4 ways to read more books in 2015.

Empty Shelf

Last January I started something called “The Empty Shelf Challenge.” The goal was simple, “Read more books in 2014 than you did in 2013.”

Instead of just casually reading, I challenged people to take a photo of their empty shelves and then add each book they finished over the year to it. There are now 4,477 photos of books people have read on the Empty Shelf Challenge Pinterest board.

I only read 12 this year. Ross, from the Twitter image above, crushed me.

Why did I read so few? Because I made four mistakes:

1. I didn’t plan when I would read.
Things that matter don’t happen accidentally. A book isn’t going to fall into your lap on the couch while you’re playing Candy Crush. You have to plan when you’re going to actually read. If reading was important to me I should have put it on my calendar or scheduled time for it.

2. I started too many books.
If I ever have a cameo on the show “hoarders,” the focus of my addiction won’t be cats, newspaper articles from the 1950s or old mayonnaise jars. It will be books. There will be piles and piles of books with thin little hoarder sidewalks between the stacks. Jenny will be throwing them away and I’ll say what every hoarder the world over says when faced with that rental dumpster or storage unit, “No! Not that one. I might read that one someday!” I started too many books which overwhelmed me and distracted me from actually finishing many.

3. I thought I had to finish books I didn’t like.
Maybe it’s OCD, maybe it’s reader shame, I’m not sure what the problem is but for some reason I grew up thinking I had to finish reading books I didn’t like. I’d get 60 pages in, think to myself, “Boy, I hate this book” and then trudge on. That approach makes reading about as fun as eating kale. When you force yourself to finish books you don’t like, you lose the joy of reading. Fortunately, author Austin Kleon really changed my perspective on this. (His post about 33 thoughts on reading is brilliant!) From here on out, I will give a book a certain amount of pages. It’s like a “reading audition.” I’ll give you a few chapters but if it’s a bit pitchy 60 pages in, I’m out! And so is the book. I don’t need that sitting on the shelves shaming me.

4. I watched too much television.
I don’t watch television often, but when I do, I binge watch. I crush entire seasons on Netflix, intoxicated by the power of not having to wait a whole week for another episode! But you know what? It’s fun at the end of the year to add up all the books you read. No one celebrates how many hours of TV they watched in a given year.

Those were the mistakes I made. What’s the reverse? What’s the takeaway? Well, let’s flip those four things upside down.

To read more books in 2015 you should:

1. Plan when you’ll read.

2. Plan what you’ll read.

3. Refuse to finish bad books.

4. Watch less TV.

Hopefully those four points will help you do more of something that can be really fun, reading.

I read 12 books in 2014.

How about you? How many books did you read?

About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff


  1. Rebekah

    Do audiobooks count? Because if they do, then I crushed it this year. I don’t know the total, but it was so much more than any of the previous years. The benefit is that they often fill in what would normally be Netflix time, and I’m productive (cleaning, doing dishes, cooking) at the same time. Trying to work my way back to paper books, but audiobooks were a lifesaver in 2014.

  2. I use Audible for most of my books. I lost count this year, but have been posting to the empty shelf Pinterest board. I actually returned a couple bad books on Audible, (you can actually do that!) I quit watching TV years ago and have gotten smarter ever since!

  3. Jim

    Good advice, I’ve been reading and learning all year long but haven’t finished too many books myself. To me the key is learning. If I stop reading something (and it’s not laziness but rather lack of interest) it makes me think to myself–why did I stop reading that? How can I avoid that in the books I write?

  4. I stopped taking pictures of the books I read… it got too confusing with the assortment of audiobooks, physical books, and e-books. But I did keep track of them on goodreads! Here’s my #emptyshelfchallenge shelf: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/8623514-sarah?shelf=2014-empty-shelf-challenge&sort=date_read

  5. This post makes my booknerd heart so happy! I love that so many people jumped on the challenge and read so many books! Since my blog is about books and reviewing them for publishers and authors, I read a ton. I didn’t count of all the books I read, but I read about 100 for my blog (the ones I posted about). Next year I think I’ll keep track of all I read and see what happens :).

    I agree with #4 too! Thanks for spurring on people to read more!

  6. Eric Lindberg

    I read 29 books and am half way through a few others. I likely won’t finish any of those. This was a great challenge and I am going to do it again this year, with a bigger shelf.

  7. Ross King?! I know him!!

    My book-nerd side had been dormant since about 6-grade. I’m happy to have it back.

