Reading as a Competitive Sport

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Jamie Canaves published an article today on BookRiot on “Calling a Time-Out on Reading for Sport” She speaks of tracking books read, page counts, planning your next book before finishing the one you are in, frenetic reading in the spare moments, and not reading fat books when you can read a couple thin ones.

Does any of this sound familiar? It does to me. I have a Goodreads Challenge, I do watch page counts (and have used my librarian privilege on Goodreads to add them when the publisher leaves them out!), and because I review books do think ahead about what I’m going to read. I think twice before leaning into a long book. Some of this is fun. It didn’t bother me that my reading numbers were down in 2020. After all, it was 2020. My reading challenge usually is at least 25 percent less than what I read the previous year.

I sense a certain uneasiness of readers about reading under pressure. I asked recently about how people who had set reading goals felt they were doing. I shared mine, which weren’t numerical, but about kinds of books I wanted to read to get out of my own “reading ruts.” Most of the responses I received were a pushback about numbers and simply reading for enjoyment and moving from book to book serendipitously.

Where the article hits me is that I do recognize that reading has changed for me. Some time ago, I knew someone who started making some stained glass items for a few friends, and this suddenly turned into more, and a hobby became a job. That’s what has happened with reviewing and blogging on books. While I still enjoy it, especially when I can put on some good music with a good beverage at my side, reading often seems a bit more like work. I’m aware of the pile awaiting review as well as books I’ve purchased that I wanted to read. I’m thinking about what books I’ll finish for review in the coming week. And I spend time keeping track of and requesting books that I think will be interesting to review. Some of the books I read are for work–I interview authors as part of my job, usually about a dozen a year. Other books I read, I choose for their relevance not only for me but for work colleagues

In fact, if there is anything that would bring reviewing and blogging to an end, other than a health crisis, this would be it. And that is a warning signal. Maybe I need to listen to the BookRiot writer. I want others to know the joys of a good book. If I lose that, I suspect it will come across in my reviews. It may be time to revisit the old books I’ve wanted to re-read but have deferred because of the new ones awaiting. Maybe I just have to admit that I cannot read all those new books people are buzzing about. It may be a matter of reading when, and at a pace that keeps it enjoyable. At some point, I may need to scale back the blog from six days to three or four. I’m not there yet.

I do believe reading should enrich our lives. When it doesn’t, something has gone awry. It could be pressures we feel from others or ones we place on ourselves. I appreciate the friends who push back about reading goals. I suspect most of us have enough of these in the rest of life. Sometimes we just need to lose ourselves in a book. At other times, we may read something with such challenging ideas that we need to read slowly and reflectively. As Mortimer Adler put it, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

3 thoughts on “Reading as a Competitive Sport

  1. I like the challenges, but like you I set my goal number lower than I actually expect to get so there isn’t so much pressure. I find if I haven’t picked out my next couple books before I finish the couple I’m on (because I have a strong preference for reading multiple books at once) then it takes me a long time to find a new one to launch into. I also set daily page goals for myself, a habit I started in high school with required reading, that served me well in higher ed, and now gives me permission to indulge in daily reading. I’m not overly stressed about not reaching a daily goal and I know that kind of rigidity wouldn’t work for everyone, but it’s been working well for me. I still enjoy reading.

  2. Your comments certainly resonated with me today. When I decided no more “goals”, reading became enjoyable again. Yet I still ended up reading the books on my lists. I would happy read your blog only a few times a week, if it would allow you to sit back and enjoy your own reading time. Just don’t stop blogging all together, please!

  3. This is a much needed reminder—I’ve often felt guilty about wanting to reread an old favourite because I’ve also had a pile of unread books that have been on the to-read pile forever. I have also fallen into reading shorter books to pump up the “read” count, but one thing I never really got into was obsessing over page counts. And I hope I never will.

    It’s one thing to be somewhat intentional/disciplined about reading, (like you said, it can sometimes lead to discovering and learning new things) but that should never take over and suck the sheer enjoyment out of reading spontaneously. I’ve made it a rule of mine to read what I feel like when I feel like it for the most part—there’s nothing like the enjoyment you get from reading a book you’re actually in the mood for.

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