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How many books will you read in 2017?

A year ago I wrote here that it is possible to read 50 books in a year. Provided you love and value books, that is. I put it down as a challenge to bibliophiles, ardent or lapsed, to raise their game.

Having thrown down the gauntlet, I found myself accelerating. At the year-end, I clocked 56 books completed, which is a little more than one per week.

I do not report this as a boast. It is merely a statistic. Reading 50 or so books every year is not an achievement for me, because I don’t have to struggle to do it. It comes naturally. It is pleasure, not work. It does not involve sacrifice or hardship, for there is little else I’d rather be doing. So I’m not bragging, just recording.

It is equally not something I recommend to everyone. We’re all wired differently, and we learn and enjoy ourselves differently. Very few people in this world have any inclination to read that many books. The median number of books read per year in the US and UK is estimated to only be four or five per adult. So if obsessive book-reading is not your thing – that’s cool. You will have your own ways of staying curious about the world and absorbing knowledge – ways that bookworms often miss out on.

But there is a reason I push the 50-books-per-annum challenge. I aim it at those who should and could and would read books, but somehow don’t. The book-lovers who aren’t trying hard enough. This could be for the most understandable of reasons. Life’s realities, like child-rearing or very demanding jobs, do get in the way. Or it could be that the precious time once devoted to books has been seduced away by smartphones, tablets and TV screens.

Bibliophiles, what’s up with you? You are the people who get this, who love books, who have encountered unparalleled joy and deep enlightenment from reading great literature. Why would you let it go? Writers and booksellers depend on you. The future of deep reading and of bookshops depends on you. Why are you distracted? Why are you negligent? Stand up and be counted.

Reading is your superpower, your secret weapon. It allows you to sit at the feet of wise people you will never meet in person. It gives you a thousand-and-one mentors. It transports you to corners of the world (and universe) that you could never buy a ticket for. It makes you think and rethink and unthink. It helps you understand people and why they do the things they do. It deepens your understanding of your own life. It helps you succeed.

So don’t get misled by the false allure of bubble-gum TV; don’t fall for the bewitchment of vapid reality shows; don’t step into the mire of brainless celebrity-centred social media. Make time for books, proper books. The time is there – you’re just misallocating it. A single hour of focused reading a day would get you to the 50 books mark, no sweat.

You don’t even have to read 50 books. Start with 25 as your target – just one per fortnight. If you actually love books so deeply, why would you not be with your love?

Always have a good book close by. Delve into it often. Don’t tell yourself you’ll do it when you have the time; make the time. If your current book isn’t that fascinating and is proving to be a deterrent, put it aside; you’ll come back to it another day, or another year, or maybe never. Keep the flow going.

Even if you feel little love for books, try this: read just one per month, 12 in the year. Anyone can pull that off. Why should you do it, you say? You read plenty of articles and blogs and posts, you say? You should still do it, I say. A book is a deep dive in a way nothing else is. It keeps your attention on one thing for an extended period. It forces you to contemplate and imagine and envision. It is exercise for the mind, and you get better at it the more you do it.

If you’re already reading books a-plenty, ignore my challenge. You’re fine. Throughout 2016, however, I was heartened by the number of people who told me they felt pushed and inspired to read more by this little campaign, and stretched themselves. If that could be you, pick up a book and crack it open. If you don’t have much time, read just ten pages.

And so: #50BooksIn2017 is on. Let’s go.

(Sunday Nation, 1 January 2017)

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