Like many of you, I have a nagging problem: I’m not a heroin user. Nor am I a knuckle-cracker, a nail-biter, or a thumb-sucker. I (usually) pay off my credit cards every month. I travel, I see my family, I’m not stressed. And the big three—drinking, dieting, and smoking cessation? I’m good.
This is all great for my insurance rates, but not when trying to determine a New Year’s resolution. So what can someone like me do for 2013? Other than tweet a humblebrag on the subject? (I’m no good at New Year’s resolutions … life is too perfect I guess LOL!)
I had the same dilemma last year, and my solution, while ingenious, turned out to be quite a challenge. I decided that I would read more. Not a book a month, or even a book a week. One entire book every day. Three hundred sixty-six books by year’s end. “Challenge accepted!” the Barney Stinson of my soul boasted. No sweat.
If you’re like me, the list of books you want to read is a hydra. Cutting one head off (that is, reading a book) just scribbles new titles onto the list. I’m never ahead. My whole life I’ve been fighting this hydra tactically, trying to bleed a head dry by reading, say, one of Bob Woodward’s or Neal Stephenson’s books every year. But they keep writing more books! Time for a new solution: overwhelming firepower. Force-feed my eyeballs like every tomorrow was a final exam. By year’s end, my 366 books would have that hydra on its knees.
And, believe it or not, it worked.
In the cold light of New Year’s morning, my challenge seemed a bit daunting. So I gave myself a week. If I didn’t have seven books finished by Jan. 7, I obviously wasn’t going to be able to keep such a meth-addled pace.
The resolution almost didn’t last 24 hours, but New Year’s night I forced my eyelids open and read a short horror novel. The following day I finished Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which, despite its title, was not a horror novel but a pop-culture history I’d been working on for a few days. The day after that I peeled off a Walking Dead collection. Driving to work, I hit the final disc of a Nelson DeMille audiobook. The night after that, I read the final chapter of a Narnia book to my daughter at bedtime.
Seven days, seven books. So far, so good. A good six of those books were timing and luck—it can take me three weeks to finish an audiobook, and more than a month to finish a bedtime story. But I gave it another week. And another. Soon my every waking thought was on reading.
The prime directive for this sort of project, you might think, is to pick short books. I don’t deny that 2012 was not the year for me to launch into Terry Goodkind. Want some Tolstoy? The Forged Coupon, not War and Peace. But as it turned out, Read Short Books was rule No. 2.
No, my prime directive was: no min-maxing. In Dungeons and Dragons, “min-maxing” is focusing on one character attribute to the exclusion of everything else. (Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory is an excellent example of someone who min-maxes intelligence, stealing points from charisma and dexterity.) If you’ve ever been in a team sport, school play, or med school, you know how that commitment supersedes all others. Parties are missed, sleep is skipped, emails go unreturned. “I can’t—I have practice/rehearsal/a corpse to dissect.”