How I Read 52 Books A Year

My goal, every year, is to read 52 books. Here’s how I do it (as randomly illustrated with pictures from the Wire):

1. I prioritize reading books. I endeavor to read, at least for a couple of minutes, everyday. I’m lucky in that I live in New York City, and can read for about an hour to an hour and half every day on my commute. I also read every night before bed, while I wait in line, and anywhere else I can find the time.

But it’s not only that I prioritize reading, I prioritize reading books. I read only one magazine regularly (the New Yorker) and one newspaper (the New York Times) and even with those two, I am very selective in which article I read. It isn’t that the New York Review of Books, the Atlantic, or the Economist aren’t doing great things – they are—but I’ve chosen to focus on the long form and that means choosing not to read things elsewhere.

2. I listen to books. This is probably the most “controversial” thing I do to get to 52 books a year. I run quite a bit and when I do so, I am almost always listening to an audio book. Some would say “this isn’t reading”, to which I respond, “whatever.”

I read for a number of different reasons. For information, for aesthetics, for pleasure, and for distraction. That means I read lots and lots of different kinds of books. Some lend themselves to the audio book format (I think memoirs and narrative nonfiction do well) and some (literary fiction) do not. The real talk is with two young children, I serious doubt I’d make it to 52 books a year without audiobooks, getting an audible account, and into audio books, was one of the best investment I made in my reading in years.

Here, take this.

3. I (try) to put the phone away and turn off the TV. I try my damnedest to not have my phone near me when I read. I don’t pull it out on the subway, and, lately, I’ve been making sure it is charging in another room when I crawl into bed with a book.

I struggle with this. Like many others, I am always wanting to be grabbing the phone to see what the president has done or how badly the Knicks have lost. But those quick fix news moments are fleeting, and I’m try (but often failing) to get at something a bit more substantive, which I find in books.

Similarly, I almost never watch television. This isn’t to say there isn’t great television out there, but with only so many hours in the day, it’s something I’ve scarified. I now watch television (a) if E (my wife) wants to or (b) if I’m on the treadmill. That’s it. Removing the television from your life gives you scores more hours for books, if that’s your thing.

All the pieces matter

4. I keep track. I have recorded in a series of notebooks every book I have read for the last twenty something years. I also have a google sheet I use to track my progress through the year, which automatically calculates how many books I need to read to read reach my total number goal, and my diversity goals.

This is some highly geeky stuff, but it helps keep me on track. I always know if I am ahead or behind in my reading, and I always know the rate at which I need to complete books to make the goal.

5. I juke the stats. If it’s December and I need to read eight books by the end of the month, I’m not above selecting books by their page count. You might think that’s crazy, and you’d be right. But here we are. I enjoy hitting the 52 book mark every year and if that means I need to focus on short works of literature here and there, I don’t see anything wrong with it.


Review: Simon’s Homocide

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
David Simon

You’ve read this right? You have to. The best book on cops ever and its written by the creator of the world’s greatest TV show, the Wire.

Baltimore in the early nineties was a violent place, policed by a largely white and often racist police force that in many cases cared deeply about lowering crime rates, but didn’t care much about things like civil rights. You know that scene in the Wire where Landsman* tells a suspect that a copy machine is a lie detector? True story. The cop in the television show Homicide who was haunted by the murder of the little girl he couldn’t solve? Also from this book. Written in a straight forward journalistic style if you care about policing, civil rights, or just good writing, this is one you really should read.