I read 100 books this year

Before this year, I was very much didn't consider myself a reader - I had probably read around 5-10 books total in the last decade. To people who are big readers this probably seems ridiculous but, in true millennial fashion, I spent a lot of my time reading articles online and listening to podcasts, so I never really felt the absence of books. But, like a lot of people my age, I read a lot as a child, and then just sort of ...stopped in my late teenage years and never picked up the habit again. I think this is quite normal for people my age - life gets a bit hectic once you reach adulthood and there never quite seems to be enough time to take a full afternoon with a book and a cup of tea.

At the start of 2020, I wanted to start reading again - it's always touted as something that all successful people do, but I was largely sceptical of this, so I thought I'd give it a go and see if it felt genuinely worth the time investment.

The Plan

Never one to do things by halves, I decided to try and read 100 books in 2020 - around 2 a week. Writing it down now it seems like a lot, but in reality, I anticipated this would be 5-10 hours a week for me, which felt like a doable amount considering I had around 5 hours of commute time in my week anyway.

I also have one very nice thing on my side - I'm a pretty fast reader and, after many years of podcast listening, I listened to most audiovisual content at somewhere between 2x and 3x speed. So, armed with a new e-reader and an audiobook subscription, I felt pretty optimistic about this all and even felt like this meant I could just some books that were a bit heftier than the average book.

The Result

In terms of pace, I didn't struggle immensely - for most of the year I kept up the pace of reading 2 books a week, although my job got a bit intense in the last 6 weeks of the year, so I did have to a bit of power-reading in my week off at the end of December. But overall, I didn't particularly struggle to actually read so much - I reckon I could have read 3/4 books a week if I put my mind to it, although at that point I would definitely be sacrificing a lot of my other hobbies - reading so much this year meant I barely listened to any podcasts, and I otherwise listen to several dozen podcasts religiously.

So did I get anything out of reading so much? Sort of.

Tech Twitter (which I spend a lot of time on) are very fond of this idea of books imparting unparalleled wisdom, and some of the books I read were the ones people on there lauded as being "life-changing", but honestly this expectation fell a bit flat for me. Obviously, this is simply because I am the epitome of pure knowledge, and definitely not because I had already seen the useful snippets from these books on Twitter and so was uninspired by any of the ideas in the books.

One of my university lecturers once told us that most business books are written when someone writes a successful article and then decides to publish a book off the back of that. They then publish a book that contains the contents of the article, along with 300 pages of useless padding, and thus to save time you should simply read the original article. This is a pretty accurate summary of how I found the non-fiction books - I felt like in a 300-400 page book I got about as much useful content out as I would have from a 30-minute podcast, so overall not a great time/value ratio.

I also don't think I did the greatest job of recording the things I was reading, let alone synthesising anything particularly interesting out of them - my notes from the non-fiction books tended to be around 10 highlights from each with some sparse notes. I don't think this is a recipe for very good retention of anything useful - the ideal situation for me would be to make more comprehensive notes and put them into something like Readwise, ready to be periodically resurfaced and provide some actual value to my life.

The fiction, on the other hand, was an absolute delight. I took the opportunity to re-read some of the series' that I enjoyed in my earlier years, including the whole Harry Potter series, The Wicked Years, and The Inheritance Cycle. I also read Asimov's Foundation Series - which truly was a masterpiece. I'd been listening to a few fiction podcasts in recent years and really enjoyed them, but it was really nice to just blitz through a long series, and get really into the stories.

Many of the fiction audiobooks also came with some extras, which I hadn't been expecting at all - there were extra chapters, author interviews, and even accompanying soundtracks interspersed with each chapter. It was especially interesting to get some "behind the scenes" from the authors and hear about their writing process after reading their book. A standout was Richard Osman's interview at the end of his book The Thursday Murder Club - it was fascinating hearing how his own background inspired the smaller idiosyncrasies of the characters.

Now for some graphs, because I love nothing more than quantifying things

Line graph of number of pages in reading over the year. There isn't a particular trend for most of the year, and there is a small dip near December

Number of pages per book over time - you can especially see the nice dip in December when I realised I only had a few weeks left to read another 10 books and had to read some nice short ones

Pie-chart of fiction vs non-fiction over the year. There is roughly 80% fiction.

As soon as I discovered halfway through the year that I enjoyed reading fiction more, it was all over for the non-fiction books

Pie-chart of ebook vs audiobook over the year. There is roughly 70 audiobook and 30 ebooks.

As an avid podcast listener it was only ever going to be a winner for audiobooks - fiction especially was very nice to listen to as opposed to read

Going Forward

Although I did enjoy reading so much, I definitely feel like I haven't quite gained as much value out of all this reading as I would have liked to. Considering this ended up being 700+ hours of the year - around 10% of my waking hours - I expected a few more eureka moments than I had.

In 2021 I'm going to cut down to reading 1 book a week and taking more details highlights and notes, which (hopefully) I'll put up onto this site alongside the other blog posts. Since I'm striving to read more "will give me intellectual value" books, I imagine this will also mean that I lean towards almost exclusively reading non-fiction, but I hope I can add a few fiction audiobooks along the way - maybe I'll just spend the year cracking on with one long series - I can already see myself picking up all 125 hours of the Mistborn Series because I'm a sucker for punishment.

My one big thing with what I read this year is that I don't want it to be anything recommended to me off Twitter, so everything that I've lined up so far is history, science, biographies and philosophy, starting with "Great Thinkers of the Eastern World".