30 Books in 30 Different Genres
On December 30, 2018, I sat down and wrote a list. Writing this list was something I had been thinking about for the past few months because after graduating University in June, I had found myself replacing academic papers and textbooks with a rather narrow type of book*. At first, it was somewhat of a relief — I finally had the time to read for the pure joy of it. I wasn’t under any sort of deadline, and I was genuinely drawn to the material I was reading. Material that very quickly started to blur together in my memory, and that left me with a very, very long reading list of books I would “get to eventually” — the classics, the recommendations from friends, the entire genre of fiction I had neglected since my sole English lit class in second year. Most significantly, I was growing concerned that my reading was having a pigeon-hole effect on my thinking, like my books had become an echo chamber that merely reinforced things I was already familiar with or knew, or worse yet, just wanted to hear.
So I wrote a list that contained 30 different book genres, and made 2019 the year that I would embark upon my first ever formal reading challenge. The goal was to broaden the scope of my bookshelf, to intentionally expose myself to different ideas, to introduce myself to genres I had never read before and to reacquaint myself with genres I had once loved but lost touch with. I wanted to read with purpose.
Writing this on December 31st, 2019, having read 30 books in 30 different genres over the past 365 days, I can confidently say that it made a difference. Here’s what I learned.
1. Looking up the words I didn’t know enhanced my vocabulary, my ability to vocalize my perspective, and my reading experience.
Up until maybe midway through the year, I did not do this. At least, not regularly. I don’t know, I never really needed a dictionary with the books I had been reading before this year, and if I was meant to be “reading for pleasure”, taking ten seconds to look up the definition of words really didn’t feel worth the effort, or breaking the flow of the story. But midway through the year I started studying for a standardized test that included a pretty steep vocabulary section, and all of a sudden words I hadn’t even realized existed started popping up in the news and on my social media feeds and in my reading challenge (“schadenfreude”, “upbraid”, “soporific,” etc.) Of course, that’s not actually what happened — they had always been there, I just started paying attention. The more familiar I became with new words, either through formal studying or through looking them up (sometimes four or five times) whenever I came across a word I didn’t know in my books, the easier it became for me to make meaning from them both in reading and in conversation. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been this diligent about vocabulary since grade school, but as it turns out, taking those extra ten seconds? Worth it.
2. Not all consumption is equal, and I waste so much time consuming absolutely nothing.
Like ads and repetitive content on my social media feeds or surfing the internet on my phone for hours “trying to fall asleep”. And to be fair, reading books is a form of consumption. But when it’s a dynamic process between the author’s words and the reader, when I’m thinking and connecting and reflecting on what I’m consuming, something really magical happens that doesn’t occur when my consumption is mindless. And that is the fact that I grow. As in, I genuinely feel like I expand as a human being, like the more I engage with the text, the more I learn, and the more I know about how much I don’t know. The more dynamic the reading process was, be it by sharing thoughts about the book in a formal reading club, letting the text inspire casual discussion with friends or family or co-workers, or just taking the time to really be present with what I was reading, slowing down and pausing and reflecting as I went (or commenting/reacting out loud to myself, as I am apt to do — when a book is that good I get really into it and EVERYONE in the room knows), the better the experience was for me, even if I hated the book itself. I am better off in so many ways (my sleep, my critical thinking ability, how I feel, etc.) for replacing some of my mindless consumption with consumption that engages my mind.
3. I definitely have “my genre”.
I was pretty flexible with the books I allowed myself to choose for this challenge; really, the only stipulation was that it had to be a part of a genre I hadn’t yet read that year. Which meant severely limiting my consumption of wellness and entrepreneurship reads. And I missed them, a lot. I think we probably all have this in some form of media, that genre/style/creator that we’re just drawn to, no matter the mood we’re in. It’s familiar, it’s comforting, it’s enjoyable, and it’s a relatively safe bet. I’ve had no choice but to accept this for myself, because over the past year I’ve accumulated a 16+ book pileup on my “to be read” shelf of that exact same genre I sought to take a break from. It’s so important to challenge ourselves with what we are consuming, to be intentional about it, and it’s also okay to love what we love.
4. Those articles telling people that “you too can read 200 books in a year if you just try!” “Bill Gates does it and so can you!” “the most successful people read THIS MUCH PER DAY!” are absolute bullshit.
While you can’t improve what you don’t measure, fixating on the numbers in regard to reading, is in my opinion, misplaced attention and a waste of energy. Admittedly, I crammed in the last four weeks to meet my goal for this challenge (approx. 100 pages/day, not including my reading for school or work), and I can say with absolute certainty that I am worse off for having read that much, that quickly. The experience of reading those last few books was undoubtably tarnished from the time pressure, from the periods when I would read the words without processing the meaning, and left very little if any room to engage with the text (which, as explained above, is my favourite part of the whole reading experience). It was so great to read as much as I did this year, but there is no direct linear relationship between the quantity of text I consumed and my quality of life, or professional success, or growth as a human being. I got much more from the connections I would make with people over social media and the conversations I would have in real life that were sparked or enhanced by what I was reading than I did from the sheer amount I read. Consumption means very little without engagement.
5. I love science fiction and fantasy, apparently.
Send me your recommendations, fellow sci-fi and fantasy readers!
6. Exposing myself to brand new styles of prose, areas of research, and pockets of history contributed to my life this year in ways I cannot even begin to describe.
I’m more confident. I’m more curious. I felt more from falling into exceptional worlds of heartbreaking fiction. I scratched the surface on subjects I never imagined I would get within 100 feet of, topics I had written off as outside my scope of comprehension. I met incredible characters and made unexpected connections between seemingly disparate texts. And I tracked my journey on social media, which helped me reconnect with people I hadn’t spoken to in years. This, to me, is the heart of this challenge, and the crux of why I wanted to pursue such a thing in the first place.
So, challenge complete, and journey just begun.
Happy 2020, all!
*For anyone who’s curious, my 2018 summer/fall reading list consisted of “The Happiness Project,” (awesome) “The Power of Habit” (also pretty good), “The 10X Rule” (scream-y, 2/5 wouldn’t recommend), “The Lean Startup” (a classic for a reason), “To Pixar and Beyond” (LOVE), “Being Boss” (ALSO LOVE these two women are amazing), “How to be a Bawse” (Lilly is one of my favourite entrepreneurship success stories), “Quiet” (meh), “Daring Greatly” (a must-read), “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” (probs only need to read the first 3 chapters to get it tbh), “How Remarkable Women Lead” (this one was very appropriately recommended to me by a Producer at Disney Events, and if I’m even half of the kind of leaders the women in this book are at 50+ years of age, I will have accomplished everything that matters), and “You are a Badass at Making Money” (meh, but you’ll probably enjoy it if you click with Sincero’s brusque tone). So yeah, well into the trenches of business leadership and self-help.