My Height in Books: 59 books in 2 years, what I learned and how you can read more too
DH Vancouver StaffJan 26, 2015 7:51 am
This idea came to me January 2012. My bookshelf was too small for my growing book collection, and I was finding that each new book I bought was being piled beside it instead of on it, creating a vertical library of sorts, or pillars of books rising up from my bedroom floor like spines made of paper.
I decided to start from scratch and challenge myself to read the equivalent of my height in books (5’5) by the end of that year. After each book I wrote a review and slowly began the journey.
Then a few things happened: full-time school, a couple of jobs all at once and a trip to Europe.
Two years and 59 books later, the project is complete.
Read the full list of books below.
Some people have asked me “how do you find the time to read?” My answer is: you will always find the time to do what you want, because you will make the time.
Here are some tips if you want to read more
Keep a book on you at all times
It’s incredible how many moments in a day I can find time to read a few pages; waiting for a friend, on the skytrain, walking somewhere, sitting in the car, before work, after work, before it gets dark, instead of watching TV, instead of checking my phone.
Those little moments add up to chapters, which add up to book after book after book.
Give yourself variety
I have always imagined a book like some sort of portal; I can zap right into it, live there for a while, and then zoom back out into my own life.
This is why I am usually reading a minimum of three books at a time because it’s like having access to numerous lives that satisfy whatever mood I’m in. There is never a time when I don’t feel like reading, because there is always a character or a situation that can give me what I need or tell me something I don’t know.
Don’t be afraid to start small and simple
Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, even E.L James if it will get you started. Force yourself to be curious and that portal will grow wider as your awareness does.
To me, a book is something to be devoured, ingested, so it swims in your system and becomes a part of your being. I see these books stacked up beside me and I realize that every single one of them has become something I can talk about, part of my vocabulary, my references and my recommendations.
Every book and every inch, contributed to who I am today, in some way, and altered the ways in which I interact with the world around me.
Some challenged my viewpoints, others reaffirmed them, some angered me, made me weep, kept me up at night, made me question, made me wonder. Some lines awakened a longing within me to do more or to change something, some books made me ask why things are the way they are and what I can do about it. Some stuck with me like a low hanging cloud, others passed by like a soft breeze, giving me no more than a brief shudder before it was gone and forgotten.
There are many places to read a book, obviously a couch comes to mind, but my favorite is sitting in a coffee shop by myself. You can often find me in the corner with one black coffee, three books and a laptop.
If there is something I don’t understand, a word or a reference, I look it up, I repeat it, I learn.
I like my books to look worn, so don’t ever let me borrow them. I jam them in my bag, I fold the pages, I cry big chunky mascara streaks on them, I wipe my fingers on them while I’m eating popcorn, I flip pages after doing my makeup leaving behind little golden footprints, if I’m sweaty, the book gets sweaty, and don’t think I’ll let a little rain stop me.
Once upon a time in New York, I was nannying some snotty kids whom I hated. I tried to ignore them unless absolutely necessary, and to save myself from having play with them when I was technically “off duty” I stayed outside, in a rainstorm, on a lawn chair, reading.
My book was so soggy after an hour of resilience that I had to dry it out on the vent that night, as I lay beside a snoring four-year-old who bit me because it was bedtime. Another story, another life.
Here are some of my favourite things that I learned from the books over the past two years
Lena Dunham is that kind of girl.
In Cold Blood: Phillip Seymour Hoffman is said to not just play Truman Capote in the movie “Capote,” but resurrect him. As a book/movie combo, this is my favourite and is a must read and must see. Over the years, there has been growing speculation about the validity of some facts, as Capote was known to bend the truth in favour of a story. This one tells of a true crime and the cold blooded murder of a family in 1959. One of the culprits was arrested and it was during this time that Capote began visiting him and interviewing him for the book. It is said they developed a friendship, though others say Capote was using it as a weapon of manipulation. Regardless, the outcome is incredibly deep and disturbing.
The TommyKnockers: Stephen King was so hopped up on booze and cocaine that he barely remembers writing this novel, which has been all but dismissed by literary critics as garbage any way. It’s still better than anything most of us could write sober.
The Blind Assassin: Margret Atwood makes a reference to being condemned to a life in a jar like Sibyl. I looked up what that meant and learned that in Roman mythology, Apollo offers to Sibyl a wish in exchange for her virginity. So, she took a handful of sand and asked to live for as many years as the grains of sand she held. Later, she refused the god’s love, and as punishment, he allowed her body to wither away because she failed to ask for eternal youth. Her body grew smaller with age and eventually was kept in a jar until only her voice was left.
The Minds of Billy Milligan: Daniel Keyes writes a true and twisted story. Billy kidnapped and raped three women, but each described Billy as a different person – one said he had a German accent, another said he was kind and she would have considered dating him, had circumstanced been different. But the story only begins there. Billy would become the first person in American history to successfully use multiple-personality disorder as a defense for a violent crime, saying that his mind was fractured into 24 differnent personalities. The book is a series of transcribed interviews and observation, in which you meet almost every single one of Billy’s personalities, including “The Teacher,” the most important one of all and the one that holds the key to the outcome.
We Need to Talk About Kevin: Lionel Shriver kept this book unpublished for years because of its similarities to the events of 9/11. Thirty publishers rejected the book before it went on to sell millions of copies and earning her the prestigious Orange Prize.
I have now challenged myself to read 50 books in one year, instead of almost 60 books in two years. That’s about one book a week for all of 2015.
I welcome you to join me, as I embark on another challenge, and another “My Height in Books,” from the ground up.
My Height in Books: 2012-2014: 59 books
Coma – Alex Garland
The Minds of Billy Milligan – Daniel Keyes
1984 – George Orwell
Red Dragon – Thomas Harris
Choke – Chuck Palahniuk
When God Was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris
Horns – Joe Hill
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
The Executioner’s Song – Norman Mailer
Girl, Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers
The Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
Still Alice – Lisa Genova
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Kasher in the Rye – Moshe Kasher
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
Brain on Fire – Susannag Cahalan
The Radiant City – Lauren B. Davis
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling
Our Interrupted Fairytale – Megan Williams
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
What the Dog Saw – Malcolm Gladwell
Lolita – Vladimir Nobokov
Let Me In – John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Defining Decade – Meg Jay
Lost at Sea – Jon Ronson
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
#Girlboss – Sophia Amoruso
Anchorboy – Jay Onrait
A House in the Sky – Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Room – Emma Donoghue
The Hour I First Believed – Wally Lamb
Five Weeks in the Amazon – Sean Michael Hayes
Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham
Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar – Kelly Oxford
The Confabulist – Steven Galloway
Drink: intimate relationship between women and alcohol – Ann Dowsett Johnston