    I basically re-prioritized time I may have spend on my phone or watching Netflix (lunchtime at work, time before bed, feeding/rocking our newborn, air travel) and put my nose in a book instead. I am usually in two or three books at a time so I can adjust as my mood changes.

    I am starting a series on my previously defunct blog going through the books I read through the year. I put up the first post last night which prompted my tweet thanking Jon.

  8. I only read 20 books this year.
    And watched 100+ episodes of 7 different TV shows…

  9. Suzi

    I really enjoyed this challenge!!! I read 17 books this year!! Looking forward to reading so much more next year!!!!

  10. I decided late last year to read a book a week (not counting book club books) I read 62 books this year. 55 personal choice books and 7 for my book club. I get an hour for lunch at work so that was my main reading time, but I also read in the evenings. I tried for a bit to read during dinner (live alone) instead of watch tv, but I got out of that habit, but need to start that up again. The second book I started reading was ‘Atlas Shrugged’. I was on vacation from work and thought since I had more time I could get through all 1,000 pages in a week. I made it to 70 and quit. It was killing my soul and my love of reading. I decided that my challenge was going to be enjoyable and not soul killing. There were a few books that I was really looking forward to them ending. I probably quit about 5 books I think. I read a lot more non-fiction than I usually do and really expanded ‘new to me’ authors. What helped me was deciding that it wasn’t going to be a race. I wanted to enjoy my time reading and not speed through it. I also didn’t want 4 books going on at once. I loved my trips to the library. I went in with an idea of what I wanted but always came out with a few surprises. I kept track of my books on a pinterest board (amy_booksbobbins) and posted the whole list on my blog last week.

  11. I participated in the empty shelf challenge and read 65! Planning a new kind of challenge in 2015 to read more “intentionally” – 4 books per month, one in each category. Link goes live Jan 1 if you want to join me: http://www.inkwellsandimages.com/2015/01/01/2015-book-project/

    • Ross

      That’s more of my plan for 2015, too. Once I stepped back and looked at what I read this year, I could have done a lot more quality reading.

  12. Darcy

    I was sick through the first half of the year and read so much my Kindle quit! I lost track but I was reading a book a day! Not great books. Mostly cheap novels.

    I also listened to a lot of audio books when I was too sick to read. I will say I went through over 100 books. Now I can’t stop!

    Last night it was 4:30 when I finished my book and went to sleep!

    For 2015 I am upping the ante and reading fewer books but better content! I have already purchased a stack of great self help and inspirational books to get me started!

  13. Stephanie

    I read 115 this year 🙂

  14. Sandra

    I read 30 books this year, I’ve never read more than that. I hope to read 40 next year.

    My problem is internet time and mobile games – I live reading but I read a lot of websites and blogs that I can’t add to my books read. Does that count? I do a lot of research, about work topics, bible study and just topics I’m interested in.

    Mobile games are such a time drain but I tend to spend half and hour or more a day dawdling on games… Maybe not so much during 2015 🙂

  15. Jen

    25 for me! Maybe 26 if New Year’s Eve is as quiet as I hope. 🙂

    I loved this challenge and since I had no idea how many books I read in 2013, I’m super happy to have a baseline heading into 2015.


  16. Joe

    “No one celebrates how many hours of TV they watched in a given year.”


  17. I set out to read 33 this year for the Jesus Year I was celebrating. I finished number 33 on Saturday. I agree, if you’re not into a book, put it down and move on. Don’t book shame yourself.

  18. David

    I read 62 this year. Audio books were a great help and a wonderful way to be productive while commuting or doing other chores around the house. Goodreads was also a helpful tool for recommendations and to provide that additional motivation as I worked towards a specific goal of books read.

  19. Kara

    I finished my 25th book this morning. My goal was to read two books a month. Some months I read more than others (6 books in December alone) and there were a few months I didn’t read at all. I got stuck on a book early in the year that I didn’t enjoy, but I was determined to read since others I knew loved it. Eventually, I decided to put it down and actually read something I’d enjoy.

  20. I didn’t participate in this challenge officially (we knew we’d be moving half-way through the year, so our shelves & got all re-arranged anyway). But I did finish 24 books (2 more are in progress, and I did stop 1 after reading only about 1/10 of it).

    I read about 7 fiction books, which is the most I’ve read in that genre in a long time.

  21. Suzanne

    I read 24 books this year!! If I weren’t so easily distracted, I would have finished around 60. I definitely try to read too many different books at a time!

  22. Jason

    27 and several partials.

