Issue 84: A decade of 52 books in 52 weeks
8 min read

Issue 84: A decade of 52 books in 52 weeks

A decade of reading 52 books in 52 weeks! I never thought that when I started this “challenge” back in 2014 as a college student that I would keep it up for so long. 2024 was a year of major life changes, which made me reprioritize reading. Writing workshops and classes made me think more critically about the books I read, and I felt more connected to literary communities.

What I did differently this year

I prioritized my writing, relationships, job, and Animal Crossing (if I’m being completely honest lol) over my reading this year. Last year, I was consistently 3–5 books behind my reading goal, but didn’t worry too much about it. At a certain point this spring or summer, I started to be 6–8 books behind. Thankfully, I didn’t feel that much guilt because I felt like I was prioritizing the right things.

I taught my first writing class with Accent Society, which meant reading more short stories and preparing material for the lecture. I attended the Tin House Winter Workshop and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, which meant making time for manuscript feedback. I continued to work on my own short stories and submitted to writing opportunities. I continued this newsletter with 19 dispatches. I interviewed Victoria Ying, Elise Hu, and Meera Lee Patel for my newsletter and loved doing subscriber giveaways for their books.

Big life changes coalesced at the end of the year—I changed jobs, got engaged to my partner E, and received a Center for Fiction Emerging Writer Fellowship. These were all exciting things that I wanted to be fully present for, to celebrate fully. While I did opt to read shorter books as the year drew to a close, I also realized that I could simply let myself read a few books in January. This is my “challenge” so I can make (and adjust) the rules! After all, one of the things I focused on this year was giving myself grace to tend to other areas of my life.

Compared to last year, I felt more connected to literary community. I attended book launches for my friends. My sister and I went to author events. I met writing/publishing friends for drinks and coffee. Some friends and I went to Literary Trivia Nights at The Center for Fiction and were instantly humbled by the questions. While COVID has still been a strong health consideration, I had a better work/life balance than last year in order to make room for these types of activities.

I still use my book-tracking spreadsheet to track metadata around the books and authors I read. The final count ended up being 52 books, with 2 books written by nonbinary authors, 37 books by women (19 of those written by women of color) and 13 books by men (8 of those written by men of color).

I read advance copies of Hungry Ghost, Flawless, Saving Time, and How It Feels to Find Yourself—I so appreciate the publicists and authors who reached out with this opportunity. I made use of various libraries, including the Brooklyn Public Library and The Center for Fiction. Of the 52 books I read, half were library checkouts. I read across more formats: 36 physical books, 14 ebooks, and 2 audiobooks.

Pages read per month:

A green bar chart graphing pages read over the course of 2023. The peak is highest in December at 2300 pages read. The average is otherwise ~1500 pages read per month.
Number of pages read per month in 2023–24

Breakdown of books I read

As has been my pattern for the last few years, I skewed more towards fiction than nonfiction: 36 vs. 16.

Some of my favorite books this year were memoirs (Stay True, A Living Remedy). I loved experiencing memoirs in different mediums, like graphic novels (In Limbo) and audiobooks (Born a Crime). A friend recommended I listen to Born a Crime and I’m so glad I did, because Trevor Noah seamlessly switches between languages and his delivery heightens both the comedy and tragedy of different life events. I read memoir-istic essay collections like Weightless and Quietly Hostile, as well as nonfiction books that weaved together research and memoir elements, like Flawless, Essential Labor, and Saving Time. For my day job as an engineering manager, I read The Manager’s Path. The Writing Life, Atomic Habits, and Refuse to Be Done were helpful books on writing that have helped me start to think about my next project.

In fiction, I read short story collections like The Sorrows of Others, The Haunting of Hajji Hotak, and At the Bottom of the River. I read my workshop instructors’ books: Alejandro Varela’s The Town of Babylon and Venita Blackburn’s How to Wrestle a Girl. I tore through Leave the World Behind and learned so much from Rumaan Alam’s master class on dialogue. My favorite novels of the year were Joan Is Okay, This Time Tomorrow, Erasure, and All This Could Be Different. I chose some slim novels in order to catch up with my reading goal, including Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 and Heartburn. Experimental novels about technology, such as Flux and Search History, were fascinating and prompted me to think expansively about depicting tech in fiction.

Over the last few years, my partner and I have developed a tradition of doing a spooky read in October, so we read—then watched—The Shining. I also enjoyed his recommendation of an episode of Just King Things that included a critical discussion of the book, plus useful historical and publishing context.

