read whatever I want helped keep me motivated. Keeping the record and analysing the numbers introduced a competitive element, too. Every year I have beaten the previous year’s total. Last year I finished over 150 books, which was more than twice the number I was reading just five or six years earlier. This year I believe it will be nearer 175. Can I make it to two thousand books by 2020? Let’s see!


RandomPrivateBlogger said...

Good luck with your target, Ray.

For several years I tried setting a number and either overshot it wildly or stopped reading altogether.

Jenny said...

Wow... that's incredible. I love to read, I have made a few posts about books that show how I generally buy loads of books and take forever to get around to reading them. I am a slow reader, and probably read about 15 books a year, a mere fraction of your amazing achievement.

I too started to keep a list (very basic in Excel) of the books I have read. I only really got into reading after I left school, and started my list not long after, its been going about 8 to 10 years I guess and have 144 books read on the list (just counted after your inspirational post). This list excludes non-fiction which is mainly uni text books and post graduate text books.

Do you have a favourite of all the books you have read?

Ray Blake said...

I couldn't name a single favourite. When people ask for recommendations I tend to list writers rather than books. John Scalzi, Robert Goddard, Iain Banks, Robert Rankin, Harlan Coven, Val McDermid and Kate Atkinson are some of my favourites.

jemilyea said...

For the past twenty years I've been tracking what I've read, but just in my daily journal and I never counted them. I finally started numbering the books this year and I'm up to 120, not counting books I've only skim-read. (I'm a very fast reader.) But your post yesterday morning was good! I read it, thought about it all day yesterday, and by evening went ahead and set up my own database. Now I'm mulling over the idea of adding a new project to my list--going back through all those old journals and adding those book titles to the database. I know it's probably a waste of time, but I'm curious about how many times I've re-read some titles.

Darren said...

Another great post Ray! I love to read myself, but I never thought of keeping track of what I've read. I don't read as much as I did when I was younger, 2-4 books a week now it's maybe 1 or 2 a month if any. Gave me something to think about for a couple of days and like jemilyea I'm going to start my own database up. Wish I had thought of starting a list a long time ago.

Ray Blake said...

Yes, both of you should do it. You won't regret it.

Millie said...

Wow, that's very impressive!

I set annual targets, but for the last few years this has hovered around 50 books.

I record what I've read in the back of my journals. Although now I'm jealous of your spreadsheet and want to create my own - I love spreadsheets!

LJ said...

I decided to try to log the books I read on my Kindle as a starting point, but being the crazy fool I am I also wanted to have the full book description from Amazon typed into it as well (using a MacBook that I had only bought that day, so had no idea how to use it yet... my lack of common sense is mind-blowing) funnily enough I only put details of a few books onto the list. I have now added this to my capture pages in my Filo to get set up again :-)

lionsze said...

Hi - could you please share a bit more on tips to read more books?

I buy (or download) more books than I could read. I have a bad habit of start reading something and put it down. I generally have difficulty with concentrating on one book at a time, unless I make myself sit in a cafe. I also like taking notes so that slows down my reading speed too - that's due to the fear of forgetting what I have ready if I don't take some notes that would later on trigger my memory...

Another request - could you share how you log your books?
A few years ago a friend bought me the Moleskine book journal. It simply got abandoned and now I just keep a list of names of books. Do you write down some quotes or summary or review in your "database"? (to trigger your memory or to share with friends?) What are you views on online book list sites like GoodReads?

Thanks :)

Ray Blake said...

The only way I know to read a book is ... er ... to read it. I'm not trying to be facetious, but I'm not sure I can put any more detail to it than that. Choose a book; read it. While you're reading it, don't do anything else. If it helps, glance at the clock as you start and give yourself a set finishing time. Give yourself to the book until then. If you read one book at a time, and read it every day for a while, maybe you wouldn't need to take notes.

My database is a database. It runs in MS Access. I just record the author and title, the date I finished it, and whether it was a Kindle book, a paper book or an unabridged audiobook.

I've never really seen the point in online lists. I joined GoodReads but never really did anything on it. I have more books I want to read than there is time left in my life. In my everyday life I come across enough recommendations to make the possibility of ever reaching the end of my reading list a vanishingly small one.


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