Reading By The Numbers

Goodreads see what your friends are reading

Accessed 12/25/2018 at 8:20 pm ET

Yesterday, I wrote about reading resolutions. I noted that of all the reading resolutions shared with me, none had to do with numbers. Nor did mine. Yet numerical reading challenges are a big deal among many bibliophiles.

The most famous is Goodreads’ yearly reading challenges. You have to have a free Goodreads account. Each year, you can set your own challenge goal beginning a few days before January 1. People set a variety of challenge goals from reading one book to hundreds. As you can see from above, the average is 60, a healthy goal of more than one per week. Your home page will show a progress bar, and whether you are ahead, behind, or on track to reach your goal. All your friends can see how you are progressing as well. You can also see how many pages you’ve read and compare your statistics to past years, what reading you’ve done in various categories and more.

LibraryThing also offers challenges at different levels (50, 75, etc.) and allows you to join groups and post what books you are reading. People make up a variety of creative challenges of reading different genres, reading through the alphabet (each book title starts with a successive letter of the alphabet), and a variety of other creative challenges.

Other groups I’ve seen offer monthly challenges. These involve the whole group reading a different type of book each month: eg. science fiction one month, a book about presidents the next. I know one group that is trying to read consecutively biographies of each U.S. president. I could see such challenges building a sense of community–physical or virtual.

I think if this sort of thing is fun and life-giving and occurs in the context of reading that enriches your life, then there is no harm in this, and even positive value in encouraging you and others in your challenge to read, and maybe get exposed to books they might not otherwise read. Personally, it is not something I pay a great deal of attention to. For the fun of it, I always set a goal on Goodreads, but it is a low one for me. I don’t want my reading driven by one of these goals.

It is interesting to me to see how people actually do on Goodreads in comparison with goals. For example, people pledged to read an average of 60 books. So far this year (as of the evening of 12/25 when I’m writing this), they’ve actually read just under 13, a bit over one a month. More striking to me is that slightly less than 0.7 percent of people have completed their challenge with a week to go. Maybe there will be a spurt in the last week. I wonder how many will read a bunch of really short books to reach their goal (I’ve heard of people doing this).

This suggests to me that this reading challenge thing isn’t working for quite a number of people. I would propose, instead, thinking about the number of minutes a day you want to read and figuring out where you will set aside that time in your day. A rough guide is that for every minute you read, you will read that many books in a year (15 minutes, 15 books; 60 minutes, 60 books; etc.). That might vary based on length of the book and the type of book.

The real point is figuring out where in your life you will make space for reading, if you share my belief that reading is a valuable, life-enriching activity. It might mean something as simple as deciding to read a book for the twenty minutes of your mass transit commute each day instead of flipping through your phone. I get 30 minutes of reading in on my Kindle each day while on my treadmill. Hopefully some of your time is in a comfortable chair with your favorite beverage.

Mortimer Adler is reputed to have said, “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.” It seems to me that the only benefit of any of these number games is to set us up for books to get through to us. If that isn’t happening in our number games, it might be better to abandon them, or at least ask ourselves why we are reading. What good is it to read 52 books if we can’t express what the value of any of these was to our lives? By the same token, a single book that changes our mind, that captures our imagination, that informs a critical choice, that gives us hope, or that inspires by example counts for more than all those forgotten books.

What it comes down to for me is that I don’t want to read more; I want to read well. I hope that for you. My reviews started and continue to function as a way of helping me read well, by trying to capture the essence and significance of a book. At least some times, that seems to be helpful for others, in figuring out what is worthy of their time and attention.

So, my hope for all of us in 2019 is that we read well, however few or many books we read. It seems to me that this is what the precious gift of literacy is all about.

 

Reading Resolutions for 2019

resolutions

Over at my Bob on Books Facebook page, I asked followers what their 2019 reading goals are. Here are the responses, in the order received:

  • Read read read read
  • I’d like to branch out and try new authors and writing styles.
  • I have set the goal that I will spend 2019 reading only from my own stacks. No library books (unless needed for a class) and no new purchases. It won’t be easy.
  • To read more. And get a job at the library (for real).
  • Just to read…
  •  I’d like to read at least 2 nights or more a week. I have enough books to last a lifetime and want to get enough for 4 to 5 lifetimes so I need to catch up.
  • Read more bios and autobiographies.
  • Not to feel obligated to finish every book I start. Start more, finish the good ones.
  • Reduce my bought-not-read shelf by 5 and read a book in Spanish.

