How to read a book a day for a month – and survive

Reckon you could read a new, full book every day and keep it up for a month? We did, and this is what we learned.

An illustration of a book splintering the light, as if it were a sundial
A book a day... keeps the screentime at bay. Image: Flynn Shore / Penguin

Let us be clear: contrary to what certain discourses may suggest, the rate with which you get through your to-be-read pile does not have a moral association. You’re not a better person for reading 80 books a year, nor a worse one for managing just a couple. Nevertheless, judging by the size of our TBRs, the number of books that we add to our wish lists and the swathes of people keen to spend more of their time reading, we’re not alone in wanting to master more pages and paperbacks with our downtime.

Hence the rise of reading challenges (fancy doing one yourself? We have some suggestions), arguably the king of which is the improbable-sounding “read a book a day”. Reading a book every week is pretty good going – but one a day? 

It may seem improbable, but you’d be amazed at how many people do manage it – and we’ve spoken to a couple of them. Here’s what we learned:

Start with a holiday

Corina Romonti, Publicity Manager at Penguin Press, began her month-long reading challenge in the tremulous first days of a new year – when she also happened to be taking some time off work. “I was off the first week of January and needed a little project,” she says, admitting that the 968-page heavyweight novel Blonde, by Joyce Carol Oates, had left her hankering for something a little more bite-sized. “I just wanted to read smaller books that I can enjoy.” Throw in the fact that January is traditionally a month of abstinence and gloom and a daily book challenge seemed like a good distraction: “Every morning I was like, ‘Well, what am I going to read today?’ It became something to look forward to.”

Split them up

Twenty-four hours don’t have to take place between the hours of midnight. A few years ago we spoke to Sameer Rahim, author of Asghar and Zahra and former Booker Prize judge, who advised splitting two books over two days to inject some novelty. For instance: on a Tuesday morning you might begin Passing by Nella Larsen, but instead of finishing it that evening, you pick up Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood, and read half of that. On Wednesday morning, you either finish Priestdaddy or Passing, and then give yourself the other book in the evening. On Thursday, you continue but with two new books, of which you read a half each. “It’s only fair to give a novel time to absorb,” says Rahim, advising thinking of it as “two halves instead of a whole. That also gives you an extra shot of newness halfway through the evening.” 

Separate out your books

Take the challenge out of choosing and you can spend more time reading. Much as you might store your jumpers away for the summer or rearrange your home furnishings with spring, sorting out your bookshelves to create a stash of shorter books can make the one-book-a-day challenge easier to navigate. “I basically picked all the books that were 200 pages or less,” Corina said. “I made two big piles, and would choose one depending on my mood in the morning.”

Don’t know where to begin? The 200-page limit is a handy indicator. Corina’s favourites included The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid and The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. 

Don’t feel you have to stick to a routine

Of course, committing to reading a book in a single day is something of a routine in itself, but don’t feel you have to subscribe to certain windows of reading time if that’s not helpful for you. “Sometimes I read in the mornings, sometimes after work, sometimes at lunchtime – it depends,” says Corina, adding that her hour-long train into work offered up a good opportunity to plough through pages. If you don’t give yourself a reading slot to stick to, you won’t feel like you’ve missed a chance to keep up the challenge.

You really will look at your phone less

Some see their phones as enemies of their reading habits (and if you’re among them, we’ve some tips for that), but what Corina found was that having a book to read everyday hampered her scroll time: “I stopped spending as much time on my phone: my screentime reports were down 20% week on week.” Reading a book a day, she explained, had made her more “mindful of what I do with my time”. 

...don’t be afraid to admit defeat

In the end, Corina read a book every day for 27 full days, giving up a little before the end of January: “I got really tired for the last four days and didn’t read a thing!” she says. “But I was pleased with how it went”. There were some days, she said, when she contemplated abandoning a book, but taking a break for a few hours and taking the pressure off finishing it allowed her to get a fresh perspective. “I was like, ‘If I’m not enjoying it, I’m going to stop and call it a day.' But then I went to bed and started reading and realised that it was fine.” Ultimately, the only person you need to satisfy with how much you read, or how often you read it, is you: if it isn’t working, pick up something that is. 

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