In February of this year, something very embarrassing happened to me. I was browsing Reddit (despite having better things to do), when a question popped up on the writing subreddit: “How many books do you read a year?” It seemed like a simple enough question. I knew that I didn’t read much – hardly at all really. I’d wanted to start reading more as a way to improve my writing, so I thought it would be good to look at the responses and get an idea of how much my fellow authors were reading.
Fifty to sixty books a year. Some claimed a bit more, a few claimed a bit less. But the answers were routinely hovering around one book a week. I was shocked. In 2013 I had read two books. Total. Even then, I ended up skimming a lot of the first one, and the second one was a very short book of very short stories (it was also brilliant and I highly recommend it: Sum by David Eagleman).
This was my wakeup call. While I knew it was possible that people were over-selling themselves, they could be doubling their results and still outpacing me twelve to one. It was unacceptable. I had always been a great reader – the top of my class. By junior high I was testing as “13+”, meaning beyond the standard 12 grades and past the point where they keep track. Thirteen Plus. I was so good at reading, I was off the chart. There was a plus sign to prove it.
Looking back, the problem started early. I was good at reading, yes, but I didn’t enjoy it. More specifically, I didn’t enjoy the books I had to read for school. I didn’t enjoy The Picture of Dorian Gray. I didn’t enjoy The Scarlet Letter or A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. There were a few hits of course. The Little Prince was worth it. The Good Earth was surprisingly engaging, as was A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. But those were anomalies. I didn’t like most of the books. More importantly, I loved television. I spent hours in front of the television, internalizing the five-act plot structure and studying the timing of commercial breaks. These days most people know that a half hour show is really just over 20 minutes, but that’s because we watch shows on Netflix. I learned it the hard way – with a stopwatch and an unhealthy fascination.
The point is, I didn’t like what I was forced to read, and I didn’t bother reading anything in my spare time since I preferred television to books. It got worse in college when I discovered passing a class was a matter of reading the material OR attending the lectures. You didn’t need to do both, and I’ve always had great attendance. Besides, in high school and college I crammed my schedule so full of activities that the idea of leisure reading was absurd. I read on vacation. That was it.
And now? Now I don’t even go on vacation, so I don’t read anything at all. At least, that’s where I was in February of 2014 when I got my wake up call. I needed to do something. And I needed to start immediately: twelve books in the next twelve months.
It wasn’t easy at first. There’s a pretty big gap between two and twelve. I wasn’t used to reading every day. I wasn’t used to reading in the day at all in fact. I had always tried to read before bed, which is probably why reading makes me so sleepy. I started reading more during the daylight hours. I would give myself the freedom to only read a few pages and stop as soon as I felt myself nodding off.
By the end of February I finished my first novel, and I had another book done not long after March. I stayed on track, and by the end of July I was at eight books. I had made up for my late start and even managed to get ahead.
Then in September I hit a wall. I got stuck with a book that didn’t interest me, but for unrelated reasons I knew I had to finish. I tried starting a second book so I could alternate between the two, which didn’t work. I would get interrupted when I didn’t read a high-demand library book fast enough and had to return it for a few weeks. It was a rough couple months. I lost the cockiness I’d developed in July.
But I got a second wind and now I’m halfway through book seventeen. Even if it hadn’t been for my last minute participation in the Christmas BookTubeAThon, I still would have hit my goal and then some. I’m finally a reader again.
The problem with setting goals is that once I achieve them I instantly want to set higher ones. I’m already planning on doing the July BookTubeAThon, so twelve books shouldn’t be much of a challenge. How many should I shoot for in 2015? Eighteen? Twenty-four? Perhaps I’ll need to set more specific goals, like a certain number of novels (I read mostly non-fiction this year) or a minimum page count (some of the books were quite short). Or maybe I just need to get back to the reader I once was. Maybe I already know what the real goal should be, next year and every year for the rest of my life: 13+.
I created a GoodReads account to track my goals and the books I want to read next. If you’d like to be my friend on GoodReads, look for NoodleDrive.