I loved every one of these goals! I identify with those whose goal is “just to read.”  I’m not sure I have much more of a program than that. It also makes good sense to read the books we already have and our families, and the family budgets probably appreciate this. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to work at a library. I hope the person who shared this goal lets us know how it goes if she gets the job. I know I’d probably be broke if I worked in a bookstore. I think the aim to read more diversely, which shows up in several goals, makes sense. I like the idea of reading a book in another language to brush up one’s knowledge of the language. Perhaps I should dust off my French…

Compulsiveness can kill the joy of reading. That’s why I like the idea of not feeling obligated to finish every book we start. If it’s not working, move on. Likewise, I noted that no one set a numerical goal for the number of books they would read. This is a big deal on Goodreads. I always set a low one for me so I don’t stress out about it and can get the nice badge!

So, my reading resolutions for 2019?

  1. I want to grow in what I would call “attentive reading,” where I’m actively engaged in thinking about what I read, why I am reacting as I do to it, and what I want to carry into my life from what I want to read.
  2. I want to read at least one more book from my “Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die” list. Leading candidates right now are Chernow’s George Washington, and Taylor’s Secular Age. Both are tomes, so if you see a drop in the number of my reviews, that’s probably why (unless I’m reading another big book).
  3. I’d like to read at least one collection of poetry this year. I have them in my TBR piles, and one on my “Ten Books…” list above.
  4. I like the idea of reading a book in another language. It had better be French, and even this is pretty dusty. Any suggestions, from those who know French literature, of something that is not too demanding?
  5. Finally, I want to be more selective in the books I request for review. Any book I request for review, I feel I need to read. In particular, I want to ask, “am I really interested in this?” and “is this saying something fresh, or is it just a repackaging of old ideas?”

I better stop there. I will probably break at least one of these resolutions as it is. And more might be an exercise in compulsiveness. It’s not a good thing to start hating something you love!

The only reason I see for reading goals is they bring focus to what gives us joy. As frustrating as it is to admit sometimes, we can’t read everything–not even everything we think we’d like. If goals can help us think about what we really want to read, what will be life-giving and world-enlarging, then they seem a good thing. If not, then just “read read read read.” As someone has said, “the way is made by walking.”

Happy walking and reading in 2019!

How Do You Read So Many Books?

My Review Stats Goodreads

My reading stats as of 11/13/2018

A friend asked that question recently over at the Bob on Books Facebook Page. Yes, I do read quite a few books, 155 so far this year. I’m far from alone. Just two examples. Teddy Roosevelt was reputed to read a book a day. Warren Buffett reads 500 pages a day (I typically read about 125). Both far exceed me. Here are a few thoughts on how that works for me:

  1. There are other things I don’t do. I don’t watch very much TV. If you cut out an hour of TV a day, you can read 60 books in a year.
  2. I try to cut out other distractions when I read, which slow me down as well as divert my attention from the text. Keeping the cell phone out of sight and hearing is key. I need to stay away from screens when I read.
  3. I try to read when I am most alert, which for me is early in the day. Sometimes, I stand when I read when I have to read closely, and might be inclined to doze off!
  4. I always have something available to read–on breaks, in airports. This is when I do some lighter reading.
  5. There is something to reading skills–reading speed, comprehension–that improve with practice. I pay attention to chapter titles, headings, first sentences in paragraphs, which tip me off to meaning.
  6. I find punctuating reading with some physical activity–say five minutes of walking–results in greater alertness.
  7. I always have books on hand to read next, the proverbial TBR (to be read) pile.
  8. I vary my reading–fiction, history, biography, sports, theology, science and more.
  9. I’ve been part of a book group, and over the years, we’ve read nearly one hundred books together.
  10. Track your progress, which is a kind of reinforcer in itself. Goodreads has a reading challenge. Be realistic and keep it fun.

