At the end of 2016, Goodreads prompted me to set a reading goal for 2017. I dutifully pondered what goal I should set for myself and finally settled on 60. It seemed reasonable, given my dull mood after the 2016 election, the fact that I didn’t know where my annual travels would take me, and the fact that I didn’t know how much political activism was on the horizon. I read 77 books in 2016, so 60 looked like a rational goal.
I blew past it in July, and like the obsessive reader I am, I kept going. To date, I have read 103 books, with two more months left in the year.
Back when I started this blog, I had made a specific goal over 100 books that year and finished 101 by the time the ball dropped in Times Square at midnight, January 1. After that, I told myself that I wouldn’t attempt such a goal again, as the strict reading schedule I’d had to maintain sucked the fun out of reading.
What I had not counted on was how much this year’s political turmoil would drive me back to books for their ability to comfort, inspire, and straight-up transport me elsewhere when I wanted to be anywhere but here.
There were steps I took to encourage my reading habit:
1. Cut Back on Social Media– After January, I often found myself endlessly scrolling through the various social media outlets I subscribed to, particularly Facebook, and being exposed to the endless horrid news. Thanks to all those headlines and online arguments, I was more stressed out than I had been since the college semester I took 19 credit hours and was working nearly full time. So I deleted Facebook from my phone.
I followed that up by moving the remaining apps around, taking the more addictive apps off the home screen and replacing them with Overdrive and Hoopla. Whenever I was bored or restless and picked up my phone, I saw those apps first and would read a few pages of a book instead of scrolling through Facebook. Again. I couldn’t say how many books I got through thanks to that change, but I am less stressed out during the day now that I have to confine my Facebook time to when I’m at my actual computer.
2. ALL the Books! — I started seriously listening to audiobooks this year. I’d had one spectacular audiobook experience (Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), and a couple of terrible ones (some lousy mystery/political thriller by Heather Graham, and another lousy murder mystery by a British author whose name I can’t remember) that put me off audiobooks for some time. After reading a bunch of reviews about some great audiobooks, though, I tried them again. I really liked the narrator for Will Thomas’s Barker & Llewellyn mysteries (Antony Ferguson), and I’ve enjoyed a couple of other audiobooks in the past month or so. It won’t be the primary way that I ingest books, but it will be a welcome supplement.
There are, apparently, some people who think that listening to audiobooks doesn’t count as reading the book. To them, a book isn’t a story if you haven’t been staring at bits of paper for hours on end. But I think this is ridiculous. Once upon a time, oral storytelling was all there was and yet The Odyssey didn’t suffer for that fact. Are my friends’ four-year-old’s book experiences not real just because she can’t read for herself yet? And never mind the fact that some people have physical limitations (like blindness, migraines, or other health problems) that keep them from reading.
A book is a book is a book is a book, whether you read a paper copy, a digital copy, or listened to someone reading it to you. You put in the time, you fell in love with the characters, and you enjoyed the story. However you ingest a book, it has become part of you forever.
3. Read Widely– I have a friend who reads almost exclusively fantasy and horror novels. I can’t fault him for that. He reads a lot and he enjoys it, but when we go to the bookstore together, I often hear the same refrain: “I don’t see anything that interests me”.
This always makes me want to shake him, and then direct him to new genres and authors that I know he would love if he would only give them a chance. But he has his tastes, and I can’t change that no matter how much I want to. For my own part, I will read almost any genre as long as the story or topic is interesting and well-written. Fantasy, contemporary fiction, memoir, non-fiction, essays… Almost the only genres I won’t read are romance and religious.
What are the advantages of this? I’m less likely to hit one of those dreaded reading slumps where I can’t get interested in anything. Have I lost interest in YA Fantasy? No problem! I’ll read this travel memoir and that graphic novel until I get interested in my reading list again.
4. You Can’t Read Just One — At the moment, I’m in the midst of two books. Usually, that number is three or four, and once I was in the middle of five different books. Happily, I’m blessed with a good memory and so I don’t have a problem with forgetting what’s going on, or what character is in which book. There are some tricks, though, if you don’t have the kind of memory that lets you keep track of every Game of Thrones character (but lets you forget to mail that letter or take out the trash for three days running…)
Don’t read all one genre at once. This goes back to tip number three. It’s easier to remember what’s going on if you aren’t reading three science-fiction novels at once. Maybe you’ll carry a fantasy adventure novel to work with you to read at lunch, have a mystery novel audiobook queued up to enjoy while driving or commuting, and then have a quirky memoir on the nightstand to read before bed. Different genres, blended with different book forms and specific locations to enjoy them in can help you enjoy reading multiple books at the same time.
Just don’t try listening to the audiobook while reading another book. That won’t work.
5. It’s Okay to Quit — This isn’t school. If you’re reading for pleasure, then it should be a fun experience. Don’t feel like you have to do battle with Anna Karenina or that YA Epic Fantasy series that’s all the rage because it’s popular. Everyone has their likes and dislikes, and if you’re not enjoying a book, you shouldn’t feel obligated to finish it (or finish a series if you’re not feeling it anymore). Sure, there will be people out there who will look at you crosswise if you don’t finish every book you open, but if all the Instagram-cool Kids jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?
Have fun with your reading. It’s not a race or a competition. No one is grading you. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many books you read in a year, as long as you find the book that speaks to you.