product designer, cyclist, armchair urbanist

Thirty-Six Books

I challenged myself to read thirty-six books this year. I started the challenge a few months into the year, so that number felt really ambitious to me. I'm on book twenty-five right now (the autobiography of Malcom X), and I'm determined to make it to thirty-six or beyond by December 31st.

Reading is work for me. I enjoy reading, but I'm not speedy. I have to work hard to read quickly. It's a skill I'm developing—I'm at the point now where I can read a medium-length book in a week or so. A couple years ago, that same book would have taken me a month to finish.

I convince myself that reading quickly isn't folly because it allows me to get a breadth of knowledge. Depth can come later, if it captivates me enough to dig deeper with more books on the same subject. I'm working to read quickly, accepting the fact that I'll miss some content—content I probably would have forgotten anyway.

Reading has become an evening ritual that calms and restores me. My war against screen time is ongoing, but prioritizing reading has reminded me that a stimulating book is regenerative in ways that a screen can never be. Energy and creativity bubbles up in the quiet moments.

Regular reading has changed my appetite. When I'm consuming complete thoughts, my taste for bite-sized media subsides. After several months of dedicated reading, I've found that I will choose a few hours with a book over a movie or a show. I'll subconsciously think ahead to what I'll feel like after the movie, and compare that to how I know I'll feel if I'd spend that time in a book. The book will leave me inspired to create and discuss; a TV show will make me feel tired, dull, and discouraged.

I've been to places in my mind this year that I can't afford to visit in real life, all for the cost of a bike ride to the library. This year, I've travelled back to the 70's to relive the Watergate Scandal, walked in the shoes of a boy soldier in the civil wars of Sierra Leone, and walked the streets of Harlem in the height of the African-American struggles of the mid twentieth century—not to speak of the industry knowledge I've gained in design, typography, and usability. This knowledge makes my life more interesting and rich. My conversations with others have touchpoints, and my growing knowledge of history informs my work.

If this sounds interesting to you, give it a try. Sign up for goodreads.com, and set a reading challenge for yourself. If you don't have a list of your own, start with a list from someone else. Here are some of my favorites: the Amazon Top 100 Books, the Personal MBA book list, this top 100 programming books list, and design book recommendations from Bret Victor, Jason Santa Maria and Frank Chimero. If you usually read two books a year, try reading five. If you read twenty, try reading thirty. Do what works for you, and work it into your life.

Even a poorly written book isn't a waste of time.
With every page you read, you'll sharpen your writing skills, make yourself more interesting, and color your world with knowledge.