The Great Book Project of 2013
Kendra Albert talks about her book reading project, called "The Great Book Project of 2013." Her New Year's resolution last year was to read five books a week for nine months. She started this project because she wanted to change her reading habits. She shares her experience trying to read five books per week for nine months, and discusses the insights she has gained from the project.
Excel | Good Reads
The Great Book Project of 2013 Boston QS
What I am going to talk about today is what I have not so creatively entitled The Great Book Project of 2013, which was my New Year’s resolution last year where I read five books a week for nine months. And the reason why I did this was it’s pretty much summarized there is like most people I assume. I had a giant pile of books that I never made any progress on what so ever. They just sat there, I never read them, and I really wanted to make distinguishable progress on them and really dig into my reading habits.
So I set this pretty hard goal of five books a week. I read pretty fast, so it’s not so as crazy as it would seem but it was pretty challenging for me. I used a whole set of tools including Good Reads, which kept track of all the books I was reading; the public library because I didn’t want to actually buy all the books I was reading, and Excel for some metadata.
And I learned a lot about my reading habits, and what I think is important to take into account when you’re reading in the course of this project.
I also did a self-tracking mechanism which was a little different in that I actually blogged the book review for every single book I read over the course of this project. And they were in five book chunks, and over the course of this project these went from pretty short of ‘I liked this book, you should read it’, to like very involved. I don’t think you should actually try and read this, but there is a book review for every book I read during that period last year.
But one of the things I noticed over the course of the project as I progressed I was reading stuff that I found interesting and what people were recommending to me but it wasn’t from a set of pretty diverse authors. I looked at my data and I had read books that were mostly by men and mostly by white people.
And I don’t know if that’s something other people think about but I’m really interested in a sort of diverse set of voices and the narratives I consume, and the media I consume. So I felt that this was actually a problem.
I was also convinced before I looked at this data that I was reading equally between men and women, and the data actually showed me that wasn’t true at all and I’m sure that wasn’t shocking.
So I set a set of goals which was 50% of female authors, and 30% authors who were people that were people of color and that’s the fine print because I discovered that was actually a little harder than I thought to quantify that and for the rest of the project one I really (unclear 02:22).
One of the things I learned was that the recommendations that I got from other people, were really influenced by sort of who they were and the books that they read, which were pretty close to the books that I read.
So Homophily, which was this idea from Ethan Zuckerman’s Rewire book is that people recommend book they think they are going to like, and that people recommend books that you know are really similar to the stuff you’ve already read, which means that you’re going to read things that sort of stay within your bubble.
So one of the challenges was finding new ways to reach outside my bubble and do media consumption that shows who we value and listen to in a new way, rather than focusing on sort of New York Times editorial writers, which non-shockingly also tends to be white and male.
So this was actually really difficult for me. I was not thinking that it was not going to be a problem to find books bypeople of color. But it turns out if you’re looking for them this is actually a worthwhile way to do it, that people underutilize traditional information gathering tools when they are sort of thinking about books, but that’s actually the best way to do it.
So one of the things I discovered is it got a lot easier. I got a lot better at reading books by women and books by people of color. So by the time I hit August I was doing much better. But at the beginning like I wasn’t sure where to turn because the people I would turn to for recommendations would suggest books that were pretty close to what I was already reading.
I came really really close to my goals. By September I had hit 49% women and 28% people with color, and I’ll openly ashamed for not hitting them because I’m kind of a perfectionist. But at the same time I could have extended it for a week and actually hit the goals. But then I decided it actually wasn’t worth it and like just give up, and infact because the next week after I finished this project I started law school.
So I figured five books a week and law school was something I did not want to try so I gave up there. But what I learned in the process was really that I sort of confined myself to a bubble in terms of how I chose the books that I read, and that really contributed to sort of this problem where I had whole bunch of piles of books that I wanted to read.
And some of them, Applied Cryptography, I was not going to get through five of that book in a week. But some of these I didn’t actually want to read so that was a really useful lesson for me.
So the takeaways here, I’m not going to surprise anyone in this room by saying tracking things actually really improves your knowledge of what’s going on as opposed to estimating, that’s pretty much like preaching to the choir here. But I also learned that it was really easy for me to fall into media consumption patterns and breaking out of them is really hard.
So that’s my very short, five minute talk on the book reading project, and since I like talking about books I’m putting up some book recommendations, and I’m happy to talk about any part of this including the other data I gathered while I was doing this project during questions.