  23. Kristi H.

    I use Goodreads to keep up with what I read. I set a goal of reading as many Newbery Award winners this year as possible. I think I’ll be finishing out the year at 85, which is definitely more than I read last year. I’m not sure I can keep reading more than the year before, though, if I want to stay married.

  24. Bree Mooney

    I have finished 47 books this uear, and 1 3/4 finished and another halfway finished. Three I had to set aside or return to the library, but fully intend to read some day. It was a good reading year. 🙂

  25. Kristen

    I also use Goodreads to keep track of what I read. I set a challenge of 80 books for this year and I just finished! Next year I am going to strive for 100. I read genre fiction (fantasy mostly) and I really enjoy it, so it doesn’t take long for me to get lost in a book.

    I also learned recently that you don’t need to finish a book you don’t like, even if you really want to like it. It was hard the first time. It is one thing to put a book down with the intention of finishing and just never picking it back up, but it is another to consciously stop.

  26. I really loved this post. I resonated with everything you pointed out that kept you from reading more this year. Especially the started too many books and watching too much TV (and the playing Candy Crush on the couch while you “unwind” like that is a good justifcation for the hours thrown at something that only evaporates and eviscerates your time and intellect). Nicely done. I do have it as one of my goals this year to read 12 (physical) books. I will also listen to many on Audible and Kindle. But I want to at least sit down with a physical book to keep distractions away and train my mind to think about what’s in front of me. I’m too distracted. I also like the idea of cleaning off a shelf and physically seeing the books that I’ve read get put on the shelf as a sort of “badge” and reminder of what I’m doing to better myself vs. taking the easy “adam-like” approach to life and let it passively go by me. 2015 is about being refined and reading is going to be one of the tools to do that in me. Thanks, again, Jon.

  27. I read right around fifty, if re-reads count. I learned years ago that life is too short to read bad books, so I only finish about 30% of what I start.I, too, am a book hoarder. We have an amazing used bookstore here. Add to that my membership on NetGalley where I read and review books, and my to-be-read pile is taller than my head! I will never catch up. I’m okay with that, though, because having books on my TBR list means that I always have something to look forward to!

  28. Mary

    In 2011 I read 75 books. In 2012 I read 70. In 2013 I read 50. And in 2014 I completed 38 (I’ve got about 3 i’m working on). Ignoring the fact that 2013 was the year I turned 18 and got a job i’m definitely heading the wrong way, And it’s for exactly the reasons you listed. My reading habits are something i’m hoping to do over in 2015. Something that helps me is as soon as I finish a book I write it down along with the author’s name and the date I finished it. It helps me visualize better where I am with my goals. I’m planning to read at least 52 this year.

  29. This year was incredible for me. I managed to read and finish 63 books. You can find out how I did it here: http://ladyjevonnahellison.com/the-books-that-changed-my-life-in-2014/

  30. Today, with finishing the Bible, I will reach my goal of 61 books (60 plus the Bible). I finished every book I started except one, that I just could not continue, due to bad morality in the story. Maybe it is an OCD thing, like you said, but I just have to finish what I start!

    One way I have kept up reading 50+ books every year for the past few years is by making a Pinterest board for that year (“Books Finished in 2014”). Like you’ve said, there is something about making it public that holds us accountable.

  31. Julie

    My goal was to read one book per month this year, which is a lot more than I have read in the recent past.I just finished my 26th book for 2014. The majority of them were audiobooks due to being in the car a minimum of an hour and a half per day.

  32. Judy

    I also did the Empty Shelf Challenge and probably read around 20 books. My goal is to read one non-fiction book a month by 12 different authors. Why different authors? Because I got into a rut and only read books by a couple of authors and that doesn’t give you a new perspective on things. Also, I have a rule that I must finish my non-fiction book before I read fiction. But Jon, luckily I learned the rule about books I don’t like (especially fiction). If I don’t like it after a few chapters, I stop reading, no guilt. Thanks for the challenge, it has opened my eyes to a lot of great writers.

  33. Use goodreads ( https://www.goodreads.com ) and set a goal for yourself – it is a virtual bookshelf. I went from 48 books to 84 this year and 22,000 pages with that site as my main inspiration.

  34. I strongly recommend using Goodreads – you can set a challenge for yourself and it keeps track for you. It’s also a great way to keep a list of books to read, track your progress, and get recommendations based on what you’ve read.
    Anyhoo, I read 38 of my planned 20 books for the year! I am midway through four books right now, but unlikely any will get finished today.
    I live real books, but find audiobooks helpful, as I can cook, clean, fold laundry, drive, etc. all while “reading” a book!

