Vacation is great. I haven’t set my alarm since my last post on December 20th, and my husband bought me HUGE chocolate-peanutbutter cups at the local candy store and I’ve had one for breakfast every morning.

Next week I’ll actually be getting back to work, since I haven’t finished up the maps, timelines, and illustrations for the History of the Medieval World. I’ll update you then on where the MS is in production (I haven’t heard back from my editor; the Norton offices close before Christmas and stay closed until after the New Year).

In the meantime, though, I’m joining a challenge begun by one of the wonderful women on our message boards: to read a book a week in 2009. Fifty-two books in 52 weeks.

I read all the time for work. Like most writers and academics, I plow through several books a week related to my current project. But since I started writing the History of the World, I haven’t been reading many un-work-related books. I have a whole shelf of titles I’ve been meaning to get to, but haven’t.

So beginning tomorrow, I’m reading a book a week that ISN’T related to anything I’m doing for work. Every Wednesday evening, I’ll post my reaction to the book I just finished and the title of the next book I’ll be reading.

First title: James Wood, How Fiction Works. I pre-ordered this book before publication (back in July) and still haven’t read it.


(Incidentally, that’s a truly hideous cover. If I were James Wood I’d be lobbying for a redesign.)

Showing 18 comments
  • JFS in IL

    Have you read Patrick O’Brian’s stuff yet? The “male Austen”? Stick the first three of the Aubrey/Maturin series on your shelf and I am sure you will then proceed with the other 17 + in the series!!!!

    Pardon any typos – not on my usual computer keyboard! This one is about level with my chin and makes for odd typin!!!

  • Kay in Cal

    My book for the week will be the second in The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: “The Search for the Red Dragon”. The first one was great! This is a fun fantasy series starring the Inklings (that’s CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein, et al) as real life adventurers.

  • Evelyn

    That is a wonderful goal! I have one similar although much less ambitious (my number is 24 books this year). But you know, of course, if I had as much free time as you do, maybe I’d be able to read 52 books aswell 😉
    (Please note that the previous sentence was totally dripping in sarcasm – which sometimes doesn’t work so well over the internet – of course, now that I had to explain it, it doesn’t work at all :).
    Just make sure to take care of yourself. It seems to me (the ‘expert’) that you take so much on. Then again, if reading is what you love, maybe 52 books isn’t really such a chore!
    Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

  • Urban Mom

    Great goal! I first read of this idea last week in the WSJ, and it’s been ablaze on the message boards since then. Thank you for offering to post yours. If I get half 25 read, I’d be satisfied. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to tag along on your coat tails a bit.

    May I make a humble suggestions? “What Is The What?” by Dave Eggers. I’m currently reading this and was turned onto it by Urban Dad, who is currently teaching it to his 11th grade AP English students. It’s exhausting and yet impossible to put down all at the same time.

    Happy New Year to you and yours!

  • Urban Mom

    I mean…. “If I get 25 read…” I really need to proof-read before hitting Submit Comment!!!

  • mary kathryn

    A great goal, but I won’t make it! I did buy 4 books for myself for Christmas. Finished “A Vineyard in Tuscany” by Ferenc Mate. Fluffy. Am just beginning “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson. Got Defoe’s Plague Year also, plus another fluffy Tuscan book.

    The book on fiction sounds interesting. How DOES fiction work? Please let us know!

  • Susan in TX

    Here! Here! Reading goals are always worthy…and some of my favorites! I’m headed over to that message board to check out the fun. I have a hard time finding people to set reading goals with — my kids don’t count — does anyone on the planet (besides SWB) read more than a homeschool kid?? (Technically, I guess SWB IS a homeschool kid…grownup, that is. 😉 ).

    Happy Reading!

  • Lorna

    One of my main criticisms of my university education was the fact I stopped reading for pleasure for five years. I hope you have plenty of time to enjoy your reading.
    My goal for 2009 is to learn more German so that I can keep up with the animated conversations of my two and five year old German nieces.

