My sister-in-law is not the type to brag. So she never would have admitted it herself.
But somehow, over Christmas break, word got around the family that Julia Doutre read 100 books in 2017.
Let me repeat that: one hundred books!
If you're doing the math, you'll realize that's almost two books per week.
I was so impressed. I kept sidling over to her at Christmas dinner. "I can't believe you read a hundred books," I kept repeating.
And my next question was: how? And how can I, and all those aspiring to be more diligent readers in the new year, do the same? Here's what she told me.
Julia had a goal to read 80 books in 2017. She'd read 50 the year prior and decided to set her sights even higher. As the year progressed, she realized she was on track to exceed her goal — why not make it an even 100?
You can do the same. Pick a number for yourself, or create a wish list of the books you want to read. Write it down and post it where you can see the list every day.
A few years back, Julia was reading "Boys in the Boat" for her book club.
"I was never getting through it," she said. "I noticed my pattern. When I had downtime, I was on my phone. I never made time to read. I just went to the easiest thing."
Julia made a rule for herself. She wasn't allowed to look at social media until she had read an entire chapter of a book. Sometimes it took all day, but it changed her reading patterns.
"When I started reading more, I loved learning more." She even noticed that watching a TV show or movie didn't bring the same satisfaction as reading.
"I loved getting into someone else's head, another story. You simmer it — it's not immediate."
Now reading is her nightly habit.
"In order to read, you have to make it a priority. People say they don't have time to read. So much of our attention is taken up," Julia said. So make a goal. Julia recommends writing it on the calendar and working reading into a daily schedule so you're committed. Even if it's just 10 minutes.
For busy mothers, she suggests starting with shorter books. It's one reason she loves middle-grade novels. There is depth and beautiful writing, but the reading is bite-sized.
There are several places Julia goes for recommendations. She talks with her mom weekly about what books she's reading. They share ideas and reading lists.
She follows a few podcasts that have opened her mind to a variety of books. These include "What Should I Read Next?" and "Read-Aloud Revival." She also follows book blogs. She keeps an ongoing list through her library. If she hears a title mentioned over and over, she adds it to her list.
Through trial and error, Julia has found what she likes. She's drawn to children's historical middle grade and adult non-fiction. She doesn't do a lot of fantasy or young adult. And she's OK with that.
"Find what works for you," she said. "If you don't like a book, don't finish it." Life is too short to waste time on middling stories.
For her part, Julia hopes to read more classics this year, two per month. She's shrinking her numbers goal in anticipation of delving into lengthier stories.
We're told to read, read, read. Studies have proven that those who read literary fiction actually exhibit greater empathy (including this one by Scientific American). Books are knowledge. The great women and men of history were usually avid readers.
I asked Julia what she learned during her year of intense reading.
"Books can change you," she said. "They can change the way you think. They have great power in them."
She's also come to appreciate good writing. "I'm not a great writer, so I appreciate when someone can express what I'm feeling."
And books have a way of helping. Julia and her husband are preparing for a big move and the arrival of a baby. With so much change in the near future, she looks to books as her constant.
"When we move, there will be a library. There will be books about moving to an unknown place. I can read about other people's experiences to help my own."
The essayist Joseph Addison once wrote, "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." Hopefully in this new year we can all carve out more time for a good book, or, who know, maybe even 100.
Julia's picks for best reads in 2017:
"The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivey, adult fiction
"Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan Stevenson, adult non-fiction
"We Were the Lucky Ones" by Georgia Hunter, adult historical fiction
"Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsburg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War" by Steve Sheinkin, young adult non-fiction
"The War I Finally Won" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, middle grade historical fiction, sequel to "The War That Saved My Life"