​​How I read 54 books in a year. And how you can do it too

Agnieszka Oszust
Feb 8, 2020 · 8 min read

The “52 books a year” reading challenge is not the new idea — bookworms from all over the world support each other in achieving it at least for several years. To be honest, I’ve done it in the past already. I tried to read 52 books in 2017, but life happened in the meantime. A significant renovation of our apartment dragged on, and due to the job opportunity, we had to move to another country. The challenge was naturally abandoned in the meantime.

But the idea stuck with me, and I promised myself to get back to it as soon as my partner and I settle down in a new place, with satisfying full-time jobs. We finally did in 2018, and with the omnipresent idea of new year resolutions, I did mine — try to read as many books as I can. Fifty-two seemed like an overwhelming number, especially for the first-class complaining master (“I never have time to do what I like to do”) like me, but it turned out to be easier than I thought, and I finished the year with an extra two books.

I won’t try to convince you that it was the act of pure heroism, that the challenge will make you successful at work, or will help you to become the next US president. I want to share some tricks and ideas that helped me complete my reading goal. If you think that some pieces of my advice are naive — you are right! I was surprised to find out that sometimes the easiest solutions, work best.

Find the time for reading

There are 168 hours in a week. Even if you sleep 7 hours a day (consider yourself a lucky one!), and you spend another eight hours at work, that leaves you with 63 hours of spare time. I hear you: in your “spare time”, you have to cook the lunch, pick up kids from school and finally — after two weeks of drying clothes — pick them up from the dryer. But if you can lock time during the week to pair your socks, watch the Netflix news or do some online shopping, I am positive you can find some time to read as well. Lock this time in your week — e.g. Wednesday and Saturday evening from 9:00–9:20 PM. If it helps — set a daily reminder in your calendar. Actually, the last one was not needed in my case; I impatiently started to wait for this time of the day, as it became my moment of relaxation. At the very beginning I was about to read 10 minutes before going to bed, 3–4 times a week, but I ended up spending most of my evenings reading — especially when the books were captivating.

I started to celebrate my reading time — and somehow I managed not to gain too much weight.

Skip social media

That’s a controversial one. How nice it is to sit down with a glass of wine, relax on the sofa and scroll, scroll, scroll — … but is it really? To understand how much time we are spending on your phones/laptops, try to track (or download the app that will track it for you) your screen time. In my case, it was, on average, 2.1 hours every day, 15 hours and 10 minutes a week. Scary, right? What is even more disturbing is that according to Code Computerlove, I was way below the average. In the research, they tested 2077 people aged 16+ and found out that Brits spend 3 hours 23 minutes every day only by scrolling their phones. That’s roughly 50 days a year. Some of you might ask — what about reading on your mobile device? It didn’t work for me. The laziness and temptation to check social media, or scroll through the latest news were too tempting. I stared with the book, and 15 minutes later I was watching cute puppy videos or crafty ideas, that I’ll never try anyway. If you’re a similar slacker — just leave your phone behind — put it on the shelf, or if you are brave enough, switch it off for the evening.

The attitude matters

“No slave is a good worker” — the Polish proverb says. If you keep thinking of reading in terms of everyday dull duty, soon you’ll hate it as much as you hate dull duties. That’s why instead of thinking “oh, no, it’s my reading time again”, put a positive spin into it and convince yourself: “It is my time to read and relax”. It might sound naive, but it is scientifically proven to work. Researches at Stanford University School of Medicine found out that kids with a positive attitude toward maths, achieve more in the subject than other students. Positive thinking boosts the memory centre in the brain, which helps us perform better. So be merry and read!

Read what you like, like what you read

It would be a bigger challenge if I had to read 54 books on the recent history of fractional calculus or reproductive cycle of pigeons. The good news is you can pick whatever book you like, on whatever topic you find attractive. And if you feel you have lost a track with the hottest names in literature industry — just put some trust in journalist, bloggers, and local bookstores bestsellers. If you feel it is a good year to catch up with the most significant word literature masterpieces, google BBC’s “100 books to read before you die” or Goodread’s “1000 Books To Read Shelf” list.