  • nancypants

    Goodness that is a hideous cover. It reminds me of maybe a Grammar School Reader from the 1940’s or something…

    I just started your History of the Ancient World Today… we bought it two days ago and I laugh because my 8 year old (who has been known to read your Story of the World books in two days time) got to it before I did. He started reading it yesterday afternoon. I just caught up to him this afternoon. He and I will probably be in a reading race the whole way through. SWB, what would I have done without your writing? I attribute my reading of TWTM when my son was an infant for his current ability to read at such an advanced level (this year alone he has out-read me by several thousand pages!) that I now have to try to keep up with HIM! LOL So I just had to come and tell you that you have changed our lives. And to say thank you. And Keep Writing!! :^)

    Also just ordered TWEM and Writing with Ease today. I think the early years of motherhood robbed me of my ability to read anything with a plot… anything longer than your typical blog post really… In the last year (as my youngest is just over three now) I have reemerged into the reading world and it is a refreshing place to be. I don’t think I’ll get to read 52 books a year… but I am working up to it!

  • Erika

    Feeling as though somebody has thrown down a gauntlet…
    I looked at my bookshelf and chose the first book I spotted that I haven’t yet read. (All the while being careful to choose one that seemed short enough to read in a week given my rather harried teaching-while-pregnant-and-raising-two-year-old-and-eight-year-old-life.) It Dostoevsky’s “The Gambler”. Let’s see if I can make something of it. (If not, the fault is surely mine, not Fyodor’s.)
    Best wishes for 2009!

  • Trish

    So glad you had a nice vacation! I love the peanut butter cups for breakfast idea! I actually arm-wrestled a couple of mini peanut butter cups from one of my sisters over Christmas. Yum!

    Great first pick for you 52 books project. I loved Woods’ fiction how-to when I read it back a few months ago. I know you don’t need any more books to read, but you would like Laura Miller’s new book (cofounder of The Magician’s Notebook (a literary crit of Narnia Chronicles) that came out in early December. I’m loving it this week. Enjoy! Happy 2009!

  • andy

    Susan, how about some updates in the “Coping with the Farm” category? I love them! Must be some winter stories out there somewhere.

  • Mal

    I’m forcing some order, variety, randomness, and frugality into my book reading by borrowing a book a week from the library, with the caveat that I am not allowed to renew it! This means I have three books on the go, and *must* return one a week. These are usually titles I would not think to buy, for example, “The Well Educated Mind” 🙂 This means I get to know some great books that would otherwise be off my radar (like WEM!)

    I recommend “The Fabric of the Cosmos” by Brian Greene, it covers the 13.7 billion years before your book begins, though not in as much detail.

    P.S. I read Doestoevsky’s The Gambler recently — it was included with the far superior “Notes from the Underground” in Oxford classics. It was readable, but try “Notes” or “Crime and Punishment” rather than this minor work (Susan recommends C & P in “The Well Educated Mind” and provides a great summary).

  • Julia

    Have you read “All the Shah’s Men” or “Blood Brothers”? They’re very interesting!

  • Jo

    Do Agatha Christie novels count? I’m sure I could get through her entire oevre in a year. The advantage of ‘mummy brain’ is that I always forget whodunnit, so my AC collection is really good value.

  • Moira

    This is so much fun. My first book choice is: The Big Question- How Philosphy Can Change Your Life by Lou Marinoff. I am going to choose mostly non fiction books for this year reading. I live in the UAE and we have no library where I live. This pains me as I will actually have to pay for my books now. What I miss most about home is the library(–quickly followed by baby back ribs and Target!).

    Susan, I could not agree more about the cover of your first read. Yuck! Let’s assume the inside seriously better.

  • Suzanne B. Brock

    Exactly when are you going to find time to read for pleasure? I’m pretty sure your life is busier than mine and if I read a book a month I feel like I’m doing well…so, please let us know how you do it!

  • Steve

    Try “The Lessons of History” by Will and Ariel Durant. Their summary conclusions of over 40 years of writing history together.

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