I read a lot in Japanese. Whatever amount you’ve envisioned, double or triple that number. People that know me laugh because I never read a lot for pleasure in English, but for some reason when it’s Japanese it’s more fun.
Most people studying Japanese don’t read enough. When I was trying to motivate you to read more novels, as the typical average of just one a year just won’t cut it, I told you there was a time when I was reading a novel a week. Most people shouted this seemed too hard. I tried to pump people up with the recent novel blast challenge to read 2 novels in a month.
I have liked my average 1 book a week pace and have continued it for years. There has been no pressure. Some weeks I’ll read nothing. Other weeks I’ll read even more. Reading makes you a better reader and it really rounds out your command of a broad set of vocabulary. If you want to continually push your Japanese to higher levels than it was before, reading will do it.
In the logical jump to finding the hardest challenge possible (it’s what I like to search for…), I thought to myself:
“How about reading a Japanese book a day, every day for a year”
Yeah… How cool would that be? You can’t top that.
But is it possible?
I wasn’t sure. First I wanted to know if people have done that challenge in their own language. And they have. It’s quite high up there in terms of difficulty, but people have chronicled their experiences, and successfully pulled it off, while having a job and family. So it’s doable.
I have read entire Japanese novels in a day many times in the past. When you get into a story, that’s too good to not see it to the end, you can finish it in a day. I read everything on Kindle now, and there is a convenient feature that tells you the time to finish reading a novel. And it is usually at around 4-5 hours, assuming you just read it straight through.
This is an average speed for a native Japanese reader I’m assuming. And the 4-5 hours is based on a standard small-average book (think around 200-250 page paperback). That’s the length of watching 2 slightly long movies in a row, or binging on about 6 TV show episodes.
The timing wasn’t a huge issue. I can read while eating breakfast. I have an hour train commute each way in the morning and evening. A lunch break. Bathroom breaks. And some free time in the evening. Also I read fast. On weekends I have even more time.
So was I up for the challenge?
First I don’t like yearly challenges. They are too long, and usually are prone to failure. My favorite type of challenge is the 30-day challenge (the one you find here on Jalup).
So I decided to try and turn it into a 30 day challenge.
I did. Multiple times over many many months. And I failed. Every. Single. Time.
Here are the 3 issues I had trouble overcoming:
1. Weekdays vs Weekends
Weekdays are actually easier than weekends because they are structured, and since I’m commuting for 2 hours anyway, I am not distracted. I finish almost half a book just during that time. But weekends create a big problem with fitting in that schedule. It’s that strange but true phenomenon where you get more done when you are busy.
2. Finding books
I limit myself to Kindle, as it is the easiest and fastest way for me to read. There are plenty of books in the Japanese kindle store. The hardest part I find is picking out books that I’ll like and know that will give me the energy to read in a day.
I could have researched and bought 30 books in advance before I started, but for some reason this is a painful process. It requires mostly going through novel recommendation lists/rankings and just going through genres and reading the summaries of dozens of books. I notice that when I continually read summaries, I lose the excitement that I have when I just read through a summary and then immediately start through the book.
The second option was to pick out a new book every morning (or the night before) so that when I get excited by reading the blurb I can get right into it. But this took time to do, and occasionally I got stuck finding a book I want to read.
Both of these paled in comparison to my biggest obstacle
3. It became overwhelming too quickly
I had successfully gone through 3 or 4 days each attempt I made. Then I start to get tired. It felt like a chore. It felt like I had to rush. If my schedule changed slightly it became a major hassle to fix. If a book was longer than average it threw me completely out of sync. I was having a bad time.
So it didn’t work
I gave up the idea of trying to do it. The image of being able to achieve it was strong, and I was excited to say something motivational on Jalup like “hey check out what you can do if you really want it!” I had this awesome elaborate series of posts planned out. Those are all gone…
It was unrealistic for me.
So I failed. And I’m telling you that failure because not every goal works out, and there is no shame in aiming high and falling, as long as you learn from the experience. And I have learned.
The experience lead to a more realistic challenge for me. A book a day every day, even for 30 days just wasn’t doable, especially since Jalup takes up so much of my time now. While it doesn’t sound as cool, my new challenge was 2.5 books a week, or precisely 50% of a book every weekday. This takes my goal of reading more, puts it all in the week where my schedule is more balanced, and allows me to get a major portion of it finished with my commute and a little extra time.
And I won, finally.
While it wasn’t easy, it was doable, I had fun with it, and I feel the positive effects already. I didn’t feel constant pressure and could read at a more leisurely pace. I didn’t have to worry about choosing so many books, as I read through samples on the weekend and choose my 2.5 books for the upcoming week. And speaking of weekends, I didn’t have to think about the challenge at all on them while focusing on a multitude of other tasks.
Overall this challenge has allowed me to push my limits, gain even more reading confidence, and as a bonus will continue to increase the Jalup book recommendation guides. While I probably won’t continue this intense challenge past the month, the value it’s provided will last.
It’s okay to fail
Yes. It is. I do it all the time, even now. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to set bad goals that don’t work, regardless of your level or mindset. Through work and effort, you figure out what can work for you. And who knows. Maybe one day one of you will be able to actually succeed at the book a day challenge where I couldn’t.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.