Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: The Year I Bring My Reading Under Control

Hi, my name is Kate, and I have a reading problem. Or maybe that should be problems.

After not hitting my goal of 100 books read in 2011 because I'd made the challenge extra hard for myself by ruling that they had to be by 100 different authors, I got rid of that extra stricture for 2012 and sailed right on past 100 books in the autumn. I could have just chilled out and read as I pleased from then on out, but then I decided to see if I could hit 125. Which I did. Hell, I even hit 126.

Part of this was because I also joined the Insatiable Booksluts' "End of the World Challenge" (see pretty silvery-blue graphic to the right) which would reward the person who read the highest number of pages (completed books only, no poetry collections or comics, etc. Real books) with... a gift certificate with which to acquire more books. And I wanted it. I wanted it bad. And I read a LOT of big fat bloated (Harry Potter Dark Tower Quincunx started the Recognitions but it made me hurl etc etc etc) tomes this year that made my page count look like a contender. I don't as of this blogging know whether I am a winner. Likely there's someone with an even bigger problem than I have who clocked in at an even 50,000 pages or more (I hit between 47-48,000, according to GoodReads) and I'm just an also-ran, but who knows. One of the rules was it had to all be books one had never read before, and all 126 of those I read in 2012 were new to me. We'll see.

The astute are already seeing part of my problem: counting. When books or pages read become things to be counted (consumed), become a measure of capacity, then something is being lost. One of those somethings is pleasure, especially the pleasure of reading for its own sake, of carefully choosing, of savoring, and of putting aside books that tick one off for one reason or another.* Another is focus and attention.

And speaking of focus and attention, let's talk about my other problem: reading more than one book at a time. This is something I've been doing since at least my teen years if not earlier. Our school library had a strict policy of two books checked out at a time, but the public library (for which I was a volunteer in every imaginable capacity up to and including writing a completely unauthorized marionette-show script of Stuart Little to put on for the kiddies, and then performing it with a few other giant nerds) let me have as many as I could carry and then... and then... and then I went to college and became a lit major, and since I was in two or three different literature classes at a time, I had to read several books at once. And I was damned if that was going to make me put aside my reading for pleasure.

And there's where I probably picked up the worst of my reading habits, because I developed a whole 'nother way of reading that only sort of let stuff in. Skim the whole book for the gist, and hurry the eff up because we're only spending a week on these 400+ pages before we're onto another novel. Read again focusing on a topic for your first paper. Read again focusing on a topic for your second paper. Both re-reads, ignore everything that doesn't have any bearing on your paper topic. Have an unbearably twee class discussion or two about it (Beaudacious Bard College is big on tiny classes of maybe 12, sitting around a big table, and discussing books, and for "discussing" read "saying pretentious buzzword laden things about in such a way as to also convey to everyone your pride in your sexual prowess/lack of racism/concern about abortion rights/etc. Basically, an episode of Community with higher-brow content. And no Troy and Abed antics. Well, except for that one time I promised not to tell anyone about).

And then... and then came ebooks. And suddenly I could cart around thousands of books in a device that took up less space in my bag than one paperback. And so I got worse. So much worse. Because if a book started to drag, or depress me, or just didn't seem as shiny and tempting as some other book I had on my reader, I didn't even have to dig through my bag. All I had to do was hit a button or two.

So, yeah. As I finished out 2012 on New Year's Eve, my "Currently Reading" list on Goodreads had 14 books. Fourteen! And that was after I'd finished two of the books I'd been reading on that day. When the sun rose on December 31, 2012, I had 16 books on that list.

And not all of the books I was actually currently reading were on that list.

And I wasn't having much fun. I felt all this pressure, and really? Where was that pressure coming from? Challenges! And shiny object syndrome. In other words, the pressure was coming from nowhere but within myself. Because really, did anyone else in the world care if I made it to 125 books read this year? Did anyone care if I finished all the books I started, or whether or not I adequately recalled what I'd read of something I'd started and put aside a month or so ago in favor of a bunch of other books that I'd started and finished in the meantime?

Of course not.

In the meantime, I'd robbed myself of greatest joy: just plain old reading (and talking about what I've read, of course. Don't think that "bringing my reading under control" means I'm going to stop wittering on about them in this space. Ha!). No wonder 2012 sucked! Well, lots of other things happened to make it suck, but this sure didn't help.

So in 2013, I am not doing any reading challenges. I am not letting any sense of obligation to a writer or a publishing house or a friend who lent me something override my reading whatever the eff I want (I believe EssJay is doing the same). AND... more importantly... and this should make you gasp if you know me, or even just if you've been paying attention to this post...

I'm going to try to read only one book at a time.!!

(Though I'm allowing myself ONE exception, in that I am narrating an entire novel for release on Podiobooks later this winter. That's reading, too, but of a very special time that can only be done for a little while each day and that only when my muffler-shunning neighbors cooperate with me.)


Can I do it? If so, for how long? Wait and see, internets. Wait and see. And hey, maybe addressing this problem/these problems will help me tackle another big one I had in 2012, namely that I didn't get anything else done, because all I was doing when I wasn't working ye daye gigue, driving, eating or sleeping, was reading.

*I did do this, perhaps to my cost for EotW. But dude, Gaddis. Dude. The Recognitions was making me want to smash my Kindle with a hammer. But I was deep into a sunk cost fallacy relationship with it. It was a mighty effort of will to put aside a book that I was hating. How is this in any way pleasurable?


  1. Kate, I think I have 10-20 books going at any given time, and it has always been so. Not sure that is an issue.

    I think the issue is what the internet is doing to the way we read, the quantification, accessibility, gadgetry; the mechanization of reading is no different from the mechanization of everything else.

    As for undergrad seminars, I have similar recollections of classes at my precious alma snooty mater.

  2. I think you're exactly right about what the internet has done to our attention -- slicing it into slivers. This is awesome for the infovore, but I'm an info-glutton, apparently!

    Mostly, I just want to give authors their due, if they're producing good product. IF.

  3. Yeah, but I find it is a double edged sword. What if we are authors as well as readers? I need two lives, one to read everyone else's stuff, the other to write. I remember seeing Andre Alexis interviewed with a bunch of new young author hopefuls in the 90s. The others were dropping names and gushing about the latest style of this or that novelist. Alexis, when pressed, said he'd been too busy writing his latest novel to be reading everyone else's. It's not that I don't want to read everything that came out long ago, has come out and is coming out. But that on top of academic work, the daily flood of crap on the web, which has nothing to do with literature (but which you still have to keep an eye on), emails, texts, then the latest ten new novels, PLUS doing own lit writing? ACK. Over communication is making it impossible to function. I mean, take Shelley. Shelley did not have to read - 200 emails, 15 blog posts, 150 twitter feeds, 50 other people's novels and poems, four newspapers, 45 other social network updates - every day before he put pen to paper.


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