Reading 52 Books A Year: Is The Book A Week Challenge Really Worth Your Time?

Type “52 Books a Year” into YouTube and you’ll find more than 52 results—each one focused on how reading a book a week can change your life, increase your brain power, and serve as one of the best time-investments you can make. Famous CEOs like Bill Gates report reading 50-52 books a year, and he tells Quartz his method to success is taking notes to stay engaged, and only choosing books he knows he can finish (because they’re interesting, not because they’re easy).

The “52 Books a Year” challenge is so popular even has a Step by Step Guide on how to make the task a reality. By their calculations if each book is 280 pages long on average, and you read 20 pages per hour, then you can feasibly bring down a book a week if you read for two hours every day. A daunting time commitment to be sure, but possible.

The question no one seems to ask is—is reading 52 books a year really all that effective? What about 42 books? What about 20? And which books? And why?

Let’s read a little deeper.

Of course, 52 Books a Year is a book a week. One of the reasons the number goes with the challenge, then, is its easy scalability. Nothing about 52 is essential to the challenge, except that the high number forces those who take the challenge to read consistently, and finish each book they start. 52 isn’t 52 for 52’s sake, the challenge is just about reading often and completing each book you take on.

Problem is, a book a week means that at least most readers will either have to read very fast, or cut corners by taking on books they know they can finish quickly, defeating the purpose of a reading challenge in the first place. Isn’t choosing to read Tori Spelling’s Stori Telling over Mandela’s autobiography because you know you can finish it quicker kind of counter to the whole point of reading? Should you really be counting all 7 Harry Potter books as part of your 52 when you’ve already read each one 98 times over?

We all know that if we take on the challenge, we’re gonna game the system. Sure, Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and General Theory is short and maybe we can crack it out in a few days, but is reading it that quickly going to even allow us to process the information as well as we would if we took it in small bites over two weeks? If we listen to the American Godsaudiobook in a trance driving down the highway to work, can we count that? Are we taking it in the same way as we would if we were really reading?

The benefits of consistent reading are clear. Reading books improves lexical understanding, flexes cognitive muscles, generate ideas, and even increases your capacity for empathy through identification with fictional characters. The only added benefit of reading 52 books a year over, say, 25, is that you are challenged to complete the books—exercising not only your brain, but your will-power.

More important than the quantity of books you read is always the quality. If you choose to take the challenge, don’t cheat. Read books that are good. Read books that are challenging. Read a variety of fiction and non-fiction. Read books that confront your long-held opinions and introduce you to unfamiliar concepts. And more importantly, read to understand, not just to consume. If you’re not willing to take that part of the challenge, don’t bother! Just make sure to keep reading anyway. It’s good for you, even in small doses.

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