52 Books in 52 Weeks: How and Why to Make it Happen

For several years now, I have challenged myself to read 52 books in 52 weeks — or, one book a week for an entire year. I have mentioned this challenge to friends and colleagues and usually get a response akin to “Why would you do that?” or more often, “I’d love to do that, but there is no way I have time for that.” To all of those responders, this post is for you. It is also for the other people out there who are crazy enough to try it.

Why Read 52 books in 52 Weeks? Looking back on the first year I tried this, I stated that this was a reward to myself for all of the required reading I’d done for undergraduate and graduate degrees. That said, I realize there are plenty of you who may not see reading as a reward. What I didn’t realize however, was how few Americans read for pleasure, or at all. I came across this quote last year when reading Lisa Bloom’s think, cited from from a 2004 National Endowment for the Arts To Read or Not to Read survey:

One-third of high school graduates never read another book the rest of their lives. Eighty percent of American families did not buy or read a book last year. Seventy percent of U.S. adults have not even set foot in a bookstore in the last five years. Reading proficiency rates are stagnant or declining in adults of both genders and across all education levels. Nearly half of all Americans ages eighteen to twenty-four read no books for pleasure.

In a time when information is so prevalent – blogs, news sites, apps, social media — why bother flipping the pages of a book? Just like our bodies, our brains need exercise. We know that reading is good for kids; it expands their vocabularies, introduces them to new ideas (and worlds!), and enhances brain activity. As it turns out — all of those things are important to our adult brains too. Reading different kinds of books challenges our brains to work in different ways. A few romance novels and murder mysteries are good for us, at least in their ability to use our reading muscles and focus our attention on something non-digital for a few hours. When we challenge ourselves to try new books though, that’s where some of the real fun comes in. I’ve learned strategies for success from  Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman: What Men Know About Success that Women Need to Learn, Gail Evans and about improving my performance at work from Read This Before Our Next Meeting and On Becoming a Woman Leader. From The Etymologicon and Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking I’ve discovered some hilarious history about the English language and developed better routines and habits.

If you want too be a better writer, the advice is always two-fold: write more and read more.

Perhaps worth mentioning– Reading is fun!  No, seriously. Reading may not have been fun in high school or college when you were reading books someone else found value in. Things are different when you choose your own books. Like sports? Read some of the incredible memoirs written by coaches like John Wooden. More of the outdoorsy type? Pick up an adventure about backpacking or maybe Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Like travelling? Pick up a book set in your favorite destination or an author who lived there, try Beautiful Ruins if you’re just returning from Italy.

And if you just want to read Harry Potter, Twilight, and 50 Shades of Gray? I’m not going to argue with you. I’m just glad you’re not part of the 80%.

How to find time to read 52 books in 52 week

So you agree that you want to read more this year– even if you don’t read 52 books. Here are some of the tips and tricks that have helped me find more time.

  1. Have a book handy: I keep a book or nook in my purse, an audio book* in my car, and have Kindle and Nook apps on my phone. Choose what works for you. 
  2. Read on planes/trains: If I’m travelling, this is a guaranteed hour or more when my phone will not ring and I can focus on reading.
  3. Read before bed: This doesn’t usually yield more than 5 pages, but every little bit helps!
  4. Borrow library books: AND read them before they’re due. Having a deadline can be helpful for staying focused.
  5. Read at the gym: If you’re looking to multi-task, this is a good one. Your progress will probably suffer a little in both areas, but it’s a good way to make time fly and get a few more chapters in.
  6. Skip one TV show: Many nights at my house include Netflix marathons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Skipping just one episode a night can add 30 minutes of reading time to your schedule.
  7. Read with your family: Family reading time is a great way to promote everyone’s literacy and to build in time for your books.

This post has additional tips and inspired me when I first started the project.

*I consider Audio Books reading and have some science to back me up on this one, but more on that in another post. 

Follow my progress on Twitter (@OberBecca) and on GoodReads. Share your progress on twitter with the #52in52 tag.

Why do you read? How do you find time to do it?

18 thoughts on “52 Books in 52 Weeks: How and Why to Make it Happen

  1. You inspired me to set a reading goal last year. It was 26 in 52, and I read 33! Now it’s time for the big 52! Let’s do this!

    PS And Zen? The only book I didn’t finish in high school English. Read more of it last year and still despised it. Some things don’t change. ;)

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  4. I read all of the time. I eat fiction like candy and read multiple non-fiction at the same time (something I never used to understand.) One way I get through books (and feed this addiction) is that I read while I’m doing my hair. The only downside is the occasional curling iron burn… :) but I feel lost if I’m not reading something! Keep after it!

  5. I’ve always found it a little strange when people don’t read for fun. I even had an aunt question why I was moving so many books when I went to grad school. She just didn’t get it. I’ve loved reading for fun for as long as I can remember. I love reading as an escape. It affords me the opportunity to travel and live among people the I wouldn’t otherwise experience. 2013 is the first year in a while that I haven’t set a certain number of books to read for the year. I want to get back into “enjoying” reading instead of trying to push through just to reach a certain number. It’s felt like work the past couple years. So far, it’s working out well. In January, I’ve read 4 books. In January 2012, I only finished 2. I look forward to reading about your #52in52 journey throughout the rest of 2013.

  6. Love this post! I finished #52in52 in 2012 and while I am not a homebody, by any means, I found it easy most of the time to finish ahead of schedule… it’s amazing how much time we waste that could be “relaxingly productive” by picking out great books. GOOD LUCK this year with your challenge. :)

    • Thanks Tracy! My habits have gotten better since I started and I almost made it last year (50). This year seems to be off to a better start already. Looking forward to hearing about your reads!

  7. Wait… some people don’t read for fun?

    Great tips, Becca! I always keep a notepad and a book in my purse and more loaded on my Kindle app. But my problem is that I’m always reading too many books at once. Need to focus on reading just one or two books at a time! Glad to see all of these new reader friends emerging!

  8. I’m not sure if I’ve ever said this formally, but thank you for inspiring me to go after my own #52in52 challenge this year. I’m thrilled to have reading back in my life on a more regular basis and, in working to keep my motivation up, I’m constantly looking for ways to apply what I’m learning from my reading to all the different areas of my life, be it personal or professional. I’m also hoping to share in this journey on Good Reads and on the Pinterest board I created to showcase what I’m reading: http://pinterest.com/lisaendersby/52in52-book-project-2013/

    I’m also filling ‘found time’ with something more productive and intellectually satisfying. With only so many hours in the day, taking time to reflect has become a priority for me, and reading gives me the spark I need to do that. Can’t wait to chat more about our reading! :)

    • You are so very welcome Lisa, I’m happy to have you on board. You have a great, creative mind and I look forward to seeing where books take our conversations.

  9. This is great advice Becca! I am working through #52in52 this year without moving, a wedding, job searching, and all that other jazz happening. :-) I’m hoping to be a bit more successful. If I can add to your list – connecting with others who are doing #52in52 has also been a great reason for doing this, as well as a source of inspiration & motivation.

  10. Great post, Becca! As you’ve seen this is my first year participating in the 52 in 52 challenge. I know there is a definite chance that I won’t reach the 52 mark but has really reinvigorated my love of reading! I keep a running “wish list” on my Amazon account so when I hear of suggested reads I can quickly add them to my list. Outside of your tips, I take time to even read while at the gym if part of my workout routine is on the bike.

    • Thanks Leslie– I’m glad you’re trying it this year too! I’ve “failed” two years in a row (27 books in 2011 and 50 books in 2012) and am just fine with that. The bike is my favorite place to read at the gym too!

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