Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

2000 Books Reading Challenge

Some goals take special skills or training. A few you can do right now. Other challenges merely take time or planning. This is a basic categorization of all goals: it takes special skills/training, it takes planning, or I can do it right now.

Read 2000 books. I want to read 2000 books in my lifetime. This is a goal that takes time and dedication. You have to read regularly, but beyond the time commitment, there is not much else required.

Many of most successful people like Warren Buffet dedicate significant amounts of time to reading. Personally, I find reading to be incredibly meaningful. I get a chance to gain knowledge and discover stories. I believe extensive reading is a meaningful human goal.

In this post, I will talk about why and how I am going to reach my lifetime reading goal of 2000 books as well as some of the great pieces of literature and knowledge I want to touch.

Once you have the number of books, this challenge provides a framework for filling in the pieces of what I want to achieve. Which books will I read? Who will I read about? Which languages? What time periods or scientific subjects? What classic literature do I want read or re-read?

Why Read? Why 2000 books?

Some pursuits can be the supreme purpose of why one lives. These kind of singular goals drive us. Becoming excellent at anything takes time, dedicate and grit. They can bring us deep meaning and happiness. Goals like Running a marathon or learning a foreign language take training. Becoming a top chess player or olympic athlete takes practice. We all need this kinds of purposeful pursuits.

“Reading 2000 books” is not one of those goals. I find reading to be an experience that is enjoyable and engrossing. Books, stories, science, culture, and other literary works are one of the most human things we create.

In reading, we can be absorbed into the depth of someone else’s experience, knowledge and understanding of the world and people in it. Reading is one of the most unique gifts we get in a lifetime.

This is why I read.

So why 2000 books? Frankly, it’s a nice round number.

Unfortunately it’s impossible to imagine reading all the wonderful books humans have written in a single lifetime. Yet for me 2000 books seems like a reasonable slice to pursue. These books are my entry into humanity’s individual and collective soul.

It’s my chance to read some of humanity’s efforts at explaining themselves. Hopefully I can live longer and read more. For now, 2000 books seems like enough.

The Number Game: How much time?

The average reader can read between 300-400 words per minute. According to various tests, I read about 189 words per minute. There is significant variance according to the reading material. I read in a few foreign languages which is admittedly slower than my reading speed in English. Nonfiction typically reads slower than the latest best seller thriller.

I’m already a regular reader. In 2015, I read 47 books which totaled about 15,500 pages or 3.8 million words. So if I run the numbers based on my average reading speed, that means I spent about 189 hours reading last year. If you average that, it’s only about 3 or 4 hours per week.

(Note: For the sake of argument, these are guesstimates rather than a full out calculation of each and every book I’ve read.)

My goal for 2016 is a book a week. So 52 books in a year. Looking at my previous averages from 205, it means I need to commit an additional 20-30 additional hours to reading to reach this new goal in 2016.

Breaking all of this down further, it’s simply a matter of committing to about 4 or 5 hours of reading per week, which when you think about it isn’t that much. Especially if you listen to books while commuting or traveling and replace an hour or two of TV time with an hour or two of book reading each evening, it’s easy to get a lot more reading done than you’d expect.

According to my records (as of writing), I’ve already read 714 books. For this 2000 book lifetime reading goal, that leaves me with 1286 books to go.

Or if I think about this in terms of time 1286 weeks or nearly 25 years. (Assuming I live another 25 years beyond this, then I can estimate another 1000 or so books.)

Breaking this down a bit further, I’ll need to average about 51.44 per year or 4.28 books per month. This is not a particularly intimidating goal once you consider averages and have a long timeline to pursue it.

One of the simplest ways to read more is to spend more time reading. Read everyday. In my case, I’ve largely eliminated TV and movie watching from my schedule and read instead.

I suppose the biggest risk would be any significant period of inactivity in my reading. If I stopped reading due to some change with health or job or other, then this challenge gets steeper.

The law of averages and my past consistency would indicate this 2000 books in 25 years is well within grasp.

Content Considerations

Thinking about what I want to read is quite enjoyable. I love reading and love thinking about what I’ll read next. Unfortunately even with some 1286 books as possible books to read, I’m nervous to admit to all the books that I won’t get a chance to read. There just isn’t enough time to read everything.

Recently I’ve subscribed to Blinkist which provides actionable summaries of tons of nonfiction. There are on average about 10 minutes long and you get the gist of most major nonfiction in print. While not ideal, in the case of nonfiction you can learn a lot by reading the 10 minute synopsis. I’ve “read” about 100 nonfiction book summaries so far.

Looking at my past and current reading, I noticed the general diversity in which I read. There are a few genres I don’t read, like romance or horror. I don’t read much kid or teen fiction. Beyond that I read quite widely.

I tend to read a bit more nonfiction than fiction, though this cycles from period to period. Around holidays I tend to read more fiction. During regular work periods, I tend to be reading more nonfiction. I am also typically reading around 5-10 books at a time. Some books I “sip” over several months.

If I break down the genres I’m interested in, I get the following categories: 1. History, 2. English Classic Literature, 3. Science and Sociology, 3. Business and Entrepreneurship, 4. Productivity and Life Hacking, 5. French Reading, and 6. General Fiction.

For me the content choice is the easy part. There are just so many great things to read.

Conclusion: Reading Each and Every Day

So, I’ve set my target (2000 books), established a rough timeline and made some content choices. All that’s left is how to get there.

Like a lot of goals, the first step is showing up. Consistently pursuing your goal each and every day goes a long way in achieving anything. So for me it comes down to reading daily.

A lot of folks ask me how I manage to read so much. It’s actually quite simple. I don’t watch much TV or movies. I don’t waste much time on the internet or social media. I rarely play video games. I’m not a heavy listener of music. Instead, I spend my free time reading.

Personally I read almost first thing in the morning and I read before bed. Most afternoons I take a break to read and, instead of movies or TV, I read. I put in the time.

I don’t believe it matters that much if you are a fast or slow reader. Read at your pace. I’ve tried speed reading a few times and it’s interesting to push your mind to its limits at injecting information, but I didn’t find my mind capable or processing or thinking while speed reading. So read how you like but just make sure you read.

Commit to reading for 15 minutes everyday. You’ll be amazed how fast that 15 min commitment turns into a full evening of reading.

A goal like reading is a goal you can do now. If you are like me, you want to have some goalposts for the goal, put a number on it. For example, decide how many books you’ll read in 2016. Good Reads is a great service for tracking what you read, including your yearly goal. I’ve done the Yearly Challenge for a couple years with one of my brothers and its really enjoyable. Good goals have a way to make it measurable and follow your progress.

Like I mentioned in the intro, you can group goals and challenges into these three buckets: can do now, needs special skills or training, and takes time to do. I have a lot of big goals that are going to take special skills and training. I’m working on a few of them like running and Chinese studies.

Much of my professional development revolves around training and patience, dealing with obstacles and staying persistent. As great stoic philosophy-general Marcus Aurelius once wrote, “The obstacle is the way,” which is the title of a new book I just started by the way.

Good luck reading!

PS — If you ever need any recommendations on what to read, don’t hesitate to ask. Here are my favorite books from 2015.

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