The point in reading though is not how many books we read, but what happens in us as a result of what we read. Books can enlarge our world, enlarge our ideas of a life well-lived, sharpen our thinking, and feed our imagination. There are times to read quickly, times to read carefully, and times to savor the richness of wordplay in a poem or particularly well-written passage. Hopefully these ideas will help you make more space in your life for books, whatever number you read.

 

Regimented Reading

Aiiieeeee!_readers

By Nancy Wong (Personal collection of Nancy Wong) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

I came across a post today on Bookriot that I found a bit puzzling. It was titled An Experimental Year with Regimented ReadingThe writer admitted to struggling with a reading slump, which I have to admit to not understanding. A reading slump for me would be like an eating slump. Something would have to be seriously wrong with me! So perhaps I wasn’t the most sympathetic to the writer’s proposed remedy which was a reading regimen, written out month by month, color coded by “too long on the TBR” (green), series books (yellow), new releases (hot pink), and re-reads (blue) with asterisks (*) by the priority reads. The writer has planned this out until January. I would love to hear a report about how this worked.

A list like that might be the one thing to put me in a slump! I have enough else that is planned and scheduled, that scheduling my reading would drive me up a wall. That said, as I reflected on it, I have to admit that there is a certain method to my reading madness that guides my decisions of what I read next. Here is some of what governs my choices. I usually read on my Kindle during morning exercise on the treadmill. I alternate books I’ve purchased “just because” and e-galley’s I’ve requested for review. In print books, I usually have something “Christian-related” I’m reading and, because I review books from a number of publishers, many of these are new releases I’ve requested for review. I try to mix in older “backlist” or classic works, often something our Dead Theologians group is reading. Often my choices come down to what strikes my fancy when I’ve finished one book. Then I have a mix of history, science, current events and fiction that I choose from, usually alternating among these. A gift from my son usually jumps to the top of the pile.

Sometimes, I choose books that are related to something I might be speaking on or is something we are talking about in our organization. Then there are times where I’ve been reading or researching something, and it sparks an interest in something I want to read more deeply about. This happened recently researching posts about my hometown, and the sobering discovery of significant Klan activity in the 1920’s in a northern, industrial town. I wanted to find out more about that as a part of local history that tended to be glossed over.

In making the transition from simply reading to reviewing, I’m aware that some of the choices I make have to do with books I’ve agreed to review or are newly published. I probably get around to these more quickly than I once did, realizing that it’s probably a good idea to write about a book while people are interested in it. Sadly, it also reflects the reality that this is often a very short period. That’s a dynamic I wrestle with–seeing new releases on my TBR pile and hearing the clock ticking. Most of the time though, I’m pretty good at choosing things I enjoy reading. Perhaps it would be good to be more sparing in the choices so that the pile is smaller!

So, I guess I have a bit of my own regimen after all, just not written down. The closest to a plan are a few piles from which I choose my next books. The biggest dilemma is often having to choose among a number of good choices. I guess I’ve never wrestled with slumps because there are so many things I’m curious about, and so many genres and authors I enjoy.

So, how do you choose your books? Do you have any kind of plan? Do you ever get into a reading slump? What helps you get out of it? It would be fun to hear. We really are all different, and it seems to me that reading is one of those areas where there is no single “right” way to go about it. Perhaps that’s why we like it.

 

Bob on Books Tips For Reading Well in 2018

man-reading

Man Reading, Vaino Hamalainen, 1897

Among the resolutions people make each year is some variant on “read more books.” That’s certainly a goal that I can applaud when the average number of books read by adults is 12 a year (a number skewed by avid readers; most read about 4 a year). But I have a hunch that many of these resolutions fare no better than those of losing weight or exercising more, and probably for the same reasons: lack of specific goals that are realistic, forming a habit, social support and a good coach. I will come back to these but I want to address something I hear less about–reading well.

For a number who read this blog, I don’t have to convince you about the value of reading, and in many cases, you already have good reading habits and exceed that book a month average. And even if you don’t, you probably sense that reading isn’t about numbers of books but part of a well-lived life. You read not only for amusement or diversion but to better understand your world and how to live one’s life in it. That can be anything from understanding the inner workings of your computer and how to use it better to a work of philosophy or theology or even a great novel that explores fundamental questions of life’s meaning, living virtuously, or the nature of God.

