Advocating for Reading Less

Let me begin by saying no I don’t mean not reading or reading as little as possible: I mean reading for quality over quantity. Read below to see if you have any of the signs of needing to read a little less.

In 2014 I was at University and during class one woman said she made a list of 100 books to read each year. I got jealous. I was certain I read 100 books a year, but I had never kept track. I decided that year I would make a goal of 100 and I would keep track. I found Goodreads which made it easier to keep track and to find other books I wanted to read.

I read 117 books that year. And it was easy. So the next year I set a goal of 200 and for that year and the two years after I read at least 200 books. Then in 2018, I set the same goal of 200, since by now it was feeling easy and routine, but that was the year I spent six months in China. I went out and I saw the world. I experienced things I had always hoped to experience. Many of these experiences I could have had in America, but I didn’t have my eyes open to the possibilities of my own country. That’s a post for another time. I still read 152 books that year. But I also realized how little each book meant to me.

I had started to feel like I was just reading to be able to say I had read X number of books. I wanted the bragging rights that large numbers brought, not the knowledge that delving deep would bring.

When I was only concerned with reading as many books as possible I did not connect with each book. In fact, I was lucky if I connected with ten or fifteen on any deep level each year. I read books superficially and then tossed them away from me the moment they were done (not literally, I don’t toss books generally) so I could find the next book. I was reading the words of the book, but not the meaning. As an English Literature graduate, that idea is abhorrent.

“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.”

Mortimer Adler

I stopped considering books before I picked them up. I prescribed to the “I read everything” book list and fooled myself into actually believing it. I have read a little of everything, but I did not like everything I read. Yet I kept reading the same stuff because I didn’t feel strongly enough either towards the books I disliked or towards the ones I did like to effectively set aside books that I most likely wouldn’t like. To quantify this I would say that I thought of most of my books as rating between a 4 and a 6, when in reality if I had delved into some of those books more I may have rated them 9 or 10 and those 4 star books would have easily become 2 stars by comparison simply because I would have a better understanding of what I actually enjoy.  

I realized that if I want to be able to argue that books matter then I need to be able to argue that books matter to me. If I can’t explain why a book matters, what it changes about me, then that book has passed through my hands without me actually ever grasping it.

Signs that it might be time to read a little less

you don’t reread books anymore

Some books require multiple reads, but you may find yourself skipping a reread because there are “so many books to read and so little time.” I’ll be doing a post in the future about weeding your TBR pile, but for now just accept that all those books you haven’t read yet are untapped resources, but the ones you’ve read that you truly wish to reread are only partially tapped resources that you’re ignoring.

you’ve started turning away from books because they will take too long to read

I’ve DNFed a few books that I might have otherwise finished just because they were long and I was worried about falling behind. If they were good I still gave them favorable reviews, but I stopped reading so I could move on.

losing interest in the books you are reading

I know the feeling of picking up a book I know I find interesting and yet my mind starts to wander less than three pages in. I read the same page again and again but still can’t focus on what happened.

Nonfiction-can’t think of five things a book taught you-or in some cases even one

We read nonfiction generally to learn something. It may be about a person, place, event or thought, but we should still learn something. If it’s a memoir you should learn about the person’s life and lessons they’ve learned. If you find yourself struggling to give a coherent sentence or more about what you learned then chances are you didn’t retain much.

if all you can say about a book is “I enjoyed it” then that book means as little to you as an episode of trash tv.

I enjoyed this book because…. Um, it was good. Yeah, that’s not what a person who loves reading should say.

you find yourself reaching for another book even though you know it’s not worth it, but it’s all there is to read.

I found myself grabbing books I never would have wasted my time on before just because it would add to my count. I never even thought about going for a walk or exploring a place. I just picked up another book that I would struggle through. I was choosing books without considering what I could bring to them or what they could bring to me.

you find yourself thinking “ugh I need to be reading” not because reading just sounds so relaxing and inviting at the moment, but because you worry that you’re falling behind.

That little Goodreads warning “you’re two books behind schedule” is pure evil if you haven’t learned to ignore it. I tended to feel shamed every time I saw it and glee if it said I was ahead of schedule. So much glee that I would mark DNF’s as read even if I hadn’t read more than fifty pages. I wanted credit for my time rather than the enjoyment of the book itself. Since deciding to only read when I want to I’ve been reading a lot less but enjoying it so much more.

you’re choosing reading over other enjoyable activities

Again this is fine if it is truly what you want, but life is about balance. This week I could have read an extra book instead I went for a hike, put up Christmas decorations, cuddled with my husband, played with our dogs, and had some really amazing conversations and thought more deeply about the books I had read. I don’t want to be a one-sided person. I’m happy to be known as a reader, but I’m also a hiker, a runner, a blissfully married wife, a dog-lover, and a crafter. I enjoy doing these things and I was cutting them out for no real reason.

you enjoy annotating and delving into books but can’t remember the last time you actually did either activity.

I knew I was in trouble when someone mentioned a book I consider one of my favorites but I couldn’t remember half the plot points they mentioned. It had been so long since I had even thought of the book that it had drifted out of my memory. I want to be able to engage in deep thought and conversation about the books I enjoy, not just “yeah it was cool.”

