I wouldn’t say I’m a slow reader, but I’m not fast either. One thing I definitely am, though, is avid. I read as often as I can – as many different things as I can. So it might be nice to read more quickly. It’s a tempting idea, to be able to breeze through my to-read list in books per day instead of books per week. Yet I have long resisted the urge to learn to speed read.
The problem with speed-reading, as I understand it, is that it’s actually more like speed-skimming. People who read very quickly seem to miss things. They can tell you what the book is about, but they might not be able to tell you how the color of the secondary character’s dress affected them emotionally. They might not even be able to tell you the color of the dress. Because with speed reading, you don’t stop. You don’t pause to think. (Or am I wrong? Any speed readers out there who know differently?)
I’ve talked a little before about writing as a physical thing rather than a passive one. I feel the same way about reading. I like this post by Natalia about marking in books as you read – like a love letter to the work. I like the idea of pausing to respond, of underlining things that seem significant, of stopping to let the impact of a powerful scene sink in before your turn the page. I want to be an active participant.
So maybe this is why I’ve resisted jumping on the “reading challenge” bandwagon. For those of you who don’t know, a reading challenge is exactly what it sounds like. People will set a goal, often 50 books a year, and try to meet it, like a New Year’s resolution. There’s a spot for this in Goodreads, too, where you can keep track of which books you read.
Reading challenges can be wonderful. The main benefit, of course, is a renewed vigor. A refreshed desire to read much and often. It’s a way to rekindle the passion, which I certainly appreciate. It’s all too easy to let a couple weeks go by in between books.
Yet… I’m very anal retentive. If I’m going to do a reading challenge, I’m going to do it right. I’ll count my books, make sure I’m on schedule, and really strive to meet whatever goal I set for myself. And that’s where the problem comes in.
Do reading challenges promote quantity over quality? If I know I have to read fifty books a year, won’t I choose shorter books? I mean, if I pick up Elizabeth Kostova’s 700-page beast The Historian instead of a nice easy paperback, I’m setting myself back at least a week. So then – assuming I don’t have unlimited time to dedicate to reading, which would be awesome – my options become: should I read faster, or should I choose shorter and/or easier books?
Isn’t challenging myself as a reader more important than challenging my reading?
To me, it is. Not to mention that going through Goodreads limits what I can count as “a book.” What about the 7-8 unpublished manuscripts I read last year? They don’t count. What about the literary magazines I try to familiarize myself with? They don’t count. What about all of the stray poems I read online? They don’t count either. But shouldn’t they?
In short, I like the idea behind reading challenges – reinvigorating the love, so to speak – but I don’t like what it does to my choice of materials.
My solution so far has been to maintain reading goals that involve ideas rather than numbers. I aim to always have one novel and one book of poetry going . I’ve noticed that, for me, it’s the time between books that ends up slipping away, so I also have the goal of starting a new book the same day I finish an old one. That way I have to get it out and put a bookmark in it so I don’t get sidetracked. I also aim to read thoughtfully. I try to read widely – a nice blend of heavy, struggle-to-understand literary fiction and fun, edge-of-my-seat commercial fiction. And everything in between.
Those are my goals, and I suppose the drawback to them is that I’m the only one accountable for them, since it’s not a number I can post on Goodreads or my blog. Or maybe that, too, is a good thing. What do you think?
Have you ever participated in reading challenges? Did it work for you? And if you’ve never tried them, what’s holding you back?Share this: