Why You Should Read 50 Books a Year

I’ve never been much of a New Year’s Resolution type of guy. Really, I hate the swarms of new people in my gym January through Mid-February. But, I did come up with a resolution of sorts a few years ago that totally revolutionized my life. Now I set this goal each January 1st: read 50 books per year (roughly one book per week).[1]

“There is no friend as loyal as a good book” – Ernest Hemingway (Click to tweet)

Why Reading?

Obviously, I don’t have to sell myself too hard on reading’s benefits. But just in case, here’s a roundup[2]:

  • Mental Stimulation
  • Stress Reduction
  • Knowledge
  • Vocabulary Expansion
  • Memory Improvement
  • Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills
  • Improved Focus and Concentration
  • Better Writing Skills
  • Tranquility
  • Free Entertainment

When you read 50 books a year, it’s a measurable goal. Personally, my goals need to be measurable. I can’t just “lose weight,” “read more,” or “try new things” I need to lose 10 pounds, read 50 books, or go to Brazilian Ju Jitsu classes twice a week. I think most people are the same. If you really want to change, you need something to measure, something to define whether you’ve succeeded or failed.

But, why 50 books per year?

Well, I like 50 because some weeks you might slip up. Some you might binge read and get a little ahead of schedule. But also, if I am too strict on “1 book per week” then I’m less likely to pick up overly challenging books. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged would be difficult to get through in a week (unless I played hooky at work). Therefore, I make my goal a more rounded 50 to account for the variance in complexity and length.

What happens when you read 50 books per year?

Here’s some math: 50 books times 200 pages per book equals 10,000 pages. 10,000 pages equal a lot of words, and some of those words are going to help you out. It’s almost guaranteed that throughout the course of the year you’ll read something that specifically relates to a problem you’re trying to solve. It seems like a lot of effort to find a very specific solution to a very specific problem, but if you make reading a habit it will come naturally. You won’t even need to look for a solution when the time comes. That makes the entire process worth it. There are other subtle benefits, such as those that follow.

Expanding Your Horizons

In addition to reading about specific things that will help you in specific ways, reading 50 books per year really broadens your horizons. Inevitably, reading will take you down a few unexpected rabbit holes and you’ll emerge with new interests and knowledge. I’m now weirdly knowledgeable on John F. Kennedy and American History during the Cold War. I mainly read to improve my marketing and business chops, and the Cold War has nothing to do with that. But it’s influenced a lot of how I think about certain things. I also went down a rabbit hole of the history of Hollywood a few months ago. Random interests like these help liven up your conversations, and reading classics helps you relate and converse with almost anyone.

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Become Articulate and Awesome

You’ll become more articulate if you read 50 books per year. Once you read enough, you’ll distinguish patterns that make certain authors more eloquent than others. This includes organization, sentence structure, word choice and voice. Once you distinguish these patterns, you really don’t even have to work to incorporate them into your own communications. It sort of just happens.

Substance Over Noise

When you read 50 books per year, you’ll become successful. You’ll develop a depth and breadth of knowledge. Reading pithy blog posts won’t make you successful. Sure, reading Seth Godin’s blog posts can inspire you – but you should really read 50 books per year if you want to be a smart, capable person. Otherwise you’ll be full of inspiration and lacking on substance. The true recipe for both failure and charlatanism.

Most importantly, reading 50 books per year will defuse the power that click bait still holds. I hate click bait. Journalism is at a depressing low right now. When you read 50 books per year, sure, click bait still pisses you off. But you can be more zen about it because you know that real content awaits you in the form of a 800 page paperback about Teddy Roosevelt.

Self-Awareness

Reading 50 books per year defeats the illusion of knowledge. You’d think it would make you feel much smarter, but it really makes you aware of how much you don’t know. However, this is a good thing. I bet some of your Facebook friends think they’re political experts because they read a blog post that said Obama is a socialist without an American birth certificate. No, these people aren’t certifiably insane (but close). But they could probably pick up a book or two this week, and it would help them be less vitriolic.

EH 3963 Ernest Hemingway reading outside at Finca Vigia in Cuba. Please credit "Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston"

Credit: Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

How To Read 50 Books Per Year

Let’s talk about the process. It’s not as bad as you think. All you need to do is create a habit.

Really, what 50 books per year looks like is about 45-60 minutes of reading per day. Maybe a bit more, if you add in weekends (I usually read about an hour on weekend days). How long is your commute? I walk 30 minutes to and from work and always throw on an audiobook. Done. The process really doesn’t take as long as you’d think, and if you eliminate an hour of TV and replace it with challenging books, you’ll be grateful.

There are many things you can do to improve your life, but reading 50 books per year might be the easiest. Actually, when I say ‘easiest,’ what I mean is that it’s the most effective. You get the most results out of what you put into it. If you’re looking for a new year’s resolution, don’t try to give up ice cream or go to the gym 8 days a week. You’ll fail. Try reading just a little bit a day, and reap the benefits that readers have enjoyed for centuries.

1I just recently discovered that I’m not the originator of this challenge. Not even close. In fact, Julien Smith wrote an awesome blog post about it a few years ago that I just discovered: http://inoveryourhead.net/one-book-a-week-for-2007/
2 http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-benefits-reading-why-you-should-read-everyday.html

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