Do not underestimate the power of audiobooks

I commute 50 minutes one way to work — it is 100 minutes of the daily routine that could be easily considered as wasted time. Since I have started listening to crime audiobooks, I almost feel excited about jumping on the train in the mornings. If the average book is 8 hours — it meant for me an extra book a week. Only while commuting! OK, and here is a not-so-fair trick: I find some books recorded too slowly, so I speed them up x1,5 times. Thanks to that, I could squeeze more than one audiobook a week.

Sure, it is different when you commute by car — you need to stay safe and focus on the road. But what about the time you are cooking, ironing clothes or even jogging in the evening? I am sure you can do it!

Audiobooks work for me, so I have decided on the paid subscription. But if you are not sure if you’ll get hooked, try with unpaid trail first, search some free samples on YouTube or check your local library.

“Why nations fail” by Turkish-American economist Daron Acemoglu and British political scientist James A. Robinson — the new audiobook I am listening to right now

Track it, tick it off and review it

Are you one of those who gets the addictive feeling of excitement, when you tick things off your list? Before I started my last years’ challenge, I created the document with books I was reading at that point, future ideas, and the third column tagged as “read ones”. After each weekend I updated the list and ticked off next titles. Not only it helped me to track the progress, but also was a great motivation tool. You should have seen my face when I ticked 30th book of my list. Pure excitement, joy and happiness — or maybe those were two cups of coffee I had that particular day?

Tell others about your challenge

Unless you hang out with the bunch of nitwits, people are generally supportive, when it comes to others’ challenges. My partner, my sister and several colleagues at work knew about my goal for 2019. The question: “oh, by the way — what do you read now?” — became morning small-talk routine at work. During one of those, a girl from other team has approached me, confessing she overheard me talking about 52 books a year challenge. In the quick chitchat, she advised me to join our company’s book club. Honestly — I had no idea there was one. I joined it straight away: not only I met new people, but also I got some great recommendations for my future readings. Win-win!

Visit the local library — yes, you can do it online!

It would cost me a small fortune if I had to purchase all 54 books I read last year. And it is no secret that I didn’t spend a penny. Some books I got as a present, as my friends soon realised that my challenge is a “real thing” and generously provided me with a voucher to the local book store. But many of them I simply borrowed from the local library. And those of you who still associate libraries with the dreadful silence, naphthalene scent, kilometres of books catalogues, and computers form last century, couldn’t be wrong more! City of Sydney library prides itself not only for having more than 400,000 books to lend to members, but also 10,000 e-books, and 2 000 audiobooks available for a digital copy. Some of them you could consider as cheap crap, but in the online catalogue, I have found some hidden gems like the whole reprint of nordic legends. (I hear you, the fans of the “Vikings” series).

State Library Victoria: the beautiful place in Melbourne, that every book-lover would cherish

You are doing it for yourself

No matter how hard you’ll try, it won’t work until you WANT to commit to the challenge. And it is not about numbers, or trying to read for the reading sake. It’s not about ticking off to-do-lists. It’s about you and making sure YOU feel good with it.

OK, so I have done the “52 weeks challenge”, but was it worth it?

The answer is three-words only: yes, definitely yes.

  • I started to sleep better; I stopped checking social media just before my bedtime, and it massively resulted in my sleep quality;
  • I met new people in the book clubs I joined last year;
  • I educated myself — I am a big fan of non-fiction books, written by journalists from different countries. I have learned heaps on Cambodia’s, Ethiopia’s and USA’s economic / political situation;
  • I started to read more books in my non-mother tongue; that developed my language skills and speaking confidence.
  • I proved myself I can do that. As simple as that.

If you’d like to check which of my 52 books challenge I liked the most, click here.

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Agnieszka Oszust

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Travel, read, eat — repeat.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +789K followers.

Agnieszka Oszust

Written by

Travel, read, eat — repeat.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +789K followers.

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