Video Vednesday: 52 books! 52 books! (and a hack)

I did it!

Earlier this week, I finished reading my 52nd book for the year. As I confess in the video above, as well as on the goal-tracking page itself, I started several of these books before 2010, some well before, which is one of the reasons I decided to take on this reading thing as a goal. Tired of unfinished business, I was. It’s inevitable when Overly-Busy Syndrome collides with Eyes-Bigger-Than-Stomach Disease; there are too many things you want to read, and always new ones, and never enough time. (Now, when I put down a book unfinished, I do it consciously, this book is not for me, and I’m not going to read any more of it. Next!)

The video is especially blathery considering I am sharing the world’s simplest how-to. I seem to be constitutionally incapable of creating an improvised video shorter than 2 minutes. On the other hand, I’m so damned excited about finishing 52 books in less than a year, something I’m sure I haven’t done since my 20s, or maybe even college, that I’m giving myself a pass. This ONCE. Then, back to it.

Here’s the trick, written-out-style, for my fellow non-video types:

At some point before I start my daily reading (40pp!), I decide on a natural stopping point around 40pp out, sometimes a little shorter, sometimes a little longer, depending on the book and my mood. Then I place a sticky note on that page, sticking up about 1/4″, so that I know when it’s time to stop.

I find this helps me let go of page count (as much as a nutcase obsessive type can) and focus on the book itself. Before, when I used other methods, I got all caught up in my underwear: if I used my right index finger, it got uncomfortable; if I used a second bookmark, it tended to lift the last few pages before my stopping point, which took me out of reading; and if I used my brain, well, we won’t go there. Very ugly.

Hopefully, this little hack will be of use to you. If not, well, you can just congratulate me on (finally) doing the right thing again. Woo-hoo, indeed!


P.S. The book I’m holding up is Influence, Robert Cialdini’s classic work on persuasion, which I’ll be reviewing soon. As I mention in the video, I’d picked it up at a book sale right before I heard Jonathan Fields talk about it on his segment of the World-Changing Writing Workshop. It’s every bit as much of a must-read as Jonathan said, and it’s fascinating and FUN to read, as well. So there you go. Stay tuned!


  1. Nice going Colleen. I really want to tackle this 52 books a year thing, but I’m trying to get fit, have kids workthe day job and everything else. Posts like this give me a lot of encouragement.

    My question though is – what did stop doing to read 40ppd? You seem like a very productive person, so you must have been doing something else with your time. What did you stop doing, and did you miss it? Or did it miss you?

    1. Remember, this little goal not-coincidentally coincided with Self-Imposed Sabbatical. Muuuuch easier to do your own work when you are no longer concerned with getting or doing client work.

      That said, one thing I absolutely did was *stop* jumping on the Internet first thing in the morning, reserving it for after I’d had my cup of tea and read my 40pp. So to answer your question, even though I still spend a *lot* of time on the Internet, I do not spend as much.

      Also, on a sadder note, because of my breakup earlier this year, I’m no longer spending an hour each morning walking the dog. I’ve been folding that walk in again, recently (sans dog, of course), and I confess, it’s challenging, time-wise.

  2. Way to go Colleen! I bow to your commitment to your reading goals, great inspiration for the rest of us.

    And the post-it idea is brilliant. Each day, I peek with dread at the pile of noble ‘to read’ books and feel overwhelmed. Limiting myself to 40 pages per day with that small paper flag is a great idea. Frankly, I’m not looking for any more stress in my life so your idea just calmed the waters.

    Thanks once again.

    1. Each day, I peek with dread at the pile of noble ‘to read’ books and feel overwhelmed.

      You might also try giving yourself permission to do Brooks Palmer’s book-decluttering method: handle each book on the stack one by one, and ask if you still really want to read it, or if you can let it go.

      It’s painful at first, but the relief you’ll likely feel afterward is worth it. Plus, if you’re near a used-book place that accepts books for trade, you can rest assured that you will find something else wonderful for the place you’re in now.

      My two cents—it’s really helped me.

  3. good idea. yeah… i have 3 books going right now – can’t seem to read just one at a time. have you read ‘making ideas happen’ by Scott Belsky?

    1. Oh, I have a “morning” book and an “evening” book, at the very least. I reserve fiction or lighter reading (because some fiction is not light reading!) for afternoons and evenings, when my brain has less juice left. The morning book is something that I want to be alert for, that I’m reading as much to extract information from as to enjoy.