So a few thoughts on reading well, and then a few tips for those who do want to read more:

  1. Reading well is an act of attentiveness. We read well when we read without external and internal distractions. A place of quiet and a time when we are not distracted with other concerns helps us “engage the page.” It also helps to turn off the notifications on your phone or tablet, or better yet, put the electronics in another room. Read on an e-reader without other apps if you prefer these to physical books.
  2. Visual media often encourages us to passively absorb content. Books of substance require our active engagement–noticing plot, characters, and the use of literary devices like foreshadowing, allusions and more. Non-fiction often involves following an argument, and paying attention to the logic, the evidence, and whether the argument is consistent. Reading well can mean jotting notes, asking questions, or even arguing with the author. Above all it means reflecting on what we read, and how the book connects with our lives.
  3. Reading well over time means choosing good books to read. What is “good”? I’m not sure there is one good or simple answer. There are a number of “great books” lists out there and they are worth a look. You might choose one of those to read this year. One test of a book’s worth is whether people are still reading the book and finding value in it long after its author has passed. Also, in almost any genre, there are reviews, websites, and online groups. Over time, you will find sources of good recommendations.
  4. Finally, I’d suggest choosing something to read off the beaten path. Reading authors from other cultures, or a genre you don’t read can stretch your horizons. This year, I want to work in some poetry and get around to the Langston Hughes and Seamus Heaney that I’ve had laying around.

And now a few thoughts for those who simply want to read more and get into the reading habit.

  1. Set a realistic goal. Rather than focus on numbers of books, figure out where you can regularly find 10-15 minutes a day to read. You probably spend more time than that on social media. Do you know if you read 15 minutes a day, you will end up reading 15 books a year?
  2. Start with something you like. Don’t choose something others say you should read if you don’t think it is interesting. Choose something you’ve always wanted to read.
  3. Try doing this for a month–15 minutes a day with reading you enjoy. The idea is to form a habit. I started an exercise routine taking 5 minutes a day, then gradually expanded it. Forming the habit was the most important part.
  4. Finding some friends who read, or are trying to, and getting together to talk books can help. Many of us find exercising with others helps. Reading and talking books can work the same way.
  5. Finally, get a good coach. I have a number of friends who work with personal trainers or life coaches. But book coaches? Where do you find those? I’d start with a local bookseller or librarian. Any of them worth their salt can learn about your reading interests or topics you’d like to read about and suggest some good things to read.

I mentioned that finding good sources of book reviews can help you find worthy books that you will love. Hopefully Bob on Books will be one of them. My goal in writing reviews is to tell you enough about a book to help you decide if it is something you will want to read, or just something it’s good to know about. I’m looking forward to digging into the books on my “to be read” pile and telling you about them. To reading well in 2018!

Category Reading Challenges

2016

LibraryThing’s Category Challenge Group

Many of us who read lots of books or want to read more have participated in reading challenges. Many have participated in a read a book a week challenge. Goodreads allows you to set up your own challenge and to see your friends challenges.

As I continue to get acquainted with LibraryThing, one thing I’ve discovered is they have a thing called “category challenges.” When they first started in 2008, the challenge was to come up with 8 categories of books in which they would read 8 books. Next year it was 9 and 9. Eventually they decided to let people set as many or as few categories as they please and read as many or as few in each as they want. People who sign up for this are in a group, each with their own page and thread of comments from other group members.

People are really creative with their challenges. One, for example came up with a “leap year” challenge, an acronym, which stands for:

L: Let Them Eat Cake — historical fiction
E: Elementary, My Dear Watson — mysteries
A: All You Need Is Love — romance and chick lit
P: Play It Again, Sam — re-reads
Y: Yer a Wizard, Harry — fantasy
E: Everybody! — CATs, dogs, and group reads
A: Age Before Beauty — from my TBR shelves
R: Roam If You Want To — set outside the U.S. and U.K.

