I’m still not sure if this is the right title for the challenge I’ve set myself but since it does involve me not spending one single penny of my money on books for a year it will do for now. That said, the challenge doesn’t come from a place of wanting to save money (that’s just a very beneficial side effect). It was the realisation that I can no longer say I’ve read every single book I own and, in fact, haven’t honestly been able to say it for well over five years, which prompted all of this.
So last Friday afternoon I sat down and started making a list of every single book that is currently sitting on my shelves (both digital and physical) which has either never been opened or that I’ve started and, for whatever reason, stopped reading but do want to finish. It took me until Saturday morning to finish it and filled me with an overwhelming sense of shame because The List (it definitely deserves the capitals) covers eight pages and contains two hundred and forty six books. Every single one of these poor neglected books deserves better treatment than I’ve meted out to them so far. I bought each and every one because they looking interesting and I wanted to read them, so why are they still sitting there, almost five years later in some cases, abandoned and unloved?
It isn’t that I don’t make time to read. I do. Reading has been one of the few constants throughout my life and I know from having added habit tracking to my journals that I’ve read almost every single day for the last five years. But is it enough? According to my Goodreads account I have, in those years, read six hundred and seventy five books. Since I haven’t always been scrupulous about recording my reading on there I know the actual number is probably a shade higher than that but it’s a fairly accurate figure that gives me a way to quantify what I’ve been doing.
And what I’ve been doing is getting through, on average, one hundred and thirty five books a year or, if you prefer, just over two and half books a week. Since the books themselves average at around three hundred and sixty pages each, this comes to around one hundred and twenty five pages a day. To me this indicates I’ve been spending a significant amount of my spare time reading. In fact I’m quite surprised I’ve managed to fit in so much, especially since during those years I also:
a) held down a day job that often saw me putting in 16 hour days and always meant working over Christmas and New Year,
b) kept my house and garden in a reasonable state of repair,
c) learnt to crochet,
d) learnt to play the ukulele,
e) walked many, many miles across various bits of the British Isles, and
f) wrote over a million words of essays, articles, and stories in various forms.
That’s pretty good going, all in all. And it confirms that the problem isn’t going to be solved by upping the time I’m spending with books. It really isn’t that I’m reading too little, it’s that I’m buying too much.
If I’m being perfectly honest I already knew this. I just needed to prove it to myself with incontrovertible numbers and have it written down very clearly somewhere very visible. This is mostly so I can’t pretend to myself, next time there’s a particularly enticing e-book sale on or the pre-order for a particularly pretty hardback is happening, that my book purchasing habits aren’t the problem.
So there we are. I have almost two years worth of reading already on my shelves and I’m determined to make significant inroads into The List over the next twelve months. I did consider just decreeing “no more buying books until The List is finished” but then I gave myself a stern talking to. I do not do well with negative aims that do not have inbuilt time limits and I did not want my reading time, which has kept me sane through so many different upheavals in my life, to become a chore. So I flipped the script. This is a challenge to see how many books on The List I can read in a year whilst not buying any other books so that The List cannot keep growing.
This blog post is an attempt to keep myself accountable by telling you what I’m attempting and what all the rules are. There are six and they are very simple;
- I am not allowed to purchase any more books until 1 November 2021 at the earliest. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 99p e-book or a brilliant pre-order that would garner me a signed copy of something delightful. I’m not allowed. There is no good excuse because once you have a good excuse you open the door to bad excuses* and a delivery of new books you may desperately want but absolutely do not need.
- I can work my way through the list in any order I choose.
- I am allowed to use up the remaining credits I have for audiobooks because I’ve already paid for those credits and any audiobooks I get with those credits can be added to the list and listened to within the year.
- Pre-paid pre-orders are treated in exactly the same way as the audiobook credits. I’ve already spent my money on them so they get added to list and I can read them when they arrive. These pre-orders bump the list up to 261 books.
- I am allowed to borrow books from the library but only if they are for research purposes; all new reading for pleasure must come from the list.
- That said, re-reading books I already possess is allowed despite them not being on the list. We’re living through a global pandemic, I get to cut myself some slack. Plus I wouldn’t survive without my regular doses of Terry Pratchett and Tamora Pierce – they’re my medicine for my mind.
Given that impulse book buying is clearly my retail therapy of choice I also need to give myself a fighting chance when the mood takes me. So I’m making a pretty space in my journal which will be labelled “Challenge Wishlist”. Every time I see a book I’d normally pounce on and purchase I’ll write it down instead. That way I don’t have to worry I’ll forget about it and hopefully it’ll give me something in the region of a dopamine hit, in a similar way that chewing nicotine gum helps smokers!
I haven’t decided whether or not to put the full list up on here in all its glory. However I will, at the end of every month, be posting a round up of my reading during that month with brief reviews and recommendations if the books warrant it. I may also post updates as to how I’m finding the challenge and which books I would be buying if I could. Unless, of course, I think that hyping things I cannot have is going to tip me over the edge and send me on a book buying spree. Regardless, I’ll be using “A Year of Reading Frugally” as a category tag on here so that I’ll be able to keep tabs on what I’m doing and, if you’re interested, so will you!
If you’ve ever done something similar I’d love to hear how you managed and what you got out of the experience.
*Bonus points if you can name the book this quote comes from.