100 Book Challenge Wrap-Up: I Learned Some Stuff, and What’s Next

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I did it.  On Monday, March 30th at 11:30 p.m. I read my 100th book.

Were you worried?  I was.  Oh boy, I was.

Since I did, against all odds, finish early, I briefly considered trying to read one more. But if 100 books is moderately impressive, I decided, 101 is just showing off.

(The 100th book was Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, in case you’re wondering.)

I’m proud of myself for finishing.  I don’t always complete the lofty goals I set, despite my enthusiasm at the beginning.  Most of the time, this doesn’t bother me; I have diverse interests and don’t believe in devoting my free time and energy to a project I’ve lost passion for when I can instead move on to something new and intriguing.

But I needed this one to last.  Books I have never counted among my ebb and flowing interests, though after four years of college — of reading the most delightful and the most tedious books that I didn’t choose myself — I needed a book revival. I needed to remind myself what it’s like to read for fun, and I needed to piece together my identity as an adult, independent reader.

Along the way, I learned some stuff:

I Like New Books and I Cannot Lie

If you had asked me a year ago what I would study for a literature PhD (because I haven’t ruled it out yet!), I would have said Modernism (Virginia Woolf all day every day). Now, I find myself much more interested in how contemporary authors are writing and what they’re writing about. (Probably because I secretly like to think of them as my peers.) I’ve learned to keep up with new publications, mostly via the New York Times “Books” section, and O, the Oprah Magazine (what can I say?  The woman has great taste in books).

Some recently published books I enjoyed this year: Eleanor and Park, The Signature of all Things, Redeployment, Wolf in White Van, and Station Eleven.

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I’m also looking forward to FINALLY digging into this year’s and last year’s Man Booker Prize winners, The Luminaries and The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Both seemed too long and ponderous to undertake during the 100 Book Challenge.

On that note …

You Can’t Have it All

At the start of the Challenge, I made one rule for myself:

I have to continue to read only what I feel like reading.  That is, I cannot allow my goal of reading 8.3 books per month keep me from reading delightfully long books or difficult books, even if said time-consuming tomes jeopardize said goal.

This rule quickly proved unrealistic for me. Though I did read a smattering of critically acclaimed books, a few classics, and kept up my average of reading books about 350 pages long, I did end up intentionally avoiding books I knew would take me a week or more to get through. In the last month, I avoided books I couldn’t finish in a day.

I wish it hadn’t turned out thus, but so it goes. Keep reading for the scoop on how I’m going to make up for it this year.

Loving Reading Doesn’t Always Mean Prioritizing Reading

The Challenge made me painfully aware of just how much reading had fallen by the wayside. Sure, I read before bed every night. But too much of the rest of my free time (during breakfast, during lunch breaks, after dinner, on weekends) was being spent watching Netflix/TV or wandering the Internet.

So, I decided to forgo Netflix/TV/Internet on weeknights, and focus on my books instead.

Weekends were still fair game for The Office marathons, of course. I’m not a monster.

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Tell the World

I told family, friends, coworkers, first dates, and plenty of strangers that I was trying to read 100 books. If they were interested, I encouraged them to join me (then they schooled me … so some regret there … ).  Soon, I had several people in my life asking regularly what the current tally was. And believe me, there came a time when I needed to know that I would be held accountable should I fail.

Live at the Library

Okay, so I already did in many ways. I do work at a library, after all. But I’m talking about my local, public, small-ish library.

I basically moved in.

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I was there every other day, picking up piles waiting for me in the “hold” section, browsing the shelves, or—reluctantly—dropping off when the overdue fines grew too great.

I didn’t think of this before I started, but reading 100 books means having access to 100 different books you actually want to read. Since most of the books I own are still in Minnesota, I took to constantly requesting things from the library. Any time I read about or heard about a book that sounded interesting, I immediately went online to request it. Having a steady stream of new-to-me books saved me from crippling book funks.

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Stats

100 books read

(Most I’ve ever read in a year? It’s likely. Certainly the most since I started recording in 2009.)

35,136 pages read

(Higher than average. More books read = More pages read.)

351.36 pages per book average

(About average)

61% of books read were books I hadn’t read before

(Higher than average. Thank you, DC public libraries.)

3 classics read

(Lower than average)

Book Awards

One of the questions I’ve frequently received is what the best and worst books on my list are.  Tough question for someone with 100 books to choose from.  Here’s my best attempt at picking a favorite child:

Favorite Fiction: Eleanor and Park, Station Eleven, Me Before You, The Signature of All Things

Favorite Nonfiction: Wild, A Walk in the Woods, The Bully Pulpit, The Devil in the White City, At Home (Bill Bryson)

Most Illuminating: The Social Lives of Dogs

Funniest: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories

Regrets, I’ve Had a Few: The Best of Me, Cleaving

Biggest Letdown: Sarah’s Key

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What’s Next?

After a quantity-over-quality year, I’m attempting a quality-over-quantity year.

I’m still going to read a sizable number of books before April 1st, 2016 (75, to be exact), mostly to keep up the good habits I established this year, but my main goal is to read …

1 classic novel every month.

It can be any novel I choose, but it must be a widely renowned “classic.”

I realize that “classic” is a subjective term rather than a universal one, but if most sources I trust (NYT, Time Magazine, Rory Gilmore, my college professors, etc.) call it a classic, I will believe them for these purposes.

This is my big chance, I hope, to read all of those books I’m always sighing over: “I’ve always meant to read that.” Or in conversation: “That one’s on my list!” Or, “I have it on my shelf right now, but I’ve never opened it.” Or even the dreaded: “That wasn’t assigned in high school, so I haven’t read it.” (Looking at you, Huck Finn)

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Who’s with me?

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