I’m not sure if I like being that structured in reading, although I love the creativity! My reading follows what I tend to be interested in or exploring at the time. It is interesting, though, that most of us do have our default categories. Some of my defaults categories:

  • history, especially American, European, Civil War, and military history generally.
  • biographies, especially presidential biographies.
  • mysteries, especially some of the classic writers.
  • science fiction–currently I’m intrigued  with Philip K. Dick among others.
  • historical fiction–I want to read some Hilary Mantel this year.
  • sports–every year I read a baseball book. I also have a bio on Vince Lombardi, a legendary football coach.
  • higher education, because I work in collegiate ministry.
  • theology, biblical studies, spiritual formation and lots of “faith and…” books.

The one benefit of category challenges is they offer us the chance to break out of our reading ruts.  Here are four for me (we’ll see how many of these I get to):

  1. Different ethnic and cultural voices.
  2. Books on books, especially fiction, inspired by yesterday’s post.
  3. Different religious voices, including atheist voices.
  4. Youngstown books–I have a stack that I’ve browsed but not really read.

And one for fun is to read or re-read the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers.

How about you? What categories are your defaults? If you did a category challenge, what would be your “break out” categories?

Reading Better in 2015

"Mark Zuckerberg at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 018 v1" by Guillaume Paumier - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_at_the_37th_G8_Summit_in_Deauville_018_v1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_at_the_37th_G8_Summit_in_Deauville_018_v1.jpg

“Mark Zuckerberg at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 018 v1” by Guillaume Paumier – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_at_the_37th_G8_Summit_in_Deauville_018_v1.jpg

“Reading more” seems to be one of those resolutions people are making right now. Perhaps the most famous to do so is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who wants to read 26 books “with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies” (according to this article on Mashable). Mark would like us to read along with him. He’s set up a Facebook page where he is posting the books he is reading and hosting moderated discussions of the book. Based on the first title he has selected, it appears he won’t be reading fluff! (I understand that the book he chose, The End of Power, by Moses Naim, has spiked in sales since Zuckerberg chose it.)

I think this is great! I love the idea of high profile people encouraging reading, sharing what they read, and encouraging the rest of us to join them.   Zuckerberg is joining tech leader Bill Gates, who  has long been know for reading good stuff and sharing it with us. You can find reviews of what he has been reading on his blog. I discovered in checking out his blog that there are two of us on the planet who have actually read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century!

One thing I’m afraid of is that “reading more” will go the way of “exercising more” and “eating less”. That is, we look back at wistfully at the end of the year and say, “maybe next year.” What I want to recommend instead is “reading better”. I’m convinced that when we read better, we may read more. But the numbers of books matter less than having your life enriched and world enlarged by the books you read. Here are my ideas for “reading better.”

1. Read as you can, not as you can’t. It may be that you are an active person who can’t sit still and read for more than 15 minutes at a time. If you read 15 minutes a day, you can read 15 average size books in a year. Trying to read when you really want to be doing something else is miserable and isn’t going to encourage you to read at all, let alone more or better.

2. Read when you can give your attention to what you are reading and enter into the world of the book. Different books need different levels of attention. “Beach reads” take less attention than a serious book on climate change or a Tolstoy novel. Attempting to read a book when you can’t give it the attention it requires is just an exercise in frustration.

3. On a related note, I don’t recommend reading on a phone or tablet that has other applications running besides your reader. If we see we have mail or a text, we are already distracted. If we read them, our reading becomes disconnected.

4. Read what interests you, not what you think you “should” read. I know nothing that will put you off of reading more quickly that trying to trudge through a book that you really don’t like because someone thinks that all the cool people should read that book! One way to find books you might like is to read is to follow reviewers who seem to have similar takes on books you’ve liked.

5. If you find people with similar interests, forming a book group can not only help you read more but the discussions will take you more deeply into the book as you hear others “take” on the book. One book group I’m in has wrestled through some good but challenging books and helped each other make sense of books I’d probably have given up reading alone.

6. Reflect on what you read. Maybe it means keeping a “commonplace book” to jot down quotes you like. I started writing reviews to reflect on and remember what I read. Goodreads is a great place to do this and has the added benefits of discovering what your friends are reading and think of what they’ve read.

reading challenge7. While I’m talking about Goodreads, they have this thing called the “Reading Challenge”. Set goals that are realistic. Zuckerberg’s is a book every two weeks. More is not better. Better is better. Compulsively reading to reach a goal is not better. Choosing short, easy to read books just so you can “catch up” seems beside the point.

