The Book Nook: The Thirty Books Challenge

Today I present to you an interesting challenge: what if you only kept thirty books?

I recently moved and it was exhausting. I had plenty of time before the move took place to go through things and get rid of stuff I didn’t want to bring. And I certainly availed myself of this opportunity. 

But even after moving, as I unpack and put things in their new places, I am still noticing things that I would like to get rid of.

Moving really does put into perspective just how much *stuff* you have, doesn’t it? And if you’re lucky it also reveals things that you could definitely do without. Like all of those kitchen gadgets you never use or that shirt you bought with the best of intentions or, yes, books. Especially books you’ve already read.

The Birth of a Challenge

I was recently talking with a friend about how much I am loving my new home and how I am embracing all of the open space and how desperately I don’t want to clutter it all up again. 

Yet I have one more box of books still stored at my parents’ house (not to mention the shelves upon shelves of books that are upstairs in my old room). But I’m out of shelf space. And I don’t necessarily want to get another shelf.

Out of this eventually grew a challenge. 

First, it was: what if you only kept thirty books? You know, Marie Kondo’s suggestion that we only keep thirty books in the whole house.

Well, OK, there’s A LOT of books I own that I haven’t read yet that I fully intend on reading at some point. I could probably get rid of some unread physical books that I also have a digital copy of, but I’m not ready to just write off the sunk cost of acquiring these books just yet.

Finally, we came to what thirty books that you’ve already read would you keep?

I had about half an hour before a meeting and I didn’t feel like being productive, so I decided to start compiling my list, thinking it would take a long time and require many different drafts.

Surprisingly, nope. I finished making my list of thirty books with time to spare. I didn’t even have to swap out the books I wrote in pencil as ones I’d get rid of if I needed room for a different book that was a definite keeper.

My Thirty Books: An Analysis

I could share all of the books on my list, but I’m not going to. 

Something about this challenge feels very personal and illuminating. Not just of one’s reading tastes and priorities, but of one’s personality. These are books that you’ve actually read from cover to cover, so there’s no hiding behind the books you aspire to have read.

I will say that of my thirty books, sixteen were by women authors, which made me happy. 

All of them were written in the 20th and 21st centuries, which doesn’t surprise me. They were—with one exception—all American authors, which also is not a surprise. There was not as much diversity as there should be, which is disappointing, but that gives me something to strive for going forward.

It’s also pretty evenly split between fiction and nonfiction. One play. Zero short story or poetry collections. Twelve novels, one kids’ book, seven essay collections, two biographies, three memoirs, and four nonfiction books that are kind of hard to classify.

Whew! I checked my math and fortunately, that adds up to thirty.

I haven’t sat with this list for very long, but I think I could learn some more about myself from this list of thirty books. Especially once I poured a glass or two of wine.

Try the Thirty Books Challenge Yourself

Just for fun, why not try the thirty books challenge yourself?

Look at the books you’ve read—like actually read, not just pretended to read—and narrow it down to thirty.

Once you have your list of thirty books, ponder these questions:

  • Do you read a lot of the same genre of books? 
  • What is the demographic breakdown of the authors on your list?
  • Where can you broaden your horizons?
  • How do you feel about your list? Is it reflective of the kind of reader you want to be? If not, what could you do differently?
  • What do you think this list says about you?

If you’re feeling bold and adventurous, feel free to drop some of your observations about your own list of thirty books into the comments.

Lori Walker is the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. Though she’s fallen off the wagon as a writer, she’s hoping to return to writing essays (perhaps even a novel!) through her involvement with DIY MFA. She is also Launch Manager, Web Editor, and Podcast Producer for DIY MFA and a Book Coach. She resides in Smalltown, Oklahoma, with her husband and their cat, Joan Didion. You can follow her on Instagram at @LoriTheWriter.

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