Having Finished the 50-Book Challenge

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I was never much of a reader. I didn’t mind that for most of my life—hey, more time for video games!—but as I got more serious about being a writer, the issue slowly became obvious. I kinda have to read if I’m going to write well.

I knew that for a while. I bought a Kindle back in 2013, loaded it up with Project Gutenberg books, and then… ignored it. I had a massive compendium of classic literature, the greats of the English language, and I couldn’t be bothered to read them. Even the more recent books I loaded up, freebies and promotional giveaways, gathered dust. I, apparently, totaled six books read in 2014. In 2015, maybe three.

That wouldn’t fly. So I set a goal: 12 books read over 2016. A doubling of my best year ever! Would be no sweat. Halfway through April I discovered how easy it really was and set a more serious goal: 50 books.

And now, mid-October, with about 10 weeks to go, I’m finished.

Who says people don’t read books?

(They do, for the record. The average, it turns out, is 12 per year.)

You Can Do It Too

Like with any other major task, reading a large amount of books—whether to inform or entertain yourself—requires you to do two things beyond the task itself: make the time, and take the time.

I didn’t find myself making a lot of time for reading. Just the occasional hour in the evening, getting a couple chapters in before bed. Sometimes I’d go to a coffee shop and read if I didn’t have other work to do but still wanted that atmosphere. Mostly, though, I focused on taking the time. There are lots of small moments in life that, if you’re looking for them, you can take advantage of them.

Plane rides are an obvious opportunity: a couple hours sitting around, doing nothing, not paying for the in-flight internet because fuck that. You see a lot of passengers reading for that reason, but that’s an infrequent opportunity.

Riding the bus for work every day did it for me. That’s 45 minutes of reading time every weekday, up to an hour if traffic is really bad. I’m to the point where I can read and play Pokémon GO on the bus simultaneously. (It’s not like Pokémon requires a lot of cognitive effort.) I’m not entirely sure how I feel about audiobooks yet (I didn’t even count them in my 50), but if you must drive that’s an option. I prefer bus, though, both for its civic value and because I’d rather read than listen.

There’s also the question of resources. It dawned on me, late enough to be embarrassed, that such a large-scale reading effort is much easier and more affordable if you just go to the library. It’s been maybe a decade since I’ve had a library card, and now I’m using it on ebooks constantly. You probably can too! (Not every library does ebooks, but the count is increasing.)

Even with that discovery, only 14 of the books were library check-outs; almost the same amount came from StoryBundle collections. A couple were Kindle First pickups, one of the more obscure Prime benefits. (Not the same thing as Kindle Unlimited.) All told, I believe I paid for 29 of the 50 books (assuming I tracked everything correctly), largely at a low per-book price.

Also, a sneaky trick to reading a lot of books quickly: read shorter books. The 14 Boss Fight books are all under 50,000 words, I’d estimate. That’s pretty damn short. Goes by quick.

Observations

My 50 is a pretty good mix. (The full list is at the end.) That’s entirely on purpose. I hadn’t read much before this, so I had no clue what I’d like. Might as well dabble!

At this point, I’ve learned a few things:

Books about writing are basically all the same

A gross oversimplification, sure, but so far the books in that category have been largely similar. (I’m including ones I read last year and one I’m still working through.) At this point I’d say that, if you want to read advice about writing, just grab the book written by the author you most respect. The content will be roughly the same, but at least you’ll enjoy their voice.

Either self-help books are vague or I can’t be helped

On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed reading what I would consider the “self-help” books on my list. On the other hand, I can’t say I’ve put any of them into practice. Not the mindfulness, not the career direction. Either there isn’t an actionable plan in there or I’m glossing over making one. (Probably the latter.)

A classic is a book everyone claims to have read

I only read three of those Gutenberg classics I downloaded years ago. I downloaded… well, significantly more than three. But despite knowing they’re all well-regarded texts, I still can’t be bothered. They feel like something I have to read, not something I want to. I’ve felt similar about recent best-sellers; I should read them, but, eh. They’re on the queue.

Reading an entire series can tire you

Between StoryBundle and backing their third Kickstarter, I do (or will) own every Boss Fight book created. I’ve read 14 books with more or less the same structure and conceit, and I’m getting bored with it. Doesn’t mean they’re bad, just that they’re not so awesome for me that I can binge them.

I veer towards traditional publishing

A lot of this is a side-effect of how I got my books. But, despite buying into several StoryBundles full of self-published books, I keep leaning towards the major houses. That’s a slightly curious habit for someone who’s self-published herself; it might be related to my desire for a major publishing deal, or I’m just hesitant from the stereotype that “self-published” will mean “bad”. Even when a stereotype is proven wrong and against your own interest, it can be hard to shake.

I can’t do romance

Nothing against it, personally, but between While You Were Mine and the romance aspects of Uprooted, I just can’t get into it. When any book started to veer towards the bedroom, in particular, I started to disengage. Call me a prude if you want. I definitely could never do erotica, not even gonna try.

