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!

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