  35. My goal was 24 book. I read 38. The big difference is I set up an audible account. I travel a lot, so now listen to books when I fly and drive.

  36. karla

    I read anywhere from 1-3 books a week.. wish I would have seen this original blog post last dec. 31 & I would have kept better track lol. I do add all of the ebooks to Goodreads, but still go to the library to get physical copies of books. Had major surgery in October, and during my 6-week recovery I read 14 lol. I was blessed that my mom was so into reading. My 21 year old son is now a very avid reader too! Starting a new book tonight (woohoo! PARTAYYY!), so believe I shall officially keep track. Yay!

  37. Thanks Jon for the challenge! My goal was to read 24 books, but I ended up finishing 30 books! Now to start working on my goal for next year.

  38. C S Areson

    This challenge was great, I read over 115 books, (116 to be exact, but I still have a few hours) and a few I didn’t finish. This more than I have ever read in any previous year.
    Thanks Jon

  39. Hey Jon

    WOOHOOO – this post was the impetus I needed to get my ‘read on’ 😉

    Thanks for some fun tips and a funner challenge #HUGS


  40. Holly

    Although I didn’t know about this challenge at the beginning of this year, I had already challenged myself to read more books than 2013. Just this morning I completed my 60th book! It was more than last year and it met my record of a few years ago. I plan to keep it up and read at least 60, if not more in 2015! Happy reading, everyone!

  41. I would love to read more books in 2015, but seeing as I am OCD when it comes to reading and average a book a day I don’t think it would be possible, or at least possible and able to accomplish anything else. But I do love the thought or getting more read.

  42. judy

    Most libraries have an ap and you can get books delivered free to your mobile devise (can keep them up to 21days). I hated going to the library. However, I love to read.

  43. Michael

    I had a goal of 18 and read 25 books. Well 26 if you include the Bible. I think I’ll have my goal at 24 for next year. I have 18 books right now on my list to read with a lot others on my shelf that I haven’t read yet either. Do Over and also Scary Close by Don Miller are on the list as well as Essentialism to re-read.

  44. I read a whopping 36 books this year! My goodreads.com 2015 reading challenge was set at 30 books. This year, I’m setting an even loftier goal. I will admit, I’m not big on television, that gives me an advantage. There’s no struggle there.

    I’m looking forward to your 10-day Do Over Challenge!! 🙂

  45. I needed up reading 211 books thanks to print, audiobooks, e books and library books. This challenge definitely pushed me to read more books in 2014 so thanks!

  46. I really don’t struggle to read books at all. It’s what I do. For me it’s like breathing, it’s impossible not to read. I write them down too. If you would like to take a peek..http://www.creatingtreasures.blogspot.com/search/label/Learning%20Log

    there were many that didn’t get written down, but most of them are there. My goal this coming year is to read my Bible more.

  47. Shannon Minner

    Thanks to the Empty Shelf Challenge 2014 and my Goodreads app I know that I read 34 books this year. I’m hoping to eek out one more today to make it 35. Granted a lot were books for elementary aged children that’s okay because I moved from a school where I was a K-2 librarian to one where I’m a K-6 librarian. I find it very important to book talk to my students, to offer recommendations, and to let them see that I am reading too.

  48. Shannon Maher

    I read 24-25 this year, some long, some short, but definitely more than in 2013. Thanks for the challenge, Jon, now I have a new record to beat in 2015!

  49. Caitlin

    I read 46 books!!! I haven’t read like that since I was in high school. And I have a BA in English! I really enjoyed the Empty Shelf Challenge. It showed me tangible results. Having space open on that shelf forced me to make reading a priority again. Thanks so much Jon!!

  50. I read 76 books this year, more than half of them nonfiction. It’s actually a little lower number than the last few years. But my shelf challenge was the exact opposite of yours. It was to empty the to-be-read shelves of 200+ books that have been there for years. Still many to go!

  51. This year I read 32. My goal was 50, but I — like you — didn’t plan when I would read. I also *thought* I would use a ton of audiobooks (because I totally count them as books read), but after child #2 was born, I learned to relish the quiet. But 32 is still a really big deal to me.

    {P.S. Not having Netflix or a tv eliminates that excuse for me… but I’d say Facebook is to me what Netflix was for you.}

  52. Sarah

    30 Books! Loved being part of the Empty Shelf Challenge.

  53. I haven’t counted how many books I’ve read in 2014, but usually I read 75-85 books a year.

    I don’t watch much TV; I take books anytime I expect to have waiting time (and if I didn’t expect to, that’s okay – I have the Kindle app on my phone). I also listen to audio books when I drive.

