2016: A Review of a Year of Reading

2016 has been a very successful year of reading for me. As well as getting through all 16 books on my 2016 Reading List, I also read five more. That may not sound like many by the standards of some readers, but by my standards, in a year where I was also a stay-at-home parent to a baby/toddler (they grow up quick!), I completed one course of study and some contract work from home, it has been one of my best years.

Credit has to go to Richard Wiseman. His book, 59 Seconds, examines the rubbish touted by self-help gurus and separates the advice that can be demonstrated to work from the rest. Admittedly, I have not yet read it cover-to-cover, but my glances into it have yielded results. One point Wiseman makes is that setting goals, that icon of Self Help 101, is not all it is cracked up to be. The problem with goal setting is that, while it is aspirational and inspirational, it is not motivational. It may feel good when you do it but it is all too easily thrown into a drawer and forgotten about.

Monitoring your performance, even if you do not have a specific goal in mind, is far more likely to result in success. The benefits of monitoring are that it forces you to confront reality regularly, it allows you to see whether changes are having the desired impact, it allows early detection when you drift off course. Like many people, I already regularly monitor some things because it was intuitive – exercise, body weight, budgets, investments – but I had not thought of applying the same idea elsewhere.

2016 Reading ListI applied it to my reading which meant taking my 2016 Reading List and assessing which books I thought would be easy to read, which difficult and which in the middle, expecting to read 13 pages, 7 pages or 10 pages a day respectively (I read two books at a time so this meant between 14 and 26 pages a day depending on the combination). Then I worked out a schedule for the year – how I was expecting to progress through each book from start to finish.

It allowed me to see when I was ahead or behind schedule, when I may have to make some more time to read and when I could afford some time off. It also provides a lot of motivation; when you are ahead you can’t help but want to build on that and soon you find you have enough space to fit an extra book. It also helped me get other things done; the knowledge of whether I was ahead or behind schedule meant that, if I found myself with extra free time, I did not spend too much of it reading, I would read the amount I needed and then do something else, safe in the knowledge I could afford to.

The 13 ½ Lives of Captain BluebearIn 2016, some books turned out to be quicker to read than I expected such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Canterbury Tales or The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, and that allowed me to add extra books like A Scanner Darkly, Silence and The Summer That Melted Everything. It also allowed breathing room when some books took longer than expected like The Selfish Gene and The Mill on the Floss.

My favourites of the year would have to be The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy and The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers. The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel, Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell and The Penguin History of New Zealand Illustrated by Michael King were not far off. While The Division of the Spoils by Paul Scott did not reach the same heights in terms of my enjoyment, it certainly scores very highly in terms of my respect for his accomplishment.

My least favourite of the year is an easy pick – The Chronicles of Narnia. My review of it already contains all I really want to say.

The Summer That Melted EverythingThe biggest surprise of the year was also an easy pick – The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel. I realise other book bloggers get approached by authors for reviews or even focus on reviews of little-known authors or soon-to-be-published books, but I had never been approached by an author before and I tend to avoid lesser-known works as I am overwhelmed enough by the well-known that I want to read. But my wife encouraged me to go for it and I am glad I did; it is an impressive debut novel that I would recommend and I wish McDaniel well with it and her future work.

I may even seek out other soon-to-be-published books for review if I find another gap in my reading schedule to fill. Though, admittedly, not just for the prospect of unexpectedly enjoyable reading experiences, but for slightly selfish reasons as well. This year was also the year I canned my first blog and began this one focussing mostly on book reviews. Yet the posts that get the most views by far are still the same big four reviews that originally appeared on my first blog and were the most popular there as well – Pigeon English, Deception Point, The Jewel in the Crown and A Single Man. But there is a clear favourite amongst the new reviews on this blog – The Summer That Melted Everything. It is fifth only to the above four and has received more than three times the number of views as the next new review.

Of course, it may be the case that the monitoring technique only made a small difference and the main reason I was to read extra books this year was because my 2016 List was not as challenging as I had assumed it would be. We will soon see. Tomorrow I release my 2017 List and it certainly feels more ambitious to me.

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