It’s January 2015, and you’re thinking about or have already committed to taking the 52 Book Challenge (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, see the next paragraph). For most adults, reading 52 books in one year is quite a feat. Being the seasoned veteran of the challenge that I am (third year running!), I would like to share some tips for sticking with the challenge and getting it done.

[For those of you who are unfamiliar with this challenge, it’s pretty simple: Read one book a week for the entire year. In other words, read 52 books in 2015. CPL adopted the challenge last year, and we had nearly 400 people participate so we’re bringing it back for another year! To sign up or to learn more about the 52 Book Pickup (CPL’s name for the challenge), click here.]

1. Walk away from duds

Give up! And no, I don’t mean give up on the challenge. I mean: don’t be afraid to give up on a book if you can’t get into it. Everyone has a different threshold for what they will tolerate in a book. I used to be the type of person who had to finish anything I started, even if my eyes were bleeding by the time I was done. As I’ve gotten older though, it’s become clear that if life is too short to bother with things I hate, then so is a one-year challenge.

I will reiterate: If you can’t get into a book, don’t force it. When you have to, on average, read one book a week to beat this challenge, you don’t have the time or luxury to muddle through something you dislike. If you can’t give up on the book completely, I get it. Books are precious, and it can be very difficult to completely abandon one. But you don’t need to give up 100%; you can give up temporarily. Set the book aside and come back to it later. Maybe it will be better down the road.

2. Keep it chill; let it flow

Let your book choices come naturally. This is something I always struggle with. The one thing that overwhelms me more than anything else, is knowing that no matter how much I read – even if it was my job to read – I won’t even scratch the surface of all the great books out there. At times, this fear/frustration leads me to try to set a reading order for myself, which never works; I just get stressed out about having to read books based on some arbitrary scale I once created.

I pick a book one of two ways: Either, I see it on the shelf, on the internet or wherever and say, “I am going to read that!” So I pick it up and I do. Or, I add books to my “To Be Read” list, TBR for short. This list doesn’t really have any organization to it. I just add any book that looks or sounds interesting to it, and if I can’t decide what to read at any given moment, I pick something from the list. I keep a “master” list on goodreads, but if  you were to go through my desk, car, purse, etc. you’d probably find lots of lists like the one on the left.

As I was writing this post, I stumbled upon a brand new, minimalist site for book lists. It’s called 50books.org, and it’s probably the closest thing to actual pen and paper on the internet. I highly recommend it.

3. Join a book-loving community

Join our goodreads group. Yes, this is a shameless plug to get more people involved in the group, but it’s also a pretty awesome community. We talk about what books we are reading, offer suggestions and encouragement to one another and tackle the challenge together. Having a support structure for something like this is always helpful. If you’re looking for something on a wider scale, there are tons of other online book groups on goodreads, and there is even a group dedicated to the 52 Book Challenge on Reddit. Perhaps, you’re even game to join the massive, online book club that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has created.

4. Give your eyes a break; use your ears

Seriously, though, if none of the reasons below convince you to listen to audiobooks,
just know that this could be you if you just give it a try.

Listen to audiobooks. I know not everyone can get into them. Some people find audiobooks too distracting, while others just fall asleep while listening. If you haven’t listened to an audiobook before, or it’s been a long time, give it a try! I was never into audiobooks until about a year ago when I found myself with an hour-long commute to and from work every day. Now, I hardly ever drive anywhere without an audiobook playing. Even if I’m only going a short distance, I get super excited to hop in the car and pick up where I last left off.

Audiobooks are an experience. They’re almost like invisible TV. Sometimes, there is an entire cast of voice actors with sound effects and music. Plus, with audiobooks, you get to listen to a great story while simultaneously being productive: driving, doing housework, working out, etc.

5. Leave a trail

 

Keep a log. No matter how crude or sophisticated it is, a reading log can be awesome for a lot of reasons. I enjoy adding books to my log because it’s an accomplishment. Any time I finish a book, it’s nice to say to myself, “Yeah, I rocked that book!” And then I can add it to my spreadsheet that tallies the number of books I’ve read as well as the number of pages I’ve read. For those of you who love data, Excel is great for this. You can create graphs and do all sorts of cool stuff with the data you collect. Simple pen and paper works, too! I once saw a really awesome picture of a book log that a guy had kept for decades. It was beautiful. Now I’ve made it my mission to leave a leather-bound book filled with the names of books I’ve read over the years somewhere in my house so my descendants can say, “Check out this old school book journal my grandma/great-grandma/great-great-great grandma kept back before we could download any book ever written into our brains by simply thinking about it!”

Another reason to keep a book log is that you can go back and see what you read in the past. I don’t know about everyone else, but because I read so much, I can’t always remember every book I’ve read. It’s nice to have a log to go back through and recall some of those memories.

6. Have multiple books for different locations

 

Not everyone can read more than one book at a time, so if you’re one of those people, you’ll have to skip this one. Joe, who is the Circulation Coordinator for CPL, suggested this tip. Because he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to finish 52 books within a year, he started reserving different places for different books. He made sure to always have one book at home, one book at work and an audiobook in the car. Designating specific books for specific locations makes the whole reading thing a bit more exciting. Listen to an NPR story about reading multiple books at once here.

It’s 6:00 AM on Monday morning. What’s going through Joe’s head? “Man, is it Monday morning already? (sigh) Time to get up and go to work (another sigh). Oh, wait! Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is waiting for me on my desk at work! I can’t wait to get there and read it on my lunch break. And that’s not all! I have The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy waiting for me in my car. This day is already looking like it’ll be a great one!*”

*This is not an actual quote from Joe. Rather, I’ve taken artistic liberty and read his mind.


There are probably many more tips and tricks to help you complete the challenge, but this is where I’ll leave it for now. If you have any additional tips, please feel free to share them in the comments below. Don’t forget to take part in the 52 Book Pickup at CPL! Sign-up officially starts January 18, but we’re kicking off the program on January 24 at all CPL locations with National Readathon Day. Read more about it here.

My gifs came from giphy.com. Thanks, giphy!

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5 thoughts on “So You Think You Can Read: Tips for the 52 Book Challenge

  1. I think for a lot of readers number 1 is the hardest! Personally if I purchase or rent a book I feel compelled to finish it, especially if it’s by an author I love. For instance I bought JK Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy” and absolutely hated it. The last 50% of the book was like trudging through mud, but I finished it anyways and felt like I wasted my time!

    1. I agree with you. I always forced myself to get through books, but in the last couple of years, I’ve really gained perspective. Books are amazing, but just like anything else in life, sometimes there’s something you’re not going to like. Thanks for reading and for commenting!

    1. My mind-reading skills are only so good. While I can tell what he was thinking at the time, I couldn’t actually figure out the exact time he was thinking it… So it may have been 3:11 AM, indeed.

  2. So many good tips here! No. 1 is the hardest for me–it’s only recently that I’ve given myself permission to leave books unfinished if they’re not doing the trick for me. But there are so many other great books I could be reading instead! That’s what I finally figured out.

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