We raced to read 50 books in 2017.
Here’s what we learned.
The ground rules were simple. The first person to finish 50 books got a free dinner on the other person’s dime. Both of us are competitive, so it was game on.
What you’re reading now is our story: what the experience was like, how it changed our friendship, the books we read, how you can beat your friends at a reading race, and who won. (Spoiler alert: It was Geoff, that jerk.)
Staying on pace was stressful.
B: First of all, this is the most I’ve ever been motivated to read books. I could already taste the Super Duper burger I was gonna make Geoff buy me after winning this thing.
To hit 50, I knew I had to read at least one book a week, so I was intimately aware when I wasn’t on pace. At one point I decided to read a 600-page book on Google Analytics and it slowed me down by three weeks. I was so pissed, but I started it so I had to finish it.
From that point on I not-so-secretly started reading shorter books with 150–200 pages. Geoff and I never agreed on books having to be a certain length, but it went unspoken that if we read a 50-page children’s book that it didn’t count. (G: 👀 🤔 Uh, this didn’t get clarified, and I definitely read at least 2 eBooks that were hella short.)
G: I like winning. A lot. I particularly like winning when I’m competing against Brian. When we were roommates I beat him so bad at Madden once that he threw the controller, said a bunch of bad words and stomped downstairs. It was awesome.
So when we talked about racing each other to read 50 books, I knew it was something I had to do. The desire to compete is what kept me on pace. I don’t think I would have done that if it was just a personal goal of reading 50 books. That same desire also stressed me the hell out.
It was hard not to feel a moment of panic when Brian would text me about the 3 books he read one weekend all at once. In some ways, that was fun — but over the course of the year it wore me out.
We talked a lot more.
B: Geoff is one of my closest friends. Most of our time spent together as homies was when we both lived in Flagstaff, Arizona as co-workers and roommates. Nowadays we’re long-distance friends who text a lot and talk on the phone when something big comes up. This year, we ended up texting a lot more since we texted every time we finished a book.
We like similar stuff, so “hey dude was it legit” started great conversations we only had from time-to-time before.
G: This was one of the best benefits of our challenge because it was twofold. Not only did we get to talk more, we got to talk about things that we were learning about. When you’re an adult, those are harder friendships to cultivate. Getting to have conversations that were not only frequent, but generative around new ideas and learning was fantastic.
We read more.
B: In 2016 I read 44 books. Not too shabby. But I still felt like a loser last year because I didn’t hit 50. Fifty just sounds way cooler in conversations.
G: Duh 😁 Instead of having 50 books lying around my apartment I started but didn’t finish, I have 50 that I read. It feels great.
Books weren’t as enjoyable.
B: This was the most bummer part. I found myself rushing through books instead of savoring them like a See’s milk chocolate truffle you never ever want to stop tasting.
By “weren’t as enjoyable”, I mean like 30% of the time I was rushing through books. The rest was normal book nerd enjoyment.
G: This makes total sense in retrospect. There’s a point where you’re just reading the words, not taking in the information and that is kind of a let down. This happened most with business books for me, where I became so familiar with the general formula of that type of book that what I was reading all started sounding the same.
We got closer as friends 👊🏼
B: This is a cool memory for us. I think we’ll look back on this and laugh and shoot the breeze about it forever. We still haven’t gone out to eat yet where I have to pay, but I don’t want to remember that part anyway 😜
G: Brian is one of my closest friends. He’s one of my creative soul mates. When we get to work on projects we’re generally on the same creative wavelength, and this felt like a giant life experiment we got to run together. Accomplishing something big like this deepened our friendship. Even though it was crazy competitive, we’re better friends for it.
Will we do it again?
B: Maybe in a couple of years. An interesting lesson I learned is that while reading is a great way to indulge my curiosity it’s also another way to keep myself from creating stuff. Geoff taught me that the secret is doing the work, and I have a few books this year I want to write, so I’m going to focus on those instead of reading. If I can look back on 2018 and say “I finished writing three books” that’s way cooler to me than “I read 50 books.”
G: I’m with Brian on this one: reading was great, creating is better. I’ve got other writing projects I want to focus on and health goals I want to meet with the time that I was using to read like that. I’d want to do it again, just not in 2018. It’s like Ben Orenstein tweets:
2018 is going to be about more creating, more shipping and much less consuming.
How to beat your friend at a book race.
Okay okay, now we’ll get to the real deal tips on how to beat your friends at a book race if you decide to give this thing a shot.
B: Read books with 150–200 pages for the entire year. Don’t veer outside of that otherwise you’ll screw yourself over. As you’ll see on my list below, I decided to read the entire Bible in 2017. Both Geoff and I are Christians, and my grand plan was to text him the Bible as my 50th book as my final “you lost sucka.” But that screwed me over in the end. He finished three weeks ahead of me. (G: This is ironic on so many levels 😁 )
Wait to text the books you’ve finished. This tactic is sneaky, and you can only use it once to avoid getting caught. The way it works is you wait till you finish like five books then you text them to your friend at one time. Your friend will think they’re pulling ahead, when really your waiting to crush their spirit. It’s genius.