If you found yourself nodding along to some of those points it may be time to slow down a little on the reading. It’s not a competition (and even if it is, remember that “Roughly a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form, according to a Pew Research Center survey.”

I’ve been in the habit of reading 200 books a year for quite some time now and even stepping down this year and the year before I’ll still read a combined amount of roughly 292 books in two years. This has turned reading into a reflex and a bit of a chore. Coming out of this is going to take time as I reevaluate what books I enjoy and grow to notice when I’m reaching for a book out of genuine interest or a feeling that I *should*.

My reading goal for next year is undecided. This allows me to deliberately choose what books I’d like to read based on their impact on me rather than their proximity. And I’m not going to inflexibly hold myself to any goal: it’s a goal, not a burden and it’s not set in stone. I know that my goal will be more about depth and learning than about the number of books. I may choose a challenge that requires certain types of books or I may not.

Either way, I will enjoy my books.

Let me know how you feel about this post in the comments below

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14 thoughts on “Advocating for Reading Less

  1. I was redirected here from Sam Kozbial’s blog, since she mentioned your post in her weekly recap. OMG, I can relate so hard to NOT wanting to read “bigger, faster, more!”, but wanting my books to become part of my life and leaving an impression instead (I’m also a huge rereader, so…). I never went through a phase where I wanted to read everything and anything – I’m very selective – but I must admit that, when I see my friends participating in all those reading challenges or reading a book a day (sometimes even more!), I sometimes wonder how they can indeed enjoy what they’re reading. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade – if it works for them, more power to them – but I’ve always thought that you can’t really “own” a book if you haven’t savoured every minute of your reading. I really liked reading about your path from “onnivore reader” to “conscious reader”, and I think that, in time, more and more people will find themselves in your shoes, so it’s important that they don’t feel like they’re weird for not setting reading goals for themselves or not wanting to read everything (to be honest, my own friends never made me feel like that, but I guess that someone who isn’t backed up by a close community might feel left out for not reading enough…). That’s why this post is important.

    1. Oh, that’s super cool. I had no idea We Live and Breathe Books knew about my blog. I feel fancy 🙂
      I love that description “read ‘bigger, faster, more” because it did feel that way. I used to reread and then I talked myself out of it, but I’m re-exploring some books I haven’t read in years and loving it! I’m so glad to hear from other rereaders. I also found myself thinking “ooh this is a book I’ll reread” but then I wouldn’t enjoy the first read. I would rush through so I could mark it complete then sometimes rush through a reread. I happen to be reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern which is definitely a book for bookish people and I find myself realizing again and again how much more I am enjoying now than I would have a month ago because now I can really delve into it and feel each sentence. I’m enjoying the feeling of reading a book for the first time knowing that I’ll read it again later and love it in a whole new way.
      I’m with you! If it works for others that is awesome and I have no problem recommending a hundred books to those types of readers. Even for me that system worked for a while, but after my seven hundredth book it drooped. So it’s really nice to find people who want to talk about the intricacies in a single book for hours. (This is reminding me how much I want a book club IRL).
      I also think (in my case at least) that even though the readers I knew never made me feel bad for reading less than them (I’ve known people who read 800-1200 books a year and love it) but I still found myself comparing my reading goals to theirs. I think this is true across a variety of topics: We compare ourselves to others regardless of whether or not that was their aim. I knew I was reaching a bad point when I would mentally sneer if people read less than 30 books a year. I’m a librarian! I just want people to read and learn and be happy! No more judgment.
      I think there’s definitely a possibility that there are people out there doing the same thing I’ve been doing, and I hope this post helps them, but I wrote it partly because I needed to be honest with myself and with my readers. I know the blog is going to be slower and what I review it going to change and I think it’s only fair of me to let my readers know why. Now, reading is a gift that I treasure and I find that I want to talk about books again.
      Thank you for your comment! I’m stoked to find another blog I like 🙂 I love your “tips for slimming your TBR list down” post. Looking forward to reading more Reader’s Quarks 🙂

    1. That’s super sweet. I really love the title (tooting your trumpet) lol. I can’t thank you enough. I’ve been thinking about doing something similar but haven’t hammered out the details. If/when I do I’ll give your blog a shout out because I definitely enjoy your content.

  2. Also, I wanted you to know that I’m following you by email, but I didn’t get any update for your latest posts. I tried to add your URL manually to my list via Blogger Reader, but it says it can’t pick up any feeds from your blog.

    1. Using my as yet limited skills with this sort of thing I looked into it. You are listed in my subscriber list and I re-sent the confirmation email. I’ve also just uploaded another post. If you can I would love it if you could let me know if this makes a difference on your side, please.

  3. Sorry I’m late about this! I received the confirmation email, but I still can’t get notifications about the new posts. I tried again to add your URL manually to my reading list via Blogger Reader, but it still says what it did before – it can’t seem to pick up any feeds from your blog.

    1. Okay, I tried something else. I’ve set up a new list that should send you an email when a new post goes up. I have one scheduled for tomorrow morning (8:00 AM on the 12th). I would be forever grateful if you can let me know if you get an email about it. Also, thank you so much for letting me know about this and keeping me updated. You’re the best!

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