      I haven’t read that book. Are you suggesting it b/c it’s good or b/c it addresses this issue?

  4. Way to go! Two weeks ago I decided to read a book a week for the rest of the year. I’ve finished one, am half way through one, bought the one you suggested in yesterday’s post and downloaded a sample of another one! This gives me hope that it can be done and that I am not the only crazy wanting to attempt something like this. Now, it appears, I have another book to add to the list.

  5. Great take-aways (and a fun short video visit for this text-preferring type):
    >love the post-it note sign post;
    >love the “no net till noon” aide (my revision since I’m no morning person, my ayem is shorter than most);
    >love Brooks’ book-keeping-deciderer method which I’d just read in his newsletter — tougher since I’m an age-old lover of inky dead trees… they are pleasant wallpaper to me now ~

    If I may ask, would you be more apt to “read” and walk if you had audio books on the walk with you? Or do you like the chair/light/paper/focus a great book can deserve?

    Thanks for the tip and really, CONGRATS on that huge accomplishment. One more boulder pushed up that hill ~!

    1. If I may ask, would you be more apt to “read” and walk if you had audio books on the walk with you? Or do you like the chair/light/paper/focus a great book can deserve?

      I used to listen to audiobooks on walks. Now if I listen to anything, it’s something that requires less of a commitment than a whole book.

      And here’s something weird (or maybe not): I never counted audiobooks toward my book-reading total.

  6. I love the sticky note idea. I never thought to give myself a goal when I read. I can see how it would encourage me to ingest more ideas on a daily basis.

    I don’t think I would want to read 52 books in a year, but 26 might be a good goal.

    Oh yeah, yay Colleen for reading 52 books and sharing your accomplishments with us. Keep on rocking those books. Don’t read too many more than 52 otherwise you’ll won’t want to mingle with us feeble minded folks.

  7. Okay, I did it. I took your advice Colleen, wrote “Woo-Hoo” on a post-it and stuck it 40 pages into a book I’ve been gazing at in my pile of highly recommeded reads.

    It went beautifully! Even better since the book is Steven Pressfield’s book on creative procratination, the War of Art. Wonderful, funny book about the nature of procrastination and how it screws up our lives (you’ve probably already read it).

    So now, I feel a little smarter, less of a procrastinator and totally fab about my ability to learn a lesson from the smart gal south of the 49th parallel! Thanks for the grand advice.

  8. Congratulations! Fantastic! And the two things you to do reinforce the habit (read first, then Internets. The sticky) are awesome ideas.

    Here’s to the next 52!

  9. Congrats, Colleen!!!

    52 books…just think how many individual letters that is! At least two hundred, maybe even more. Maybe.

    Seriously, that’s an amazing feat and one that will certainly add to your knowledge, experience, and shear brain power. Soon you’ll be able to move objects with your mind.

    I loved the Cialdini book, so I’m very much looking forward to your review. What has been the most interesting of our instinctual tenancies that you’ve covered so far?

    (The reason why chapter was crazy. Why? Because I said so. That’s my reason.)

    Keep Rockin’,


    1. What has been the most interesting of our instinctual tenancies that you’ve covered so far?

      I love all my children equally, Jason.

      Seriously, it’s a tough call. Mostly, I was horrified and depressed by the “authority” chapter. I have always placed far, FAR too much value on external evaluation/approbation, and on top of that, am kind of a scaredy-cat/goody-two-shoes.

      But I’ll think about it as I write the review. (Although really, I think I ought to buy a revised edition—the one I have is SO old, I wonder how many of the tactics and more importantly, counter-tactics still work. We are far more sophisticated media consumers than we were when this edition of the book came out.)

  10. Woo Hoo! Congratulations! Very well done. And, hey, you beat me! I always try to read 52 books a year and will do it again this year but am currently at 31. Might have to do some speed reading before Dec. 31…

    I LOVE your sticky note idea — and will start using it with my library books, but how would I make this work on a Kindle? The Kindle is freaking marvellous — I read way more because of it. The page turner is fantastic (a button!) and it’s so light I always throw it in my purse, so I can read in lineups etc.

    Get yourself a Kindle as soon as you can. Think of it as a reward!

