Welcome to I Tried It Month, where we'll be publishing a new fashion, beauty, or wellness article every day in January that features a first-person account of shaking up an old habit, pushing beyond a comfort zone, or simply trying something new. Follow along for 31 days of storytelling, including everything from going without a cell phone for 40 days to trying the polarizing low-rise pant trend.
In 2021, I set the ambitious goal of reading 52 books, one book a week. When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2022, I had read 115 books.
First off, I know what you're thinking: "Wow, you must only read." But my encyclopedic knowledge of Real Housewives and Michelle's season of The Bachelorette would beg to differ. And you might think, "Oh, you must be a fast reader." I mean, I read as fast as someone who's worked hard to move beyond her dyslexia can read. You're probably also thinking, "Well then, you must not remember any of what you read at that rate." Au contraire, my commonplace book (a place to keep all my thoughts and knowledge) could prove you wrong.
Now, you're thinking, "Okay, you don't have to be rude." Yep, you're right. I promise this wasn't some superhuman feat. This was just slow and steady habit formation that got me well beyond my wildest reading goal.
You can't manage what you don't measure. Whether it's a sentence a day, a book a week, or 20 minutes every day (my personal goal), set some sort of goal that you can track. Saying you want to read more doesn't cut it. It's nebulous. My ultimate goal in all of this has been to become "a reader." Blame Hermoine Granger or the library in Beauty and the Beast, but I wanted to feel that magical reader energy.
The first step toward that was shifting my habits so they reflected my bookish ambitions. What small, realistic, incremental habits can you set now that will allow you to step into your readerhood? If you read one book last year, set the goal of two. If you haven't read a single book in ages, just shoot for one sentence a day. Make it a habit to read between Zoom calls instead of picking up your phone. Start small, realistic, and sustainable. I won't drone on about it here, but in Atomic Habits, James Clear lays out why small, measurable habits are more impactful for getting you to a larger goal. And there's another upside of making reading a habit: Once that's off the list for the day, I'm able to binge-watch Emily in Paris.
I learned the importance of having a book on me at all times on the road to 100 books. I have a book on my Kindle to read when I'm in line at Disneyland, I turn on an Audible book when I wake up (rather than open TikTok or Instagram), and I keep a physical book in my purse. I made it impossible to not read. This habit lowered the friction between reading and not reading. When I lived in New York City, I made it a rule that I had to read when I was on the subway. That year, I read 27 books thanks to the MTA.
A lot of the time, people ask, "When's the best time to read?" The best time is whenever the best time is for you. If reading in the evening makes you sleepy and that's not your goal, stop reading before bed. If you aren't an early riser or mornings are pure chaos, don't read in the morning. If sitting in the bathtub with a good book and glass of wine sounds like heaven, then I think you just found the best time to read. My morning reading time is important to me. It's when I'm most focused, energized, and motivated to read. Read when it makes sense for you and when you'll have the energy to actually want to.
Another big tip: stop reading books you don't like and learn to DNF (book slang for "did not finish"). This was a hard one for me, but I've learned to embrace quitting books and not even starting books I don't care about. I was recently slogging through a much-hyped thriller, and I wasn't into it, so I tossed that sucker like a Frisbee. My personal rule is 100 minus [your age] equals when you can quit a book. Forcing myself to read a book that isn't working has led to many a reading slump in the past. In 2020 when all anyone wanted to recommend was nonfiction, I'd tuck in and read a rom-com or smutty romance novel and live my best life. Once I stopped reading things I didn't like and started reading what I do like, the world opened up. I truly don't care if it's the buzziest pop lit of the season on everyone's list. If I don't like it, I'm out!
I haven't read most of the classics, and I don't care. I don't feel an obligation to only read new releases, to only read nonfiction, or to read whatever else is popping on BookTube. I love getting lost in happily-ever-afters at the end of a comfort read. For some reason, in 2021, I was really into horror books, thrillers, and stoic classics. Now if you only want to read manga and nonfiction, that's dope, and you should! Stop reading things other people like that you know you hate. You will never catch me reading a Brontë family book because Jane Eyre is awful!
Share your goal to stay accountable and track your progress so you can see how you're doing. When I first started reading more and the goal was to read on the subway, I would put my book on the corner of my desk so one of my co-workers and I could discuss it. Long before I had my commonplace-book habit and Notion write-ups, discussing the book kept me accountable to my goal and helped me remember what I was reading. I also tracked my reads in Goodreads (Now, I use both Goodreads and StoryGraph.) There's something about the dopamine hit of seeing a new book get added and the tracking-bar progress that makes my Montessori heart happy.
If you remember nothing else, remember that being a reader is a habit, a habit that you should enjoy. So hopefully, you find a book you like, join a book club, screenshot a stack of books from your favorite celeb, read the steamiest romances, take a deep dive into the life and times of Edison, or read every Housewives memoir you can get your hands on… Either way, cheers to you, reader!
And now, here are my 20 favorite reads from 2021 (new release and backlist), in no particular order below.
This is an incredible tale of learning to change your mind and perspective in real time, showing the ugly road to being a good man and the power of alive time vs dead time.
I affectionately call this the defensive playbook for life.
If you're in a reading slump, I highly recommend this short-story collection. It's amazing, and Tessa Thompson's production company is adapting it for TV, so you can be the kind of person who reads the book first.
If you like oral-history books like Daisy Jones and The Six or anything written by James Miller, this is amazing. It's also like 20 Feet From Stardom.
I think Adam Grant is brilliant, and more people should read his content. I also think we all need to learn how to think and work with our heuristic biases.
Think Crazy Rich Asians meets Gossip Girl meets Anna Karenina… It's a fantastic YA story.
I'm a massive Ryan Holiday fan and appreciate Stoic philosophy. This is a great place to start if you're curious about philosophy and/or want to get out of your own way.
If you're working from home like I am, you may have Zoom anxiety and digital fatigue. This is a great book to help you find tips to manage your digital input.
If you like horror, have the stomach for gore, and like satire, this will be up your alley—it's wild.
This is the yummiest kind of romance story—the right bit of spice and Black love at the center. I can't recommend this enough, and it was a Reese's Book Club pick.
This is like The Talented Mr. Ripley. There was no one to root for in this story, and sometimes, those are the best ones to read. Everyone is awful, and you wish them the worst.
Tiffany D. Jackson writes the kind of stories that make your heart hurt. This one is inspired by Surviving R. Kelly, and I walked away from this read with a new perspective and empathy for the victims and their families.
Grady Hendrix does campy horror stories incredibly well. There's a really wonderful story about friendship at the center of this that made me a little misty by the end.
I'm excited that we're moving toward a more inclusive view of feminism, and this is the book I recommend for everyone who feels like the F-word label doesn't match them.
I read this every year, and every time, I take away something new based on where I am in my life—this is the best business book that has real-life application.
If you get analysis paralysis when sharing your work or have a great idea but keep talking yourself out of sharing it, this is an exceptionally short read that I highly recommend.
This is a decently spicy rom-com that also handles faith and intimacy well. I know it sounds weird, but I promise it's fantastic.
This is easily one of the best relationship books I've ever read, coupled with practical application steps you can take to "get good at relationships and dating."
Again, Ryan Holiday is the GOAT in my book. Courage is hard, and this book proved that the first step to being a great leader is to move courageously and not arrogantly.