Let me start off this post by reminding everyone that I am not a reader. Even when I was little, I used to find a book I liked and read it over and over and over, until the pages were all dog-eared and the text was faded and worn. I couldn’t even count the amount of times I re-read Pippi Longstocking, or How to Eat Fried Worms, but I can guarantee that by the time I was eleven, I could have recited both of them to you, word for word.
When I got into my teen years, I really wasn’t into reading for fun, unless the stories came out of the pages of Pop or Teen Beat. College gave me a reason to read, with classes like “Contemporary Fiction” and “Shakespearean Literature” but still, reading was for class, not fun. When I got out of college, I began reading again, but really, unless something grabbed my attention, I really only read every once in a while.
The last few years, reading for fun wasn’t something I was really interested in. And yet, nearly everyone around me was a voracious reader. I’d sit in groups of friends listening to them talk about the latest Laurel K Hamilton novel (a guilty pleasure of my early adulthood), or another of Jim Butcher’s fantastic mysteries, and I’d be lost and a little jealous. I’d wish that I could just read, and continue reading, like habit, like everyone else, as if it wasn’t something I had to make the effort to do.
So, a little over a year ago, I decided to try an experiment. Could this off-again-on-again reader set a goal of so many books in so much time and actually meet it? There were dozens of “Fifty Books in a Year” challenges, but I really kind of thought that might be a bit much for me. So, I decided that I would set myself a goal of 25 books in a year, and I didn’t really set limits on what kind of books those had to be. This way, even if I got burnt out on reading and took a few weeks off, theoretically, I could still meet my goal. After all, meeting the goal and proving to myself that I could be a reader was the point of the experiment.
I managed, just barely, to meet the goal, and I have to say, I’m rather proud of myself. I’m not really huge on finishing a goal, even though I’m awesome at setting them for myself. I won’t go into details about self-sabotage and what could possibly imply about my psyche. But here are a few things I learned along the way:
#1. Reading is relaxing: I’ve had a trying year. Job endings and new job starts, trying to sort out a new relationship with my parents in a very different way, financial struggles and the like, have made me a little frazzled at times, to say the least. What I learned was that a good book could easily suck you in, and let you live someone else’s life for a little while. I found it was distracting enough to take my mind off my own problems, and also gave me a bit of perspective. I might be struggling to make ends meet, but at least I didn’t have to ride a giant dinosaur through the streets of downtown Chicago to stop a mad man bent on destroying the world.
#2. Reading should not be a competition: I am a slow reader. Someone once told me that I read word for word, sentence for sentence, which apparently isn’t the way most people read. While I may enjoy a book as much as Joe Blow over there, he might be reading it four times faster than I am. When I started, I knew that 25 books was a small number compared, and I had a few friends who decided to join me and read their own goals. I have to admit that when I heard some of these goals of 100 books or more, I got discouraged and gave up reading all together for a while. It made me feel like I was somehow not as smart as these fast readers. I had to remind myself that, while this was something I wanted to see to fruition, reading was meant to be fun. And if I tried to keep up with folks who had tons more time to read than me, or folks who were just plain read faster than me, it would feel more like a chore than anything else. I had to make sure I was having fun, because otherwise, what would be the point of all this. And chores are definitely not fun.
#3. Reading a good book doesn’t always have to improve your mind: There are brilliant books out there, written by brilliant minds. In fact, Pride and Prejudice, by the very talented, and late, Ms. Jane Austen, is one of my absolute favorite books. I also have Utopia by Sir Thomas More on my “to-read” list, and a very science-y book called Relic about extinct species of animals roaming the jungle and being brought back to the city to wreak havoc on my “read” list. But I’ve also read the likes of Twilight, by Stephanie Meyers, volumes upon volumes of a manga called “Fruits Basket” and several children’s books, all of which have no scientific, or philosophical benefit whatsoever. And so what? They were entertaining, and enjoyable, and if I wasn’t a better person for reading them, at least they helped me escape life for a bit, and improved my imagination (along with my inner child).
