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How many books will you read in 2018?

How will you measure your achievement in the year ahead?

Will it be in terms of money earned? Promotions gained? Holidays enjoyed? Friendships made? Learnings achieved? Kindnesses imparted?

I have a simple measure for you to aim for in 2018: books read. Believe me or not: for many people that simple activity – reading books – will unlock many other achievements. It will drive your accomplishments in all sorts of other areas.

Let me repeat what I wrote right here exactly a year ago: ‘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.’

Dedicated bibliophiles know all about this superpower. They deploy it the fullest. They read even when they don’t feel like reading. They read because reading is their thing. They read because it’s fun; they also read when it’s painful. They prioritize reading.

That does not describe most of the world, though. To the majority of humans, books are a problem, not a solution. They know they exist; they know a few people bang on about them all the time; but they associate them with unending pain. Partly, this is caused by different brain wiring; not everyone has linguistic intelligence – the ability to effortlessly find both joy and meaning in words. For many people, learning comes from visual stimuli or from in-person group interactions. And that is perfectly fine.

However, not being linguistically wired is no excuse for not reading any books at all. Every single person benefits from reading some well-chosen books in their lifetime. That is where much of human wisdom resides. We should all read books – but some will inevitably read more than others.

So here are my targets for you. For super-readers: 50 books every year, a new book pretty much every week. For convinced-but-distracted bibliophiles: 25 books per annum, or one every couple of weeks; and for those who really don’t think of themselves as readers: just 12 books in the year, or one a month.

Make no mistake, none of these targets will be easy to hit. Even dedicated readers have too much else going on in their lives to find avid book-reading a doddle. And those who have an aversion to books will really find it hard even to hit the 12 books target. But here’s my challenge. Choose your tier, and go for it in 2018. Just hit your 12, your 25, your 50. If you end up hating the experience, I will never push you again. But I suspect many of you, once you clock your number, may never need prompting again. You will know what treasure you have uncovered.

A thought, though: choose wisely. My fellow bookworm Nilanjana Roy, writing in the FT, pointed out recently that even voracious readers are given at best the time to read just 5,000 or so books every year. Seeing that number, the chilling realization ran through me that at my age I have probably already read the majority of the books I am ever going to read. Which means I have to become extremely discerning now.

To encourage youngsters to get the reading habit early on, it is perfectly fine for them to read anything – adventure stories, romances, comics – whatever. The point is to exercise their reading muscle and prepare it for heavy lifting later. At some stage, however, we all have to look higher than the easy reads and immerse ourselves in the real stuff: books that expand us, that ennoble us, that trouble us, that make us better people.

So, the challenge is on again. #50booksin2018 is the hashtag. Use it on social media to tell us where you are in the challenge and what you’re reading. Read 50 books or read just a dozen, but read! You’ll have to force the time, though. A whole universe of vapid videos, puerile arguments and inane interactions is waiting to distract you. Don’t be distracted. Buy books, sit down, read them. Thank me next year, once you’ve done the deed and felt the benefit. What are you waiting for? Start now.

(Sunday Nation, 7 January 2018)

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