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?