    1. There are things I love about the Kindle, and the thinness/portability is way up there, esp. as I realize how much clutter adversely affects me and how mobile I like being. Plus there’s the whole choices thing. Love choices! And instant gratification! (Although as many people have said, it can be a dangerous thing when it’s that easy to spend ten bucks.)

      My reluctance stems from a desire to have less, not more. And the more I see how the early adopters are using it, the more I really think I want an iPad. I like that it allows for reading a wide variety of formats, and that it provides multiple functions. Honestly, I can’t wait to get rid of my big, honkin’ tube TV (which is really just a big, honking, tube monitor) and have TV in my lap. Curling up with TV! It’s like those first transistor TVs that came out when I was a kid, only GOOD.)

      I swore I’d hold off on purchasing one until the next release. I’m hoping for a little bit lighter and for that screen technology that Uncle Steve used for the iPhone 4, which I’m also holding off on, which is KILLING me b/c the iOS update makes my “ancient”–two-year-old!!!–3G scream with pain. No, really—the adorable toddler I want to snap a candid of usually has grown up, gone to college and come back to mock my crusty shutter by the time I get the shot off.

  11. WTG!!!! I am going to try the post-it, I also do the finger thing and know exactly what you mean by losing my train of thought and focusing on how many pages I have left.


  12. Congrats Colleen! I miss reading so much. Although I probably read more than a lot of people I know, but I miss the days of unfettered endless reading. I will say I have never tried the sticky note to read X pages a day and, thus, read more efficiently. I will try it! Oh, I love your videos. They are never too long :)

  13. I wavered on the whole Kindle vs. iPad choice for months. MONTHS, I tell you! In the end I settled on a Kindle and I’m glad I did. It’s the perfect tool for reading books. (Also – you don’t have to pay for all of them. It’s relatively easy to get public domain books for free.) Furthermore, there is always the library. My philosophy is this: If I can put the book on hold at the library easily, then that’s what I do. But if the waiting list is ridiculous — for example, I am currently 129th on the list for Hillary Mandel’s Wolf Hall — I will splash out and buy the book for my Kindle.

    Many people tell me they want BOTH a Kindle AND an iPad. This approach makes sense to me. The Kindle is for books only; the iPad is for everything else. But, like a friend of mine, I’m waiting for the next generation of iPads. I don’t like to be a super early adaptor! The new Kindle is so inexpensive ($187) and so small it really makes sense to me.

    1. If money were no object, I’d buy both—if only to report back on my findings for other interested parties. (Hey! Possible sponsorship opportunity!)

      I have a similar decision tree WRT book acquisition, esp. since I live in a major metro that (for now) has a decent library system.

      One of the things I’m finding as I read digital books is that it is enormously helpful to have the built-in note-taking feature (if it’s a halfway decent one). I was pleased at how easy it was to take notes with Adobe Digital Reader on my laptop, although I’m not happy that there doesn’t seem to be a way to export them. These publishers are infuriatingly shortsighted about digital rights management.

      I guess it comes down to price point for me: if the new Kindle was under $100, I’d buy it now, even with the built-in wait, just to try. I’d probably buy more books once I had one, as I’d get used to the convenience. I don’t think Amazon is overly concerned with when I jump on the Kindle bandwagon, though.

  14. Colleen,

    Way to go!!! 52 books is pretty impressive. I know I read about 2-3 books a week and never thought to keep count – or maybe even a list. Setting a ‘priority’ of 40pp seems like a good idea – and post it notes? Who woulda thought? You made me laugh with your video and that’s always a good thing, too. Thanks for your energy and imagination. I admire your website and the work that goes into it. INFLUENCE is a very important book, I think. I’m having to go back to re-read a lot because I get ‘lost’ sometimes. But I’ve already implemented some of the principles. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and feedback, Patrick.

      I will probably continue to keep a list in future years, for my own memory-jogging, although I haven’t decided whether I’ll do it publicly. My *desire* was to get back in the habit of reading regularly, which I’d fallen out of, so I established a *goal* of 52 books, or, as Julien Smith finally broke it down, 40pp/day.

      I’m back to reading at a level that’s sustainable and enjoyable. I don’t want to turn it into a competition, even with myself—I do that with everything, and end up being quite the killjoy.

      I look forward to the day when I look up and have to take stock to realize that yeah, I read 2-3 (or maybe 3-4, even) books/week. But I suspect I’ll be generating a lot less work by then, which is something I’m in no rush for!

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