I keep track of what books I read in a year at goodreads.com, and I make little virtual bookshelves to keep each years books separate. I don’t really know why I do it by year. I like browsing back through my books and having them separated by year makes it easy to navigate and keep track of. In previous years I have been tempted to set a goal on how many books I will read but this year I’m not tempted at all. Goodreads has its annual 50 book challenge, I hear of other people setting themselves an arbitrary figure of books read or total page count. But I’m just not doing it.
A couple of years ago, just after new year I started setting myself all kinds of targets and goals and things so that I could quantify my time and how successful the year had been. I set a target on books read, words written, kilometers swum; then a few weeks later I had a brain haemorrhage and spent two months recovering. The haemorrhage wasn’t connected to the stress of setting strict targets on my time, but it certainly threw it into perspective. I stopped worrying about whether I was achieving enough.
I remember a few years ago watching a friend reading a book of short stories. As he finished one he just immediately started reading the next, no time for rumination or reflection on what he had just finished, he would just flip the page and keep going. Some books I have read have affected me so deeply or impressed me so much that I take a break from reading for a little while to let it sit in my mind. Setting a target of fifty books – or however many – means reading becomes more mechanical. Would I find myself deliberately reading shorter books? Or less challenging books? Would I despair at reaching a paltry 49 books read on December 31st? Would I quickly read something, anything, in the final hours of new years eve to hit the target?
I read far fewer than 50 books a year by the way. I think I could read 50 books in year, but it would mean either reading when I wanted to be doing something else or, like I said, avoiding longer books. When I look back on my year, scrolling through my virtual bookshelf, I am reminded of all the great books I read. The Marriage Plot, Cloud Atlas, The Box Man, Midnight’s Children; I want my reading to be entertaining, challenging, thought-provoking, occasionally difficult, sometimes easy. I’m not especially worried whether it adds up to a certain number, no matter how that number is chosen. If a book is boring me, or I don’t feel like I am getting anything from it I want to feel free to abandon it because, after all, I am free to do that. I don’t like the idea of equating books with time, and if I were to try and accomplish a fixed target I would certainly do that. 50 books a year is a little less than one book a week. If a book takes two weeks to read I need to read another book in less time, I can get ahead in January by reading some novella’s so I can take my foot off the pedal in December. I want to read IQ84 but I ought to avoid it because it will put me behind schedule.
Doesn’t that sound like stripping all the joy out of it? It does to me.