    I know this is weird, but I get extra reading time in by reading while I brush my teeth, brush my hair and braid my hair. I have a great bookstand a friend gave me. Helps me do that full 2 minutes of brushing too!

  54. Ellen

    I read every day and although I didn’t reach my goal of 2 books per week, I was able to complete 85 books totaling 34,015 pages. The smallest was an e-book of 31 pages and the largest 1,456. I was also in nursing school full-time but didn’t include my monstrous texts in this count.

  55. Ann Perry

    I am totally in for this year’s challenge. This is just what I need to get out of my tv rut which I feel is melting my brain! My goal will be 26 books. Between work, and work reading which has to happen at night too, I think this is a good goal.

    Now here’s a question… do textbooks for my Masters count?

  56. In 2013 I read 2 books, in 2014 because I accepted this challenge, I read 30 books! I have to agree about not finishing bad books, I have always had no problem giving away a book that I didn’t find interesting after a chapter or two. However, since I was tracking my reading, I felt like that was wasted reading time if I couldn’t finish it to put it on my shelf. I will be clearing off my shelf & starting again this year! AND I will remember it is ok to not read uninteresting books!
    Thank you for this Challenge! For me it was all about putting down my phone games at bedtime & picking up my book 🙂

  57. Jon,
    Thx for the candor about not reading as much as planned. The great news is that you read 12…had you made no plan, you may not have read any. For me this year, the goal is 30…a stretch, but one I’m pumped to go after!

  58. LAST year I read like mad. I love to read.

    But someone made an interesting point to me last month about reading Non Fiction books that I think is worth considering:

    If you read, but you don’t APPLY what you read, it’s for nothing.

    Also, if you read 50 books on 50 different topics, you have spread yourself a little thin. 🙁

    For 2015, I would propose the “Bookshelf Plus” challenge:
    Read a book…then do not pick up your next book until you have tested at least one theory/lesson that came from the book you just read.

    So, if you read 50 books in 2015 (assuming they are non-fiction and apply to your market/industry) then you should have also tested out 50 never “to do’s” towards improvement.

    That can be very powerful.

  59. Julia

    I read 27. My goal was 30, however a move and a new job distracted me a bit. I’ve just finished my first book of 2015 and I can’t wait to read more this year. I loved the challenge.

  60. I read less books in 2014 with the challenge than I did in 2013 without the challenge. Uh oh…

  61. I was the same way with having to finish a book once I started it. I don’t feel that way anymore – unless it was a book that was sent to me for review. I reviewed 45 books in 2014. That means I read them and then wrote a review on my site, copied it to Amazon, and shared on social media. I did read a few others that I didn’t write reviews about. I love to read!

    For 2015 I want to read more business related books. Best wishes!

  62. Jonn McDaniel

    “Have you watched TV?! There’s like pictures and stuff! It’s amazing! With books there’s, well, reading.

    When I get a book for a gift, I just think, ‘Great. You gave me homework as a gift.'”

    ~Jim Gaffigan on reading books verses watching TV

  63. Sarah Rimmer

    76 books in 2014. This challenge was a great idea. Look out 2015.
    #booknerd #bookishgirlprobs #noshame

  64. I loved the challenge and read 43 books. I LOVE to read but was barely clearing 10 books a year in the past, mostly for the same reasons that you listed above. Thanks to Jon Acuff’s #EmptyShelfChallenge I’ve increased my reading totals and have whiter teeth and fresher breath.

  65. Ellen

    I saw this challenge and as soon as I emptied a shelf I thought it would work better to fill it up with books that I bought over the last few years. I then made a promise that I would read my books before buying new ones. I bought a few new books, but most are from authors I liked. This worked well for me.

    My objective was to empty the shelf but it’s not empty. Thankfully, I saved some great books for later so I’m planning on emptying my shelf again this year.

    All my book are pinned and reviewed on ” books I read in 2014″. I love having this record. I read 34 books. Great idea!

  66. Jeri

    Uh, less that 12! So, I am planning it out this year. Finishing a bad book is torture. I give myself permission to send it packing to Goodwill too.

  67. Diane

    This article on planning what books to read and when to read is very helpful. I end up only reading if I find myself with extra time, which is almost never. I am going to practice scheduling reading time into my day, since I have so many books I want to read.