My Year of Books and The #50bookpledge


I write this at dawn, a few minutes after breaking into my kid’s stash of Easter chocolates. Nothing quite makes an early morning read work like a touch of pilfered chocolate.

The book is Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone, a must-read book on networking. It’s one of the 50 I plan to finish this year as a part of my #50bookpledge.

50 books. The number still sounds astounding to me, but I know it’s possible. Thanks to the pledge, I read 45 books in 2015 – that’s more than the five years before, in total.

The inspiration for the resolution came from an interview I did at work. I was following a fun news story on Mark Zuckerberg’s digital bookclub. The Facebook founder had declared that 2015 was his year of books. He would pick a new book every two weeks, and dig into it, joined by a half-million-strong Facebook community. The list of titles they covered last year is quite impressive.

Through the social media grapevine, I heard of a few local readers who read over 50 books a year. Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen agreed to talk to me. Over the conversations we had preparing for the interview, I told her that I could barely get through a handful a year. I said life was just too busy. She paused. I knew she probably had an even busier life. “If I can do it, you can do it,” she said.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” she said.


Why does the #50bookpledge work? To some extent, they have gamified reading. Once you sign-up on their website,, you are taken to a set of virtual bookshelves where you can add what you’ve read or plan to read. You also commit to a goal – the number of books you plan to read through the year – and the website tracks how you are doing against that goal.

50bookpledge-screenshot copy

Nine Tips For Reading More 

Here are some of the tips Jaclyn shared with me that day and ones that I picked up through the year:

Consider joining the #50bookpledge.  You don’t have to commit to 50 books, you can start off with ten or 25.
  2. Don’t kill yourself when you start by reaching for the Grapes of Wrath or that massive book on economics by Thomas Piketty, pick something you love.
  3. Don’t wait for that hour of focused time to read, it’s nearly impossible to find. Instead read during all those times you wait – waiting for your train, waiting for class to start, waiting to meet up with people and such.
  4. Substitute all those times you surf your phone with a quick read.
  5. Read before bed, instead of jumping on social media, you’ll sleep better and have richer dreams.
  6. Try reading a few that stick to a theme like biographies of hockey greats, books about negotiating, books by South Asian authors or whatever strikes your fancy.
  7. A hack a relative uses is to only read books with a Goodreads rating over 3. She tells me she’s too busy to read bad books.
  8. Get through the first five books earlier in the year, and then you’ll pick up momentum.
  9. Join a book club or start one. My group meets once a month at a different restaurant we want to try, so it ends up being a great food experience as well.

All that reading made 2015 one of my best years in a while. I rediscovered something I loved doing a teenager. I read books by Toronto writers that changed how I see this city – this is happy by Camilla Gibb and Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. I met people over books. I was invited to become part of a local book club, and now have five phenomenal women from that group whom I call friends. I fixed a few gaping holes in my productivity with the bestseller The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and wrestled some of the clutter out of my home with Marie Kondo’s the life changing magic of tidying up.

My Top Five Books of 2015 

My favourites from 2015, in random order:

  1. Between the world and me by Ta-Nahesi Coates – The author’s letter to his son about being black in America.
  1. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala – Finally found the guts to read this book on Deraniyagala’s life after losing five relatives in the 2004 tsunami – her husband, two young sons and parents. Devastating.
  1. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal – I am still not done the book, but a must-read for anyone building anything.
  1. Ru by Kim Thuy – Poetic, timely and the winner of Canada Reads 2015.
  1. this is happy by Camilla Gibb – A beautifully written memoir about heartbreak, grief, belonging and the search for happiness.

Something different happens when you read 250 pages on anything versus skimming a 500-word article on negotiating, or a story about a Vietnamese family settling in Toronto.

Gosh, it was hard to pick the top five books from last year’s pledge, because there were so many gems and so much to wade through to find them. But it’s worth every effort to find the stories that resonate with each of us. That’s what I arrived at, by the end of the year; that there is amazing content in our bookstores and they reveal new worlds and perspectives we wouldn’t come to know any other way. Something different happens when you read 250 pages on anything versus skimming a 500-word article on negotiating, or a story about a Vietnamese family settling in Toronto. You live for a while in those pages and it changes some part of you.

This book will light a fire in you.

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Manjula Selvarajah

Manjula Selvarajah

Manjula Selvarajah is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and producer for CBC Radio, including the very popular Metro Morning, Toronto’s most listened-to morning show. In her former role, she was a VP of Marketing at Eloqua, and holds an Engineering degree from Queen’s University. She loves talking and tweeting about current affairs, books, the Tamil diaspora, marketing strategy and entrepreneurship, @manjaselva.

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