I can’t do fantasy

There’s a book not in my 50 that I started reading this year. It’s medieval in setting, it’s got dragons and magic, and I could not bear to finish it. It wasn’t great to begin with, but its genre killed it for me. I even struggled through Uprooted, and that thing won a Nebula. Not exactly a bad book. I just don’t think I can go for fantasy, particularly swords-and-sorcery.

…Yet it doesn’t need to be strict reality

Some of my favorites were books like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Green Fairy, and All the Birds in the Sky. Murakami is surreal, Gold is furry, and Anders is sci-fi. Yet they all feel relatable, grounded in the real world. Maybe it’s just because they’re modern realities, I don’t know. (Probably not a surprise, given what I write, that I’m most comfortable in this near-real modern fantasy space.)

Humor wins

Consider the black humor of Slaughterhouse-Five, the absurdism of Welcome to Night Vale, and the life-is-so-fucked-up exasperation of Furiously Happy. Even The Color of Magic broke through the fantasy barrier with comedy that I didn’t get half the time. It won’t save everything, though — Atlanta Burns was funny but still not my thing, and Colt Coltrane’s occasional humor just felt cheesy.

Lessons

I can already feel that I’ve picked some things up going into my next NaNoWriMo. I’ll toss in a little more humor and lean more into how my furry world is different from the real one. I’m sure I would’ve gathered more ideas if I had been reading academically, but even reading casually has helped me pick up tropes and stylistic cues. It makes reading my own book a little harder. I can plainly see where I fell short.

I’ll keep to my random scattering of selections for the rest of this year, but I think next year I’ll take on a challenge I’ve seen done by others: same number of books, but no white male authors. A casual scan of my backlog shows I could do it, I just have to focus myself on it. This will push those classics further down the queue, but they can wait. Not like I was chomping at the bit to read them anyway.

The Full List

  1. Becoming Marta — Lorea Canales (2/5)
  2. Discoverability: A WMG Writers Guide — Kristine Kathryn Rusch (5/5)
  3. The Color of Magic — Terry Pratchet (5/5)
  4. Furiously Happy — Jenny Lawson (5/5)
  5. All the Lasting Things — David Hopson (4/5)
  6. The Story Hour — Thrity Umrigar (5/5)
  7. The Wisdom of No Escape — Pema Chödrön (5/5)
  8. Dark Matter — Brett Adams (3/5)
  9. Otters in Space — Mary E. Lowd (2/5)
  10. The Secret Adversary — Agatha Christie (5/5)
  11. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions — Edwin A. Abbott (4/5)
  12. While You Were Mine — Ann Howard Creel (3/5)
  13. Slaughterhouse-Five — Kurt Vonnegut (5/5)
  14. The Art of Fiction — David Lodge (5/5)
  15. Colt Coltrane and the Lotus Killer — Allison M. Dickson (3/5)
  16. Boss Fight: Metal Gear Solid — Ashly & Anthony Burch (5/5)
  17. Boss Fight: Bible Adventures — Gabe Durham (5/5)
  18. Welcome to Night Vale — Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor (5/5)
  19. Casino Royale — Ian Fleming (4/5)
  20. Boss Fight: Galaga — Michael Kimball (4/5)
  21. Boss Fight: Jagged Alliance 2 — Darius Kazemi (3/5)
  22. The Sense of an Ending — Julian Barnes (5/5)
  23. Boss Fight: Chrono Trigger — Michael P. Williams (4/5)
  24. Boss Fight: Earthbound — Ken Baumann (4/5)
  25. Boss Fight: Shadow of the Colossus — Nick Suttner (3/5)
  26. The Dinner — Herman Koch (4/5)
  27. How to Find Fulfilling Work — Roman Krznaric (4/5)
  28. Boss Fight: ZZT — Anna Anthropy (4/5)
  29. 33⅓: Flood — S. Alexander Reed & Philip Sandifer (3/5)
  30. Boss Fight: World of Warcraft — Daniel Lisi (4/5)
  31. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle — Haruki Murakami (5/5)
  32. The City & the City — China Miéville (4/5)
  33. Boss Fight: Super Mario Bros. 2 — Jon Irwin (3/5)
  34. Boss Fight: Baldur’s Gate II — Matt Bell (3/5)
  35. Boss Fight: Spelunky — Derek Yu (5/5)
  36. We’re All Damaged — Matthew Norman (4/5)
  37. How to Find the Work You Love — Laurence G. Boldt (3/5)
  38. All the Birds in the Sky — Charlie Jane Anders (5/5)
  39. Boss Fight: Super Mario Bros. 3 — Alyse Knorr (4/5)
  40. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft — Stephen King (5/5)
  41. The Signal and the Noise — Nate Silver (5/5)
  42. Green Fairy — Kyell Gold (5/5)
  43. Quiet: The Power of Introverts — Susan Cain (5/5)
  44. Atlanta Burns — Chuck Wendig (4/5)
  45. The Girl on the Train — Paula Hawkins (4/5)
  46. How to Win Friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie (3/5)
  47. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes — Arthur Conan Doyle (4/5)
  48. Boss Fight: Mega Man 3 — Salvatore Pane (3/5)
  49. Redshirts — John Scalzi (5/5)
  50. Uprooted — Naomi Novik (3/5)

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