Turn up the heat around book 40. The competition is only fun if you’re neck and neck most of the way. If a person gets too far ahead and the other gives up, it’s the equivalent of a basketball team with a 30-point lead where everyone stops caring. You end up getting lazy. Flooring it at book 40 keeps the tension high and things flowing for the both of you. Geoff did this tactic on me. It worked.
G: Pick books that are compelling to you. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in order to read 50 books you need to be motivated by topic (probably more so than the desire to read). Personally, I wanted to read books about faith, business and creativity. Next year it might be different, but my interest in those things kept me going way more than the idea of reading a book for the sake of reading a book.
Put the remote down. There are so many easier forms of learning and entertainment that are going to call to you as you try to hit your reading goal. You are going to want to Netflix and chill, binge Stranger Things season 3, play Zelda: Breath of the Wild until you unlock all the shrines or watch every game in the NBA playoffs. Do those things sometimes, just do them less. It takes discipline to say “no”, and that’s what you’re going to need if you’re going to beat your friend in the race to 50 books.
The books we read.
You’re probably wondering what we read. Cool. If we were reading this we would too. Here’s the full list! (We put an asterisk*** next to our top five faves so keep your eyes peeled).
1. Living the 80/20 Way: Work Less, Worry Less, Succeed More, Enjoy More by Richard Koch
2. How to Make Millions With Your Ideas: An Entrepreneur’s Guide by Dan S. Kennedy
3. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
4. How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody by Abby Covert
***5. Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God by Gary Thomas
6. Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey
7. Both-And: Living the Christ-centered life in an Either-Or World by Rich Nathan and Insoo Kim
10. Google Analytics Breakthrough: From Zero to Business Impact by Feras Alhlou, Shiraz Asif, and Eric Fettman
11. Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple by Krish Kandiah
12. The Complete Guide to Business Process Management by Benjamin Brandall and Adam Henshall
13. Websites That Convert: The Fundamentals of Writing Compelling Website Copy by Claire Suellentrop
15. Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford
***16. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller
17. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
***19. The San Francisco Fallacy: The Ten Fallacies That Make Founders Fail by Jonathan Siegel
20. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
21. Intercom on Starting Up by Des Traynor and Eoghan McCabe
22. The Anglican Way: A Guidebook by Thomas McKenzie
24. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr
25. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing by Andy Crouch
26. Cut the Bullsh*t Marketing: A Practical Guide to Creating Real Impact Through Marketing by Sander Arts, Mark Geljon, and Jeroen Grit
27. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright
28. Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slim
29. Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
30. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
31. Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
32. How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark
34. Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer by Rowan Williams
35. The Consulting Economy: How to Manage Your Career in the Coming Workforce Revolution by Jonathan Dison
36. Turn the Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders by L. David Marquet
37. Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It and Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish
38. Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life by Rowan Williams
39. Don’t Call It That: A Naming Workbook by Eli Altman
40. Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper
41. Draft №4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee
***42. Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power by Andy Crouch
43. Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher
***44. Building a Storybrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller
45. The Trinity and the Kingdom by Jurgen Moltmann
47. The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing by Drew Neisser
48. A Week in the Life of Corinth by Benjamin Witherington III
49. Illustrated Summaries of Biblical Books by The Bible Project
1. The Circle by Dave Eggers
***2. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
3. Silence: A Novel by Shūsaku Endō
4. Grit:The Power and Passion of Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
5. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
6. Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton
7. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink
8. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
9. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh
***10. Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
11. Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way by Steven Pressfield
12. Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin
13. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
14. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout
15. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
16. The Hyperlinked Life, Paperback: Live with Wisdom in an Age of Information Overload by Jun Young & David Kinnaman
17. Websites that Convert: The Fundamentals of Writing Compelling Website Copy by Claire Suellentrop
19. How to Be Social: A Social Media Manifesto by Claire Diaz-Ortiz
20. Tell Your Time: How to Manage Your Schedule So You Can Live Free by Amy Lynn Andrews
***21. So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport
22. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli
23. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
24. Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
25. The Freelancer’s Road Map compiled by CreativeLive
26. The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
27. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
28. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
29. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
30. Intercom on Starting Up by Des Traynor and Eoghan McCabe
31. How to Fundraise on Social Media by Claire Diaz-Ortiz
***32. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
33. Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality by Scott Belsky
34. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
35. The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds by Kathy Keller
36. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson
37. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin
38. How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark
39. 5 Voices: How to Communicate Effectively with Everyone You Lead by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram
40. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
41. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller
42. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
43. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
45. Thoughts In Solitude by Thomas Merton
46. Honest to God by John A.T. Robinson
47. Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus: New Insights From a Hebrew Perspective by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard Jr.
48. The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert
49. Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark
***50. Sourdough: A Novel by Robin Sloan
That’s all from us. Peace ✌