On December 31st, 2013, I listened to the audio recording of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. I downloaded it in the morning and by the end of the day I was done. It was narrated by Colin Firth (swoon). It was one of those books I’d picked up a thousand times thinking I should read but hadn’t gotten around to yet. And I had an extra Audible.com credit from December. But none of these were the reasons I started listening that day.
I decided to listen to The End of the Affair on December 31st 2013 because it was short. At six hours and 24 minutes, I knew I could listen to Green’s novel in just one day. If I listened all day. So I did. I listened while I cleaned, while I ran, while I made dinner for my sister and my husband. And by the time the ball fell, I had finished.
Why was it so important that I read/listen to that book that day? Because I was one book short of my yearly goal of 60 books. I needed to finish one more book before the end of the year, or I would have failed.
I have participated in some kind of reading challenge for the last four or five years. Ever year I challenge myself to read five more books than I did last year. This year my goal was 65 books. I did not make it. I wasn’t even close. I read 58 books.
I thought I could do it. I had eight books left when we ended school for the year, and that should have given me plenty of time to finish some in progress nightstand books and start one or two more. But I didn’t.
And initially I felt really bad about myself. Why couldn’t I finish them? Why couldn’t I meet my measly goal of 65 books when some of the teachers I follow on Twitter were reading 100 books, 150 books, 200 books?! What was I doing wrong?
But here’s the thing about meeting or not meeting my goal: reading those 58 books didn’t really make me happy. They didn’t fulfill me, they didn’t fill me up like the books I read usually do. I realized this as I was creating my annual “Best of the Year” powerpoint. I present it on the last day of school to my students with recommendations for their upcoming break and year. Then they head to the stacks of our media center and stock up for the break. Usually I have to limit the number of books I put in my powerpoint–I have so many great recommendations and not enough time to talk about them all. This year I really struggled. There were a few that I loved but as I looked over my year in reading I realized that it was unsatisfying. I was picking books because I knew they would be fast, I knew I could finish them and “stay on track.” I didn’t read because I wanted to, I read because I felt like I had to.
I know I could “pad” my numbers–I could “count” picture books or books of poetry I could read in one quick sitting. And I thought about that as I left school on the 23rd. But my husband made a really good point. He told me I could read 8 books “crappily,” or I could spend my time recharging, reading what i wanted to and, God forbid, working on my dissertation. He was right. Since NCTE I have burned the candle at both ends. I haven’t done something just because I want to in a long time. More importantly, in the past few weeks I had put off working on my dissertation, and was not planning on picking it up again until after the new year, because the books I had to read for it were hard, and i knew they’d take valuable time away from finishing my 2014 reading. Foucault and Homer aren’t exactly made for speed reading.
So this year, after a lot of consideration, I gave up my goal. I’m really proud of my colleagues who can read 100 books in a year. A lot of people I follow on Twitter have started #nerdlution15, and their goals are inspiring. I’m just not one of them. I’m going to set my own #nerdlution15 resolutions and try to stick to them, but they won’t be about the number of books I’m reading. My reading goal, this year, is to read books I enjoy. And books that challenge me. And books I wouldn’t normally read. It’s to read books I can recommend to my students and books I can recommend to my friends. And to read books that will help me finish my dissertation in 2015. I did set a challenge for myself on Goodreads, but only because I like the way it tracks my books visually. I’m starting by finishing one of the books I started in 2014. Each time I finish a book I’ll set a new goal for myself. Maybe it will be to reread an old favorite or to read a book I’ve started a thousand times but never finished. Or to start a new series. But it won’t be a number. This year, my reading will be more than that.