8. Read at least one book that differs from what you usually read. If you are a die-hard liberal, read a thoughtful conservative writer, and vice versa. If all your books are written by Americans, read something by an author from a different country, preferably a non-Western country. If you are religious (or not!), read something outside your tradition, or even something from another religion. I’ve found this both strengthens my own beliefs and enlarges my understanding of the world.

9. Read one intellectually challenging book on a topic you care about deeply . I’m not suggesting you read intellectually challenging books that hold no interest for you. I love singing and sing in a choral group but never had any formal training. Reading about music theory has helped me begin to appreciate more deeply what is going on in the music I sing which feeds my love for it.

10. Read something just for fun. I read a baseball book in the summer of each year. No profound reason except that I like baseball–and there are some great baseball writers out there and some great writers who are baseball fans.

I’d love to hear your ideas about reading better!

Reviewing and Reading Deeply

Earlier in the week, I reviewed Dallas Willard’s last book, Living in Christ’s PresenceIn this post I included Willard’s advice for readers:  “Aim at depth, not breadth. If you get depth, you will have breadth thrown in. If you aim at breadth, you will get neither depth nor breadth (p. 149).

I’ve been chewing on what Willard said. As is apparent, I read quite a few books–some for enjoyment and some to go deeper in my understanding of life and the world. Doing a book blog that includes reviews is a bit of a double-edged sword in this effort to “aim at depth.”

One the one hand, the reason I began writing reviews and continue to do so is simply to both remember and engage what I’ve read. This happens in several ways for me. One is, knowing that I will write a review, I pay closer attention to the plot or argument, because usually I will want to summarize it and do so accurately. Also, while I’m reading, I’m thinking about my evaluation of the book, the soundness of the logic and evidence, the plausibility of plot and characters, and how I am reacting to the writing style. Being an introvert, I do this mentally rather than spending a lot of time writing in margins or journalling about the book. I’m like this with presentations I do as well, where I work out in my head my thoughts before I write (yet I’m also surprised by the act of writing and the insights that come as I write, something that has arisen from blogging). All this means I go deeper with a book than I might otherwise. And I remember it better.

But I’m also thinking of the transition from a casual reviewer to something more. Now, I sometimes receive books for review, which I will do if they interest me. The transition has been from simply writing reviews to remember and crystallize in my mind what I’ve read to reading in order to write reviews and have these engage others. To be honest, it tempts me to try to read more and even think, what kinds of books would those who follow the blog like to see reviewed? As I ask this I’m reminded that I’m reading a book on people-pleasing, and it occurs to me that this might be a version of people pleasing.

I think what I’m coming to are a couple questions to keep in mind as I engage in this process. One is, am I still enjoying reading?  If it just becomes work in order to produce reviews, forget this, especially since this isn’t a paying gig! A second question is, am I reading deeply enough, and listening carefully enough to not simply comprehend the book and to be able to review it but to be changed by it if I am convinced by its conclusions or “re-oriented” by what it shows me of reality?

Does that mean I’ll read fewer books? I have to say that I don’t know the answer to that. I think if I can truthfully say “yes” to my two questions, the number of books will take care of themselves.

I’d love to know what other bibliophiles think about reading widely, reading deeply and the number of books you read!

Fifty-two books in a year?

Came across a Huffington Post article this past week on “How to Read a Book a Week“.  Its all about reading goals and the incentive they offer to better reading. And I get that. My own reading goal for the year is 100 books (on Goodreads). So far, I’ve read 24 and will probably make it, which is my own tip for reading goals–set them, but probably lower than what you will actually read. I think reading goals should be fun–maybe a slight stretch but doable.

So, there were some things I liked that the writer of this article mentioned:

  • One day at a time:  he suggests figuring out how many pages the average book one reads and setting a daily goal (say 30 to 40 pages) and try to set aside time early to read. I do have a daily goal in mind and I do read early, before life ramps up and I get into my day.
  • Make it a routine: I try to read first thing each day (which the author does). Don’t always get to do this because of early morning meetings, but this helps.
  • Use every moment: I will often do this if I have enough time to focus on what I’m reading. Otherwise, I often carry a periodical in my bag or on my Kindle that I can read in a few minutes.
  • It’s OK to give up: Some books just don’t turn out to be what we think, or we are not in the place to read them. No use being miserable just to reach some goal.

