52 weeks 52 eBooks

Reading an eBook on a handheld device just cannot be compared to the real thing. All those charming individualities and quirks that signify the transition from one book to another: size and weight, print and texture, and even their smell, are stripped away to ensure a consistently smooth, clean-cut presentation. Plus, you’ll never have to concern yourself with loose leafs, be distracted by yours or someone else’s scribbled notes, or have to skilfully manoeuvre past the squashed insect [complete with expiration date] on page 230.

Despite these misgivings, I’m prepared to openly profess my enjoyment of, and brace yourselves … preference for, reading from a screen, particularly for long periods. Though I’ve the distinct feeling this opinion will run counter to many of your own, I make no apologies for expressing it. In fact, it’s largely due to their adaptability that I’ve come to rely on these handheld devices; allowing me to adjust the display brightness under diminishing light, ramp up the text size when my eyes are failing me, and summon up a dictionary when I stumble across an archaic word or phrase. It’s all very Fisher-Price, I grant you, but though they will never look, feel, or indeed smell like a good book ought to, they can provide almost everyone with comfortable reading conditions.

Over the course of the last six months, I’ve slowly grown to love eBooks. I’d now go as far as to say that, faced with a straight choice, I’m prepared to plump for an eBook over its undeniably more handsome and impressive physical counterpart. And so it was during this period of discovery when the death of Project Gutenberg’s founder Michael Hart was announced. The availability of thousands of out of copyright books in digital form from many of the world’s greatest authors still amazes me just as much as when I first learned about the project’s existence ten or so years ago. It’s an incredible legacy to leave behind, and one I couldn’t help but feel should be celebrated in some way.

The challenge

If there’s one thing I’m very good at, it’s devoting a tremendous amount of time to pointless exercises: getting hopelessly lost down endless Wikipedia rabbit holes [I've only just this minute taken a mere six steps to get from Jack Lemmon to Samuel Pepys], staring blankly at walls as though they’re a magic eye puzzle, and generally waiting around for something more exciting to happen. So I thought I’d try and curtail these and other wasteful causes by taking on a challenge that cannot be completed until this time next year: to spend the next 52 weeks reading 52 eBooks.

To the reading pod

It was always going to take something special to prize me away from iBooks and Readmill was just that. In addition to offering an equally comfortable and pleasurable reading experience, it allows me to keep up with what my friends and contemporaries are reading, as well as share thoughts and highlights from what I’m reading. Readmill will be my weapon of choice for this challenge, so you’ll be able to keep up with my progress, should you be interested and intrigued by it. I dare say I’ll also tweet about this from time to time.

The list

If the strength and feasibility of an idea can be roughly measured by how one feels about it after a night’s sleep, then I suppose a good one must survive a further six. I’m happy to report that I remain as excited by the prospect of this challenge as I was when I began drawing up the longlist of titles, which were soon whittled down to the final 52 below.

I cannot think of a more appropriate way to celebrate one person’s vision and audacity than to read a few books in the digitised form he introduced forty years ago.

I feel as though I’ve already gone some way towards ensuring an interesting year. I guess whatever I do, or wherever I pitch up over the course of the next twelve months, I’ll never be too far away from my eBook reader. Wish me luck.

From To Title Author
2 Jan 8 Jan Debt: The First 5,000 Years David Graeber
9 Jan 15 Jan A Modern Utopia H. G. Wells
16 Jan 22 Jan The Financier Theodore Dreiser
23 Jan 29 Jan The Prophet Kahlil Gibran
30 Jan 5 Feb The Vicomte De Bragelonne Alexandre Dumas
6 Feb 12 Feb The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia Samuel Johnson
13 Feb 19 Feb The Call of the Wild Jack London
20 Feb 26 Feb Tender is the Night F. Scott Fitzgerald
27 Feb 4 Mar Anthem Ayn Rand
5 Mar 11 Mar Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom Cory Doctorow
12 Mar 18 Mar Bouvard and Pécuchet Gustave Flaubert
19 Mar 25 Mar The Shape of Things to Come H. G. Wells
26 Mar 1 Apr Captain Blood Rafael Sabatini
2 Apr 8 Apr Oblomov Ivan Goncharov
9 Apr 15 Apr The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen Rudolf Erich Raspe
16 Apr 22 Apr Bel-ami Guy de Maupassant
23 Apr 29 Apr The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Robert Tressell
30 Apr 6 May Tales of the Jazz Age F. Scott Fitzgerald
7 May 13 May Tess of the d’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
14 May 20 May A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
21 May 27 May The Invisible Man H. G. Wells
28 May 3 Jun The Waves Virginia Woolf
4 Jun 10 Jun The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
11 Jun 17 Jun Dead Souls Nikolai Gogol
18 Jun 24 Jun Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto Gianni Rodari
25 Jun 1 Jul Erewhon, or Over The Range Samuel Butler
2 Jul 8 Jul The Prisoner of Zenda Anthony Hope
9 Jul 15 Jul New Grub Street George Gissing
16 Jul 22 Jul Siddhartha Hermann Hesse
23 Jul 29 Jul The Titan Theodore Dreiser
30 Jul 5 Aug Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
6 Aug 12 Aug O Pioneers! Willa Cather
13 Aug 19 Aug To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
20 Aug 26 Aug Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard Joseph Conrad
27 Aug 2 Sep Candide Voltaire
3 Sep 9 Sep McTeague Frank Norris
10 Sep 16 Sep Babbitt Sinclair Lewis
17 Sep 23 Sep The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
24 Sep 30 Sep The Trial Franz Kafka
1 Oct 7 Oct An Outpost of Progress Joseph Conrad
8 Oct 14 Oct A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce
15 Oct 21 Oct The Seagull Anton Chekhov
22 Oct 28 Oct The Machine Stops E. M. Forster
29 Oct 4 Nov One of Ours Willa Cather
5 Nov 11 Nov The Return of the Native Thomas Hardy
12 Nov 18 Nov The Cleanest Race B.R. Myers
19 Nov 25 Nov A Room with a View E. M. Forster
26 Nov 2 Dec The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Omar Khayyám
3 Dec 9 Dec My Ántonia Willa Cather
10 Dec 16 Dec The Little Nugget P. G. Wodehouse
17 Dec 23 Dec The Magnificent Ambersons Booth Tarkington
24 Dec 30 Dec Crome Yellow Aldous Huxley

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21 thoughts on “52 weeks 52 eBooks

  1. Richard Post author

    @Martin Hwasser

    Thanks Martin, I sure will. Very smooth ride so far.