#4. It shouldn’t matter what other people think of what you’re reading: I’ll admit it, I tease my boyfriend’s fourteen-year-old about her vampire-romance riddled reading habits. But honestly, if she is happy reading them, and it’s not causing her any harm, why should it matter what I think of the books she chooses? One of my favorite books I read this past year was ten pages long and told the story of an old Italian grandmother with a magic pasta pot. What you read isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Like life, you will always have folks who agree with you, and folks who disagree. What matters is whether or not the book appeals to you, holds your attention, and gives you a good feeling for reading it. Don’t listen to other people when choosing a book; just because one person doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean you won’t.
#5. Just because you think you have an “omg all time favorite” book, doesn’t mean that can’t change: I thought I had it nailed down. Ever since I picked up My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George when I was eight, I have loved it. Every few years, just when I’ve forgotten parts of the story, I re-read it, and fall in love with it all over again. When asked, I’d quickly say this was my favorite, all time book. And then, this past year, I picked up Ronja the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren and it blew My Side of the Mountain out of the water. I didn’t think it was possible, but I loved Ronja more than I ever felt for little Sam Gribley. I suppose this only goes to show that you have to keep giving other books a chance to be your favorite. Who knows, you might be surprised.
Drawing this very long-winded post to a close, I just want to say the most important thing: I had a lot of fun doing this. There were nights when I didn’t want to read but I made myself anyway. There were days when work seemed like such an intrusion into my reading time that I felt grumpy all day until I could get home and continue reading. Some of the books I read disgusted me and I wanted to throw them away or put them in the freezer (ala Joey Tribbiani). But I got through it, I had a blast, and I am happy now to continue reading at a leisurely pace.
My advice to those “non-readers” like myself: just pick up a book. It doesn’t matter if you finish it in a timely manor, if it takes you two days or four weeks to finish. Just do it. You’ll be the better for it, and I can guarantee you’ll have fun.
And just for kicks, here’s a list of the books I read this year. Cheers!
25 Books in 1 Year
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
– Started 11/29/2011
– Finished 12/3/2011
2. Dead(ish) by Naomi Kramer
– Started 12/5/2011
– Finished 12/7/2011
3. Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
– Started 11/23/2011
– Finished 12/12/2011
4. Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
– Started 12/12/2011
– Finished 12/29/2011
5. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
– Started 12/13/2011
– Finished 1/5/2012
6. Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
– Started 1/20/2012
– Finished 1/20/2012
7. Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
– Started 2/4/2012
– Finished 2/4/2012
8. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
– Started 1/11/12
– Finished 2/22/12
9. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
– Started 1/30/2012
– Finished 2/28/2012
10. Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
– Started 3/7/2012
– Finished 3/13/2012
11. White Night by Jim Butcher
– Started 3/17/2012
– Finished 4/4/2012
12. Small Favor by Jim Butcher
– Started 4/7/2012
– Finished 4/9/2012
13. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
– Started 4/22/2012
– Finished 4/23/2012
14. Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
– Started 4/20/2012
– Finished 4/30/2012
15. Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris
– Started 5/1/2012
– Finished 5/2/2012
16. Changes by Jim Butcher
– Started 5/7/2012
– Finished 5/10/2012
17. Side Jobs by Jim Butcher
– Started 4/9/2012
– Finished 5/11/2012
18. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stig Larsson
– Started 5/6/2012
– Finished 7/11/2012
19. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
– Started 8/31/12
20. Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
– Started 10/2/12
– Finished 10/4/12
21. Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris
– Started 10/5/12
– Finished 10/7/12
22. Mio, My Son by Astrid Lindgren
– Started 10/8/12
– Finished 10/12/12
23. Shakespeare’s Champion by Charlaine Harris
– Started 10/13/12
– Finished 10/14/12
24. Ouran High School Host Club (all Volumes) by Bisco Hatori
– Started 10/15/12
– Finished 11/15/12
25. How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew by Erin Bried
– Started 11/16/12
– Finished 11/29/12