Good things that happened in 2012: I turned into an obsessive reader.
I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people with a nearly-endless list of books that I’d like to read: there are just so many good things written by people, and I used to get really frustrated with myself for not having read so many of them. My excuse (like everyone’s) was that I didn’t have a lot of time for reading, but I still felt bad about it, especially when I learned at the end of last year that several of my friends had done the 52 books in a year challenge. That seemed like a fairly reasonable goal, so I got an account on Goodreads, which is this lovely website that lets you track your books, set goals, follow your friends, and post reviews (add me!). For reasons involving an unhealthy desire to be the best/not look like a wimp, I ended up publicly committing to read 75 books… which turned into 100… which ended last night at 120 books, totalling 35,373 pages in the past 366 days.
Of course, not everyone is at a place in their life where they can read this much, nor does everyone have the luxury of being someone whose job is basically to have read a lot of things. But you probably have time to read more than you do, and I want to take a moment at the beginning of this new year to urge you to make a commitment to reading more.
To start, set a goal that seems unreasonable: not pie-in-the-sky I-have-no-way-to-visualize-this-actually-happening unreasonable, but unreasonable in the sense that you’ll have to be a lot more deliberate about this than you used to be. Use this heuristic to set a goal: average out the number of pages you think you can read in a day, figuring that some days will regularly give you more time than others. If you think of the average book as being about 365 pages, with 365 days in a year, your average pages per day should be about the same as your expected books in a year. If you can make time to read 40 pages a day, you can get through 40 books in a year.
Read whenever you don’t have something better to do: in bed, at the gym, on the train, between classes, in coffeeshops, any time you have a moment to spare. Be one of those public readers whose pictures I know you’ve reblogged. Develop literary friendships with people you know who read a lot, and pressure your friends into reading more. Recommend books that you’ve loved to people you enjoy talking with, and lend them the books so you can talk about it together. Harass people you respect for tips on what you should read next, and openly ogle the bookshelves of people whose houses you visit. Be gentle but aggressive with your books: fold the front cover to avoid breaking the spine, and write long margin-notes to the author for you and your friends to find later.
Read books of all lengths: there’s no shame in reading a 100-page book of beautiful poetry, and it feels damn good to finish a monster like War And Peace. Read books you know you’ll dislike or disagree with, because it’s good to challenge yourself. Let yourself be surprised by books you didn’t expect to get into—if you’re reading all the time, you have the luxury of postponing your long-term to-read list if something random is calling your name. Get books everywhere: use the library if you feel comfortable giving a book back when you’re done with it, and treasure the books that you want to have on hand in the future. Seek out the books that you’ve been meaning to read, but find a good, cheap, used bookstore where you can go on rainy days to discover new things. (Did you know that T.S. Eliot has a whole book of cat poetry?) Find out about book sales in your area: a lot of indie bookstores or larger organizations host annual events where you can buy obscene amounts of book for really cheap. (If you live in Cambridge/Somerville or the Boston area, go to the Harvard Book Store’s biannual warehouse sale.) Drag your friends with you to buy books, and then have impromptu reading-parties: you’d be surprised by how much spontaneous love for other people you feel while sitting in a comfy room and quietly reading together.
Don’t think too hard about it: just pick up a book and get going. Reading is about more than consuming a single book; it’s about becoming the sort of person who always has something new to turn over in their mind, and about getting a foothold in the eternal conversation among people who care about ideas. It’s about becoming a more engaged and happier version of yourself.