Wednesday, December 16, 2009


To read 100 books in one year, you could do one of three things:

1. Don't think about your next book and just pick up whatever looks interesting. Repeat 99 times.

2. Keep to your normal to-read list, but just accelerate a bit.

3. Plan

I'm not a very organized person (but I do like organization - go figure that out). So planning this out seemed like a good idea. What does this entail?

I have a google spreadsheet that lays out books I've added to my list. After I've pre-approved a book for my list, the title goes in the first column. Right now you're thinking "this is a to-read list, and you're boring." But no. There are other columns. This is where I veer off the beaten path.

In addition to the author's name, I have the following columns: own, fiction, nonfiction, dead, nwm, and pages.

  • Little x's in the first extra column, "own," keep track of what I need to buy or borrow, and to make sure I'm reading enough of the books that have been sitting on my shelves for years. Nothing's sadder than a book purchased and then never read.
  • As I started to think of books I'd want to read next year, at first it was nearly all nonfiction. I'm trying to become more informed about the world, so that's where my head went. But I like fiction, and reading fiction is faster for me. So I added a fiction and a nonfiction column, again with x's marking which is which. This way I can pretty easily see if I have a good mix.
  • When I started to add more fiction, it began as a bunch of classics I've been meaning to read. This would be a good thing because it'd help me understand people when they mention Mr. Darcy, Leopold Bloom, or Dorian Grey. But it's also a bad thing because one year of solely nonfiction and classics would turn reading into a chore - so I wanted to make sure I mixed in some modern fiction. Rather than keeping track of publication dates, I added a "dead" column - making a gut check about the author's mortality (sometimes with help from Wikipedia). [I should be better about verification: one Halloween I dressed up as a zombie doctor, calling myself Dr. Heimlich. (He has a maneuver.) The only problem was that Dr. Heimlich was - and remains - alive and well.] The list now contains the one Chuck Palahniuk book I haven't read, as well as some of my guilty pleasures (sci fi etc) to help speed things along.
  • Another thing that becomes quickly apparent when you assemble a reading list is that the authors tend to resemble the management of Sterling Cooper. Not too many women or people of color. This is confirmed when you look at top ten reading lists and other collections. There may be more white male published authors in total, but I am absolutely certain that white men don't produce markedly better books than others. Racism and sexism still exist in the publishing world. So I added a "nonwhitemale" ("nwm") column just to keep track. I wasn't doing too badly before, but I've started to focus a bit more on female and nonwhite (usually international) authors.
  • The last column is for page numbers. After adding monstrosities like Infinite Jest and Team of Rivals to the list, I did some addition and found that 300,000 pages wouldn't be doable for a book critic, let alone someone with a job, a wife, and a rudimentary social life. So to counteract the longer books I do want to read, I kept track of page number so I could add some shorter books to average things out a bit (Nicholson Baker is a great remedy).
This list isn't set in stone, and I take things off when I feel like it. There are 67 books on there as of now, and I don't want to add too many more to leave room for new books, recommendations, and other work by authors I discover I enjoy.

Stepping back a bit, it's kind of fun to be able to plan out your own reading list - it's making me think about what I read for, and what I'm not reading. The spreadsheet helps, as does Highly recommended site if you're not already on it - perfect for when you read about a book that looks interesting but don't want to buy it immediately.

How do you keep track of books you want to read - or don't you? Any columns I should add?

I suppose I'll find out in a year if planning was a good choice.


  1. Um, any blog that manages to allude to both Eddie Izzard and Mad Men in one post IS NECESSARILY AWESOME.

    Well done, sir.

  2. Why thank you :)

    I am trying to update a little more frequently!