Why Everyone Should Try a 30-Book Challenge

In addition to my 365-blog challenge this year, I’ve committed to read 30 books before December 31st. I’m currently 13 books in—17 books to go.

I started the challenge after March 20, so I figured 30 was pretty ambitious. So far, it’s been deeply rewarding—but I’ll get to that in a minute.

As kids, we hear about the merits of reading over and over that it starts to sound a little…worn. It becomes white noise. We hear about why Reading Is Good™ and we nod our heads—maybe with a little guilt—as we remember all the reading we should be doing but aren’t, or all the books we planned on reading but didn’t.

As an English major, I stopped reading after graduating. I just got exhausted, plus I was desperately looking for a job and paused all my pursuits that weren’t Money and Food (a byproduct of not having a financial support system).

Even when I got a job tutoring (and then writing), I read haphazardly. I tried to read more, would breeze through a couple easy books, then crept back into bed with YouTube.

My curiosity never abated—I just satisfied my curiosity on blogs and long articles. Despite all the topics that demanded my interest, I never actually dove into a book about any of them, much less two or three in a row.

Then, I got into Genghis Khan.

Look at this magnificent bastard.

I read a primer on the Mongol Empire for Christmas, and I was hooked. Fascinated by this strange, brutal, enigmatic man who went from burrowing for roots in the hinterlands of the steppe to demanding (and getting) fealty from emperors and kings.

I bought an even larger book on Genghis Khan and, lo and behold, I was able to grasp it even better because I had built a foundation of knowledge with the previous book. Through sheer happenstance, I stumbled on the most obvious truth in all of academia—learning gets easier the more you do it.

So here are three reasons you should consider reading 30 books in a year:

1.) Books Offer “Deep Knowledge”

The Internet is made of brochures.

Don’t get me wrong—brochures are great. My first exposure to Genghis Khan was his Wikipedia page. The Internet is an amazing starting point for learning about any topic.

But good books aren’t articles—the best books offer context, history, background, and a level of mastery that memorizing every part of a Wikipedia entry will never grant you. Reading good books makes you able to write Wikipedia pages—more importantly, it empowers us to learn lessons, extract wisdom, and build on the work of those who came before us.

2.) Books Create Stronger Knowledge Scaffolding

I got this from a book I read called Learn Better: research shows that our ability to learn or master any topic, skill, or area of study relies on what we’ve already mastered.

In other words, knowledge builds on knowledge.

Could you make a scaffold from an article or series of podcasts? Sure, of course. But a good scaffold covers a lot of ground, and books are just better suited for it (unless you’re listening to the 9-hour monsters produced by Dan Carlin of Hardcore History, which are practically college courses unto themselves).

Reading books not only makes us more learned, but it makes us faster learners. We build a scaffold of knowledge that allows us to capture, memorize, and process new information faster and more effectively. The 700-page biography I read about the Khan was made accessible and comprehensible to me because I had read a lighter, easier-to-read 180-page introduction to the history of the whole Mongol empire. That small introduction made my self-education easier.

3.) Books Are Cheap

You would be hard-pressed to find an inexpensive and valuable resource more readily available to you than books. You would also be hard-pressed to find any form of entertainment that offers you more hours of entertainment for a few pennies (if you use a library card).

Library cards, used bookstores, e-readers…use any and all of them. Whatever you do, just find something you love and read the hell out of it.

I would venture to say that a month’s worth of books to read is cheaper than a month’s worth of Internet access in most places. I’m not saying that you should forgo your Internet service, but if you’re looking to enrich yourself and save pennies, books will do it.

A Note for Fiction Lovers

Up to this point I’ve mentioned “learning” because that’s the primary reason I read anything. But that doesn’t preclude fiction—and if you’re reading for fun, please please don’t think any of this doesn’t apply to you. Reading isn’t just for learning, but that doesn’t mean casual reading doesn’t change the way we think.

Neil Wagner wrote about “experience taking” in an article published by The Atlantic. Experience taking is a phenomenon wherein a reader absorbs a piece of the worldview of a character in a book. It made straight readers more likely to empathize with gay characters, white readers more likely to empathize with black characters, and even changed how people voted.

Fiction shapes and morphs our ethics and our worldview—reading good books makes us better people. I genuinely believe that.

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