In other page-to-screen reads, we reread and watched Gone Girl. I read Siege and Storm to keep pace with the latest (and last, RIP) season of Shadow and Bone. Annihilation was a book I’d long had on my read/watchlist, and it was a fascinating adaptation because the writer/director Alex Garland didn’t reread the book before writing the script. The result was a “weird adaptation” that intensified certain themes of the book while deemphasizing others. (I took a class this year on what film and TV can teach us about writing fiction, so perhaps this is where my fascination with translating stories between mediums comes from.)

As has been the pattern for the last few years, romance has been one of my most-read genres. I read 15 romance novels, many of which I read with a friend as part of our two-person romance book club! We’ve kept up semi-regular meetings over the last three years and our Zoom calls are always so fun. We read new releases from our favs: Evie Dunmore, Rosie Danan, Sarah MacLean, Tessa Bailey, and Emily Henry. We branched out and read some cozy fantasy (The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, a fantastic rec from another friend) and a monster romance (Ice Planet Barbarians was…not for us).

We got some ideas from Fated Mates, a romance podcast hosted by Sarah MacLean and Jen Prokop. Thanks to Kristin, who helped me see a live taping of the show! A roomful of romance readers is one of the funnest, most unabashed places to be. I browsed The Ripped Bodice, a new romance bookstore in Brooklyn, and discovered authors like Kristina Forest and Abby Jimenez.

How I track what I read

Every year prior to 2023, I tweeted out a book when I finished it with the hashtag #52booksin52weeks. I did that for part of the year, until Twitter became such a trash fire that I finally stopped posting there. I use and Goodreads to track day-to-day progress. I share my recent reads in my newsletter and the books can be found on my Bookshop page.

How I choose books to read

I add books to my to-read list on Goodreads as I hear about them. Friends’ suggestions usually float to the top. I absorb a lot of recommendations from social media and newsletters, as well as book reviews and year-end lists. I love supporting authors and writer friends!

A few favorites

  • Stay True by Hua Hsu
  • All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews
  • Erasure by Percival Everett
  • The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
  • Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
  • This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
  • How to Wrestle a Girl: Stories by Venita Blackburn
  • Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang
  • A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung
  • Knockout by Sarah MacLean
  • Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts by Matt Bell
  • Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock by Jenny Odell

What I'm doing differently this year

This past year, I’ve been brainstorming a novel (aka scribbling ideas in my notebook or typing haphazard notes on my phone). My goal for 2024 is to write a messy first draft of it. I’m still onboarding to my new job, and my partner and I will start planning our wedding. With these large areas of focus ahead, I’ve decided to conclude my project of reading 52 books in 52 weeks.

Ten years—a decade—feels like a nice tidy number to end on. It’s been an incredible way to diversify and reflect on my reading. I’m grateful for what it’s taught me about habit formation and all the connections I’ve made, including people who have aspired to the same reading goal.

I will no doubt continue reading, but I will no longer hold myself (however gently) to the goal of 52 books in a year. Projects can’t go on forever, and a friend reminded me recently that quitting can be great: “I’ve also found that while projects may fade, your interests and values will often stay true.”

Reading has always been a part of who I am. I’m ready to focus energy into other areas of my life, and I’m excited to see how reading continues to be an undercurrent through it all.

If you're interested in reading reflections from previous years, check out the entire archive here.

A Tumblr text post that says: "It's on my to be read list" doesn't mean anything since there are over 200 books on it.

Creative resources

Recent reads & other media

I watched the original Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time! The combination of practical and visual effects really holds up, and it’s been awhile since I’ve experienced a truly epic story. E took the opportunity to share every remix of PO-TAY-TOES with me afterwards.

E and I saw Fleabag Live (a recording of the original one-woman show) and it was incredible to see how much the TV show drew from the 80 minute production. Phoebe Waller-Bridge was phenomenal. Some friends and I saw All of Us Strangers, starring Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal. I appreciated that it was a movie that didn’t explain itself, though I think it was a more successful exploration of grief and loneliness than romance.

Recently read short stories: “The Failed Dianas” by Monique Laban, "Los Angeles" by Ling Ma

Note: Book links are connected to my Bookshop affiliate page. If you purchase a book from there, you'll be supporting my work and local independent bookstores!

~ meme myself and i ~

Where I cook. Matching European pharmacy signs to Charli XCX tracks. When you get to the intense part of a book. When the character becomes the very thing they hated in the end. Cat snack. No talking, just walking weather.

A two panel comic of a figure and a speech bubble. In the first panel, there are feral thoughts that turn into coherent literary analysis. In the second panel, these are reversed.