reading and goals

“Reading” by Stefano Corso

I’ve had ┬álot more time on my hands over the past few days than I usually do. The University is closed, and I’ve been on a paid holiday since last week. I returned from visiting family on Saturday, and since then my time has pretty much been my own. This has involved mid-day naps, lounging in pajamas, and reading.

Normally, I don’t have much in the way of true leisure time, in part because I don’t allow it. On the occasions when I have found myself with “nothing to do,” I quickly get stir-crazy and regret not planning something in advance. I worried that might happen this week, but I had plenty of house projects if I felt inclined to tackle them, so I knew I’d be okay. What has surprised me, however, is how I was able to slip into a mode of relaxation I haven’t be in for a long time.

A big part of that has been trying desperately to at least get to half my 2013 reading goal before midnight last night. 2012 was a good year for me and books — I read 27 that year, starting at a goal of 25, so I figured I could make the goal of 30 this year. I didn’t anticipate eventually taking on music director responsibilities at WRIR in late spring, a job that consumes most of what remained of my downtime. As of last week, I had read only 11 books in 2013. The time off over the past few days coupled with a road trip (yay audiobooks!) helped me cover the ground and hit 15 in time. You can see what a motley crew they were on my GoodReads page.

I prefer to read my fiction cover to cover in one sitting, unless it takes more than four hours. I’m a pretty fast reader, doing about a hundred pages an hour of your typical mass market paperback, so four hours or more makes for a long book. I prefer to read my non-fiction in audiobook format, where stops and starts don’t interrupt the narrative too much, and having someone talk at me makes me pay better attention to the words. Given those conditions, and the types of nonfiction and fiction I prefer, it’s not always very easy for me to find something I’m interested in at the moment, and far too easy to choose a podcast or a project instead of reading. I’m not making excuses — I’m just working to understand myself better so I know how I can “trick” myself into making the time and space for books.

But why? What’s so important about reading? Funny thing for a librarian to ask, don’t you think?

Reading books was a huge part of my identity as a kid. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my bed, propped up on my elbows, mind far away in the story in front of me. Relations with my younger sister were tense after years of yelling at her to leave me alone when she would come in my room, looking for a playmate. Even then, I didn’t like to interrupt the story. We’re friends now, and ironically, she’s more of a reader than I these days (she read 80 in 2013, with an original goal of 75).

I distinctly remember when I stopped craving books and reading regularly. It was the year I went to graduate school for my MLIS. The coursework demanded so much reading, and I was taking four classes a semester instead of the usual three course full load, that after a while, I took more pleasure in not reading a book, using my time for other leisure activities. I recognized this shift a long time ago, but the new hobbies and interests didn’t go away, either, so I’ve struggled to make time for both.

I’ve winnowed down my book collection regularly over the years. I still acquire new ones, particularly hardcovers I plan to keep forever, but the discount books and mass market paperbacks I picked up over the years because they looked interesting have had to survive several severe weeding projects to remain on my shelves. And so many of them remain unread. At times it feels like a weight around my neck, dragging me down. At other times, it’s so overwhelming that I can’t choose what to read from among them, so I keep whittling it down, becoming more selective, and also having fewer to pack with each house move.

Books still remain important to me. Stories rattle around in my mind long after I have finished reading them. I don’t need their escape as much as I did as a kid, thankfully. But, I do appreciate the mind-expanding properties they offer.

So, I continue to set annual reading goals, striving to meet them, and struggling to not feel like I’ve failed when I don’t. The last thing I want to do is to turn this into a chore or assignment, which is what turned me off from reading all the time in the first place.