How I read 50 books in a year.

Reading every day was the best habit I picked up in 2019. Hands down, nothing has challenged me, expanded my worldview, and changed my daily patterns of life more than the books that I’ve read.

At the start of 2019, I committed to read at least 40 books in the following 365 days. For some people, that’s not much. For me, it was daunting. I have a hard time sitting still, so I wasn’t sure where I’d find the time and attention span to make 40 books happen. 

12 months later, I’ve finished 50 books.

15,000 pages.

3,750,000 words.

Charlie Jones (his friends called him “Tremendous Jones”, a nickname I’m totally jealous of) once said: 

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” 

I am a different person today than I was a year ago. Authors spanning the past 600 years filled my mind all year with their fresh perspectives on life, and continue to inspire and challenge me every day.

If you’re trying to read more in 2020, here are the 5 things that helped me the most and the top 15 books I recommend you add to your list.

  1. Make reading a habit, not just a goal.

Habits are the strongest tool to achieve anything in your life. Nothing produces better results than consistent, disciplined effort towards a goal. Wanting to read more is one thing, sitting down every single day to read when you could be doing something else is another.

If you’re serious about this, set a schedule and stick to it. 

  1. Cut something out.

A few years ago I stopped watching television. I have nothing against the TV, but I knew I needed more margin in my life and wasn’t particularly tied to any shows or sports. So I haven’t had one since. 

Instead, I use that space to read, write, and hang out with friends. Those moments bring more joy and meaning into my life than TV ever could. 

Chances are you don’t have much extra time to spare in your day, so adding a new time-consuming habit in 2020 will fail unless you also cut something major out of your schedule first. Maybe it’s a weekly commitment, or your Instagram account, or a relationship, or your television. 

Find something you can live without, and quit using it. Or quit using it as much. Then use your newfound freedom to accomplish your big goals.

Doing more always starts with doing less first. 

  1. Audiobooks are your friend.

I’ll admit it. I used to judge people who listened to audiobooks. I’ve told them it doesn’t count as real reading, just a cheap substitute for lazy people. I was so wrong. There’s no way I would have hit the goal of 40 without using audiobooks, and I found them excellent companions for long drives and flights. 

My rule is to only listen to stories (fiction and memoir, mostly) on audio. My mind can’t retain information from big business books or deep theological works through the car speakers, but stories worked great.

Plus, you can get FREE audiobooks through your local library’s app. 

  1. Put bad books down.

The right book at the right time is pure magic. The wrong book at the wrong time feels like walking around with cinderblocks strapped to your chest.

Putting down a book feels wrong, like you’re a quitter and will never finish anything ever again. In reality, putting down bad books protects your forward momentum as you move onto something that’s more life-giving. If you don’t drop bad books, you’ll hate reading solely because you hate that one book.

Cut ties before that happens. 

And while we’re talking about it, quit picking up books only because they’re trendy. Instead, read what’s most interesting to you, regardless of popularity. The book all your friends say you HAVE to read? You don’t have to read it.

Read what you’ll love instead.

  1. Leverage your community.

Early on, half my motivation to read was pure competition. Plain and simple. I love competing with myself and others as a means to move forward, and I wasn’t about to set a public goal and not achieve it. Watching the numbers grow throughout the year on Goodreads kept me going when willpower didn’t. I liked seeing what other people were reading and where I ranked, and I knew they could see whether I was on track or not. 

Goodreads is, quite frankly, a terrible app. The user experience and functionality is horrendous (if there are any software developers reading this, please make a better one) but it’s the best option I know for tracking your reading and seeing how you stack up to others. 

That one tool made it worth it for me. 

That’s everything that helped me achieve my reading goal in 2019. Below you’ll find my Top 5 lists for Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Christian books, and the full list of everything I read this year. Check it out and let me know what I need to pick up in 2020. I’ll share some of your recommendations on Instagram for everybody to see.

Here’s to reading more in 2020 than you did in 2019, and becoming a better person for it.

Top 5 Fiction

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

Top 5 Non-Fiction

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand
Twelve Years a Slave – Solomon Northrup
Becoming – Michelle Obama
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
Factfulness – Hans Rosling

Top 5 Christian

The Imitation of Christ – Thomas à Kempis
Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
Renovation of the Heart – Dallas Willard
Garden City – John Mark Comer
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 – W. Phillip Keller

The full 2019 book list

Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
1984 – George Orwell
Brave New World – Alduous Huxley
Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Tales from Far and Near – Arthur Guy Terry
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis

The Imitation of Christ – Thomas à Kempis
Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
A Plain Account of Christian Perfection – John Wesley
Garden City – John Mark Comer
The Sacred Enneagram – Christopher Heuertz
Renovation of the Heart – Dallas Willard
Becoming Dallas Willard – Gary Moon
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 – W. Phillip Keller
The Healing Light – Agnes Sanford
Reappearing Church – Mark Sayers

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
Bobby Kennedy – Chris Matthews
41 – George W. Bush

Becoming – Michelle Obama
Decision Points – George W. Bush
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
Educated – Tara Westover
The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch
Life History – Juanita Callahan
Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance
The Rough Riders – Theodore Roosevelt
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Twelve Years a Slave – Solomon Northrup
Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass – Frederick Douglass

Misc. Non-Fiction
Bad Blood – John Carreyou
Crucial Conversations – Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler
Factfulness – Hans Rosling
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
Free to Focus – Michael Hyatt
The Elements of Style – E.B. White & William Strunk Jr.

3 thoughts on “How I read 50 books in a year.”

  1. Three books that have strengthened my faith and changed my perspective that I highly recommend:

    The Hiding Place – Corrie ten Boom
    Daring to Draw Near – John White
    Wherever the River Runs – Kelly Minter


  2. Great post, brother! Very inspiring. Reading is something that doesn’t come natural to me but something I want to get better at. And you’re right, practice makes perfect.


  3. If you love Dallas Willard, Soul Keeping by John Ortberg is a great read. Definitely taking this list for inspiration!


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