How I Read 19 Books This Year, and Why You Should Try Too

How I Read 19 Books This Year, and Why You Should Try Too

I completed my freshman year as a computer science college student in May. Despite being a tour guide, a club executive, and a full-time student, I had much more free time in college than I expected. So, I started reading during breakfast.

It took me a week or so to find my groove. I tried reading some paperback books I brought and a few Kindle books. After more searching, I finally found an online copy of Chaos, by James Gleick. It fascinated me right from the start, and that was what I needed to start dedicating more time to reading.

I began bringing my iPad (controversial for reading, I know) to the dining hall each morning and read for 30 to 45 minutes while eating. Having read mostly required books in high school, I experimented with different genres within fiction and non-fiction. Here are some of my favorite books from this year:

Observed Effects of Reading This Year

Starting my day with a book helped prime my brain for thinking, learning, and working throughout the day. I frequently noticed details in conversations and lectures that connected to whichever book I was reading. I read Chaos by James Gleick before taking differential equations. There were multiple lectures where we learned about well-behaved systems, and I would consider why those differed from the chaotic systems of nature. You might think these connections were limited to non-fiction books and classes, but I found the opposite.

Reading fiction opened up more opportunities for conversation. Many of the books I read this year were suggestions from friends. Rather than asking for a book recommendation and never reading it, I followed through. By doing so, I was able to nerd out with more of my friends about their interests.

Outside of socializing, I was also encouraged by the fact that reading is measurable. Every time I finished a new book, I wrote it down on a list for the year. Tracking my reading was a powerful source of motivation. Whenever I considered dropping a book, I pushed through, knowing that I could tally another book read for the year (unless I really couldn’t read the rest).

What the Research Says

While I enjoyed many novels this year, particularly Project Hail Mary, it sometimes felt hard to justify spending my time reading fiction. I could have spent the time learning new information from another non-fiction book (about half the books I read were non-fiction). As it turns out, fiction may have many benefits.

Theory of Mind - Understanding that someone else’s beliefs, perspectives, and experiences may differ from your own.

Some studies have indicated that reading literature long-term can contribute to one’s development of Theory of Mind [1]. This seems logical, as most readers embed themselves into different characters while reading stories. However, some counter-articles claim that at the least, there are minimal short-term benefits of reading literature. This is still an open area of research, so in the next few years, we may see more conclusive results.

Cognitive Closure - The human desire to eliminate ambiguity and arrive at definite conclusions.

Another study showed that reading fiction may decrease one’s need for cognitive closure [2]. In other words, short stories, novels, and other literature may increase your capacity for open-mindedness. The same study also found evidence that frequent readers benefit the most from additional reading, meaning that the benefits compound.

Affective Empathy - The sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions; this can include mirroring what that person is feeling, or just feeling stressed when we detect another’s fear or anxiety.

I suggest reading about mirror neurons if you find affective empathy interesting.

While these studies tackle direct correlations between reading and other metrics, a different article takes a bird’s-eye perspective. The authors suggest that reading stories induces affective empathy [3]. In other words, the reader emotionally responds to the characters’ experiences. This improves one’s ability to perceive others’ emotions and socialize more effectively [3].

Overall, non-fiction works provide valuable information, while fiction provides valuable practice with empathy and socialization.

Challenges I Faced

Earlier, I mentioned I read for 30 to 45 minutes each morning. That’s a long time. When my course schedule got particularly hectic, I could only read for 10 to 15 minutes. Having limited time certainly slowed my reading progress. However, at some times, I lost important studying time to reading.

When I encountered a book I truly couldn’t put down, like Project Hail Mary or The Three-Body Problem, I would spend hours reading the book each day until I finished. I read the entire Three-Body trilogy in under 5 days this year (it wasn’t during a break). While most books didn’t capture my attention like these few, I had a serious time management problem with the books that did.

I’ve pondered these issues but still haven’t found the right answer. One solution, reading only non-fiction, could make it tough to keep my reading habit going. Being entertained is an important part of reading frequently, at least for me. I could also find a way to lock down the app I read with (GoodNotes), but that impacts my ability to take notes in class (maybe switching to reading in the Kindle app would help). Either way, this is a point I would like to consider further during this coming school year.

My Plans for Next Year

This year’s reading experiment was a success! That said, I’ll be trying a few things for next year, and I’ll also need to adapt to a slightly different lifestyle.

I will no longer be eating breakfast at the dining hall, so I’ll relocate my reading to somewhere in my apartment. Unfortunately, I share the apartment with 6 other people, so finding a private reading space may be challenging.

Next year, I also have a more challenging course load, so I’ll have less time to read. I will read fewer books because of this, but that’s fine as long as I manage my expectations.

I will try to read for at least five minutes each day. The hardest part of maintaining a habit is getting started. Even if I can only read for five minutes, reading will be much easier the next day than if I were to stop. Hopefully, I can maintain the streak for the whole year!

Stay tuned! If all goes well, I’ll write an updated article for next year. I hope to see you then!


  1. Different Stories: How Levels of Familiarity With Literary and Genre Fiction Relate to Mentalizing
  2. Opening the Closed Mind: The Effect of Exposure to Literature on the Need for Closure: Creativity Research Journal: Vol 25, No 2
  3. Transportation into a story increases empathy, prosocial behavior, and perceptual bias toward fearful expressions
© 2024 Weaver Goldman