I had a problem with some of this article because it just seemed pretty OCD–and some of us bibliophiles don’t need any encouragement in that regard!

  • It’s OK to cheat: Sure, there are good short books we can read to reach our goals. But reading short books just to catch up if I’m behind on a reading goal seems to make the goal more important than reading good books–long or short. While I also agree that there is no inherent virtue in long books, I would say that the best thing is to read the book that captures your interest, that enriches your life, that is right for you at the time.
  • Never fall behind: This seems the most OCD to me. Sometimes life happens and there are things more important than reading. Sometimes we are just reading books that take longer than a week.

I agree with the writer’s conclusion that reading can enrich our lives. If a goal, whether reading one book a year, a month, a week, or even a day (as I understand was Teddy Roosevelt’s practice) serves as an on ramp to those riches, great. But let’s keep it rich, not a misery. Sometimes a challenging book takes mental effort to read and is worth it. But making oneself miserable (or just very task-oriented) just to add a book to meet our reading goals seems to defeat the purpose. My two cents, anyway!

 

When Reading Challenges Aren’t Such a Good Idea

I came across a post on Book Riot that reminded me that reading goals might not always be such a good thing. Any of us on Goodreads is familiar with the “Reading Challenge” and also some of the kinds of stats you can look up on your profile page. And some of you are already feeling bad about the goal you set for this year.

Each year, Goodreads allows you to set a “reading challenge” for yourself and provides a nifty little progress bar that gives you the percent of books you’ve read. It also includes above the bar how many books you’ve read toward your goal and below the bar how far ahead or behind you are. Currently mine says, “You have read 18 of 100 books” and “4 books ahead of schedule”. And it is that last phrase that can get you. Some of us are just compulsive enough to feel bad if we get behind. We might even change our reading choices from “goodreads” to “quickreads” to catch up.

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If you enter the “Reading Challenge” you can also see how other friends are doing who enter the challenge. Alternately, this allows you to gloat or feel shame, depending on how you are doing. If that is not OCD enough for you, there is a stats page that will tell you how many pages you’ve read so far this year and how many pages you’ve read in previous years. Still haven’t had enough? There is an explore tab with the menu item “people”. You can find out for example the top readers in the US (this week, someone from California who has read the insane number of 2428 books this week) or the top reviewer (who has reviewed 227 books this week). One look at that list and I realized I will never make the top 50.

The question that we should ask though is what does any of this have to do with good reading? The short answer is, “Absolutely nothing!” It seems to me the question of whether you do a challenge or not, whether you complete a challenge or not, and how many pages you read or reviews you write has nothing to do with good reading. Good reading has to do with finding great writing that captures your imagination, enlarges your world and changes the way you look at it and engage with it. Whether you read one book, or five, or a hundred is beside the point. The real question is what your reading experience is like reading those books. Some thoughts on what makes for good reading–some of which I’ve probably shared before:

1. Good reading starts with setting aside time where you can be attentive to the book before you. Depending on the season of life, that could be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. For some, 10 minutes hiding out in the bathroom may be the best you can do!

2. Of course, good reading takes a good book. Now “good” can cover a wide variety of meanings for us and I think there are “good” books in every genre from theology to sports writing. There is also badly written stuff, and stuff that is just “mind candy.” Actually, I wouldn’t worry too much about this. Over time, you learn what is good for you, and what doesn’t speak to you.

3. I do think a good read doesn’t simply amuse us but also helps us get a better take on life and the world around us. Conversely, bad writing panders to our fantasies and paranoias. Those books may engage us, but they also distort our vision of the world we actually live in.

4. The best books are those from which we come away changed for good. Maybe one question we should ask ourselves is whether this is one of our reasons for reading.

5. Good reads take us into community. We want to share that book with another so that we can talk with them about it. Or we pick up a book because of what it has meant to a friend. Or a group of our friends are reading it together.

So, if a reading challenge is encouraging you to carve out time in your life to read good books, great! If it just feeds an OCD thing or is a source of guilt, ditch it for the leisurely soaking in a good book, even if it is the only one you read this year!