    @Santhosh

    I’m using the 1st generation iPad. It’s in for quite a year!

  2. John

    By item #5, do you mean, the entirety of the third book of the Musketeers trilogy, Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, itself broken into The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise de la Valliere, and The Man in the Iron Mask? 7 days sounds pretty rough. I recommend the Oxford World’s Classics editions though. Forget your fancy ebook reader.

  3. Dale

    I didn’t set out to read a book every week when I opened my new Kindle on Christmas morning. Even so, I’m ahead of schedule and decided last night when I finished my third book that I was going to do exactly that. I’ve also decided to download a few classics from Project Gutenberg and enjoy them.

  4. Kaushik Ghose

    This is an awesome self-program. Good luck! The only thing I would say is that you might end up having to make allowances for novels of different lengths and difficulties.

  5. Oscar Funes

    Amazing! My plan for this year was to read 1 book each month, but after reading this I think I’ll try to read at least 20. Thanks for inspiring me. :)

  6. Richard Post author

    @Charles

    Thanks Charles!

    @John

    I do indeed. It’s actually one of the titles I’m most looking forward to reading, due to it being the only one of the D’Artagnan romances I’ve yet to enjoy. This probably explains why, despite its length, it made it onto the final list. It’ll be a challenge, but one I’m willing to take on in the early part of the year when my resolve will be at its sharpest.

    @Dale

    Excellent. Let me know how you get on, and which classics you’ve chosen.

    @Kaushik Ghose

    I hope it doesn’t come to that. I did think of inserting a caveat which would allow me to swap future titles around to suit life’s inevitable ups and downs. I’m prepared for a lack of sleep!

    @Oscar Funes

    Thanks Oscar.

  7. Kevin Segel

    I did this last year! It was great, I did all non fiction except for Sherlock Holmes books. I had to do many audio books because it was my senior year of college and I also had an internship. I highly suggest doing this its great! If you do it set up some type of reward system for your self though. Mine was each week updating my LinkedIn profile with the new book I just finished in the amazon app.

    Good luck to anyone who wants to do this!

  8. Dan

    Its better to read 10 books and really understand the ideas than to read 50+ just to say you read that many. Reading is about understanding not just reading. Whats the point of reading all these books if you will forget half of them in the future.

  9. Hoover

    Some of these books don’t reveal themselves quickly.

    So I have to ask why you want to read at such a furious pace.

    It’s entirely up to you, of course, but it pains me to think of wasted focus and effort.

    For me, one valuable thing about reading (fiction or otherwise) is going out and comparing it with the real world. If it’s any good, then it changes from being a ribbon-like narrative into something with hinterland.

    Patience, patience. It would be better to burrow for and find a single truth than try to pick up 52 all at the same time. (By better, I mean more rewarding for you. I stress again that it’s your choice).

  10. Bevan

    Hi Richard,

    Very inspiring. I’m trying to do something similar now- trying to average a book a week or more after a long dry spell from reading (I was a Comp Sci major in college- barely read any non-tech books for some years). After two weeks it’s getting a lot easier.

    I can’t imagine planning out all the books I’ll read, though; I find my tastes change very frequently. I have a few books in mind for the future, but I try not to plan it out too much.

    Good luck!

  11. Richard Post author

    @Hoover

    Your sentiments are as touching as they are true. The time it takes to make those unresolved or unknown connections can never be forced into a certain timeframe; you tend to stumble upon them when you least expect it.

    The trick I’ve learnt in the past is to put yourself in a position where the subconscious mind can run away with itself as often as you can. In my case I walk an hour and a half each week day, and I’m never too far away from a notebook.

    I’m sure they’ll be plenty of odd occasions when certain aspects of something I read weeks or months before finally begin to reveal themselves.

  12. Marc

    This reminds of my youth, when i was an *avid* reader, obviously of books still embodied in paper, by my estimate I was reading around 100+ books a year, but obviously less challenging than these, even if they were some overlaps.

    Now I barely read 20 a year.

    As for the remark on the rhythm, this is highly dependent on what you are reading, there are fast paced books and others that require a more careful approach.

  13. Chris

    How do you resist the temptation to change your plan? I attempted a similar project last year and one of the first books I read was the Count of Monte Cristo, I loved it so much that I delved more into Dumas and within a month I had read all of the D’Artagnan romances despite they not being on my list. Also, I read Bouvard et Pécuchet and before I knew it I had finished Sentimental Education and Madame Bovary.

  14. Richard Post author

    @Chris

    That temptation is partly why I publicised the list; I knew it would help me stick to it.

    But I agree with you, it isn’t easy. After reading The Financier a few weeks ago I felt such an urge to start reading its sequel, which incidentally is down on the list for July (hooray). Now I’m actually quite glad I resisted because I’ve got something to look forward to.

    And as for those tempting spin-offs I hadn’t foreseen, let’s just say that next year’s list is growing fast!

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