The 50 book challenge

In 2019, I read 27 books. But I wanted to read more. I wanted to find a way to motivate myself to pick up a book in the evening, rather than spend time on my phone, or the internet, or playing a computer game, or doing who knows what. I love reading books. But it’s an activity that requires that little extra bit of energy and attention, and sometimes you need to get yourself started. From that, the 50 book challenge was born. Could I double my reading and read 50 books in 2020?

The answer is yes. It’s now the 21st of December, and I have read 63 books. (To be entirely honest, I need to read 35 more pages before I’ll have finished number 63, but I don’t think that will be a problem. And I’m going to count any books read after that as my head start for 2021!) That’s a massive increase over last year, and I’m very happy with it.

My reading was much more diverse too. In 2019, I read 26 books of philosophy and 1 book of fiction. (Jules Verne. When I was feeling ill.) This year, 31 books — half of the list — were books of philosophy, while the rest were books of fiction, poetry, plays, history, psychology, all that good stuff. I’m really glad to have refound my passion for fiction; it’s one of my oldest loves!

I’m putting the entire list below. But first, what about 2021? Should I do a 50 book challenge again? Here’s one reason against it. While the challenge really worked to motivate me — seeing the number of books climb steadily towards the goal was very satisfying — there’s also an obvious negative side to it: you’re less likely to pick up a massive tome. I know it’s weird, but I really found myself choosing shorter books over longer ones. And while that was fine — and while I did end up reading, say, the pretty thick Black Leopard, Red Wolf — it’s a good reason to shake things up a bit for next year.

I’ve though about doing a page number challenge: read 12.000 pages. Something like that. But that starts to sound like accountancy. So instead, I’m going to do something much more freeform. I’m going to set myself a bunch of more or less clearly defined goals. I don’t need to meet all of them. But it would be nice to meet some of them. And at the end of the year, I’d like to have a reading list I can be proud of.

  • Read at least 20 books written or edited by women. Of the 63 books I read in 2020, only 7 were written or edited by women. Getting more gender balance sounds like a good goal, and a new way of looking at my book collection.
  • Read more German. All the books I read in 2020 were in Dutch or in English, with the sole exception of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. (Which I read in the original German.) Let’s read some more German books!
  • Read a good number of books by or about Kant. I’ve been collecting books about Kant, but many of them remain unread. Time to change that. (Also, I’m teaching Kant next semester.)
  • Finally read John Crowley’s Aegypt quartet. Everyone has these books they’ve been meaning to read for a long long time. And for a long long time I’ve been the guy who really enjoyed the first two books of this series but didn’t read the whole thing. Let’s change that.
  • Read some massive books. I mean really big ones! Proust. Pessoa. Pynchon. Ariosto. The Tale of Genji. The Divine Comedy. Montaigne’s Essays. Friedman’s book on Kant’s metaphysics of natural science. The Enneads. Plutarch’s Lives. Moore’s The Evolution of Modern Metapysics. These are just examples. But a couple of really big ones, that would be good.
  • Read all the books my wife gives me for Christmas. I don’t know which ones they’ll be, but they’ll be from a list I’ve made myself and I think I should read them!
  • Read and/or return the books I’ve borrowed. Okay. That’s pretty self-explanatory. I’m not a terrible offender in this regard, but there’s a handful of books on my special borrowed books shelf that… yeah, have been there way too long. Don’t tell Dirk-Jan van Vliet about this goal, or he may remember that I still have two of his books here.
  • Read some books from the list made by David Bentley Hart. Which you can find here. Most of it are things I’ve never heard of, but Hart’s book on hell (That All Shall be Saved) impressed me, and this list sounds like it could be full of wonderful discoveries. I don’t own any of the books, except for Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, which is mentioned at the end. So I suppose that is more or less mandatory. (Also, written by a woman, so it helps with the first goal!)

So far for the future. As for the past, here is the list of books I have read in 2020:

  1. Juffer et al, 18 x 18: pleegkinderen op de drempel
  2. Kenneth Clatterbaugh, The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy 1637-1739
  3. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution
  4. Dave Morris & Jamie Thomson, Can you Brexit?
  5. Henri Lipmanowicz & Keith McCandless, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures
  6. Matthew Walker, Why we Sleep
  7. Nelson Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast
  8. Paul Horwich, Asymmetries in Time
  9. T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
  10. Martin Heidegger, The Essence of Human Freedom
  11. Emanuel Rutten, Contra Kant
  12. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
  13. Henry Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism
  14. Sebastian Gardner, Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason
  15. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena
  16. Pieter Thyssen, The Block Universe
  17. Angela Coventry, Hume: A Guide for the Perplexed
  18. Immanuel Kant, Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science
  19. Cees Nooteboom, Philip en de anderen
  20. Vonne van der Meer, Winter in Gloster Huis
  21. Patricia Duncker, Hallucinating Foucault
  22. David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved
  23. Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit
  24. Immanuel Kant, Theoretical Philosophy after 1781
  25. Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
  26. Thomas Harrison, Great Empires of the Ancient World
  27. Ted Sider, Four-Dimensionalism
  28. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
  29. Peter Watts, Blindsight
  30. Aldous Huxley, The Genius and the Goddess
  31. August Strindberg, Three Plays (The Father / Miss Julia / Easter)
  32. Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light
  33. René ten Bos, Extinctie
  34. Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading
  35. Ibn Tufayl, Hayy ibn Yaqzan
  36. Susan Haack, Philosophy of Logics
  37. Aaron A. Reed, Subcutanean (seed #30330)
  38. E. J. Lowe, Locke
  39. Gene Wolfe, Soldier in the Mist
  40. Boëthius, De vertroosting van de filosofie
  41. Alexander McCall Smith, Tears of the Giraffe
  42. George Berkeley, An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision
  43. Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia
  44. Michael Pye, The Edge of the World
  45. Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf
  46. Alexander McCall Smith, Morality for Beautiful Girls
  47. Robert van Gulik, Halssnoer en Kalebas
  48. Alexander McCall Smith, The Kalahari Typing School for Men
  49. Margaret Wilson, Descartes
  50. Brian McGuiness, Wittgenstein: A Life
  51. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
  52. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  53. Michael Morris, Wittgenstein and the Tractatus
  54. Elizabeth Anscombe, Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus
  55. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Over kleur
  56. Walther Heissig (ed.), Mongoolse sprookjes
  57. Michèl de Jong & Drs. P, Kijkvoer en leesgenot
  58. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
  59. Milan Kundera, De romankunst
  60. John Dewey, Experience and Education
  61. Cornelis Verhoeven, Vergeet de zweep niet
  62. Aaron A. Reed, Subcutanean (seed #30323)
  63. Donald Loose, Over vriendschap
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1 comment

  1. Ik houd het bij de bescheiden challende van één Duits boek per jaar (evt meer als het zo uitkomt). Ik geloof dat ik dat al die tijd heb weten vol te houden, al weet ik niet meer wanneer ik er mee begonnen ben.
    Timur Vermes is heerlijk entertainment, en toch ook behoorlijk serieus.
    Wat dacht je trouwens van Maryse Condé voor je lijst: vrouw en Afrikaans, dus goed voor de verbreding. Ik heb dit jaar de eerste helft van Segou gelezen, helaas in een wat verouderde Nederlandse vertaling, maar ik vond het wel intrigerend (de versie die ik tegenkwam bestaat uit twee delen, dus dat kun je lekker als twee boeken tellen :-P).

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