my love/hate relationship with reading books

ALA Read mini-poster
“ALA Read mini-poster” by me

This year I participated in the “set your own challenge” book reading thinger on Goodreads. Initially, I set mine at 25, as a little stretch goal from my average of 19 books per year over the past four years. But, I was doing so well in the early part of the year that I increased it to 30. The final total was 27, but I’m part-way through several books that I just didn’t have time to finish as the clocked ticked down to the end of the year.

What worked well for me this time: audiobooks. I read more of them than paper books this year, and it forced me to expand to a variety of topics and styles I would not have patience for in print.

What failed me this time: getting hung up on a book I felt obligated to finish, but did not excite me to continue on it, so I kept avoiding it. To be fair, part of what turned me off was on disc two, I accidentally set my car’s CD player to shuffle. This is great for adding some variety to music listening, but it made for confusing and abrupt transitions from one topic/focus to another.

I read a lot of non-fiction, because that works better in audio format for me, and I read more audio than printed (either in paper or electronic) books. For 2013, I’d like to read more fiction, which means reading more in print. Which means making time for my “must read the whole book cover to cover” method of reading fiction.

audiobook: 20
print book: 7
ebook: 0

fiction: 5
non-fiction: 22

books read in 2012



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ebooks, libraries, and the discount rate

Evolution of Readers
Creative Commons License John Blyberg via Compfight

The other day I was listening to a Planet Money podcast episode, and they were talking about a new-to-me financial term: the discount rate. As they described it, this is “the rate you use to size up future costs.”

This morning I read a blog/essay by cartoonist Dave Kellett (who draws the nerdy-fun comic Sheldon) which argued that ebooks in libraries would be the death of the traditional publishing industry. As he put it, “The internet has shown, again and again, that the average consumer always tends toward the cheaper, faster solution. And all things being equal between delivery systems, there’s no debate which one is more advantageous for the individual: The borrowed copy.”

Not long after reading this essay, I attended a training session by one of our ebook vendors, during which at one point they mentioned that the cost for MUPO books (multiple simultaneous user access; essentially a site-license) as being only 150% of list price, which in their words is a good deal. I held my breath for a moment, as I knew the cost of MUPO had been contentious in internal discussions in the recent past. However, the moment passed without comment.

All of these bits and pieces began churning in my mind until finally I reached a rather shocking to me conclusion: 150% of list price for unlimited simultaneous user access is an amazing deal, particularly now that these ebooks are becoming more functional for the users.

Think about it — for the cost of half of a second copy, any number of our users can view, download, print, copy, and even read the same book at the same time. In the print world, at best you might get four people reading the same copy a book at the same time if you could smoosh together close enough and the font size wasn’t too small. Or, you’d buy multiple copies for class reading assignments that would then end up being discarded when the curriculum changed.

How could I go from thinking that ebooks shouldn’t cost more than print to thinking that MUPO pricing is a good deal? Well, my discount rate changed. When I thought about it from the perspective of copies saved rather than prices increased, it made the cost difference seem less heinous.

resolutions and all that

statue reading a book at Mozart Museum in Prague
statue at Mozart Museum in Prague

I’m terrible at making and keeping resolutions. The first week or two are great, and then it starts to slip. That’s partially why I’m hesitant to articulate them, much less share them with anyone else. That being said, I have made a few promises to myself regarding things I want to work on this year. I have hopes that enough practice will eventually turn the new behaviors into old habits.

One thing I really hope to do more of, and have been working on unsuccessfully for several years now, is to set aside time to read books. And if not physically read them, at least make use of the time I spend in my car or at the gym to listen to them. I used to consume several books a week on summer breaks from school, and even kept up the habit in the working years between college and graduate school. I think it was the combination of graduate school and home internet access that broke the habit.

Last year, I chose twelve books that I planned to read. I made it through six, finished one a day into 2012, and gave up on another. Here’s the list of books read, with links to my reviews on GoodReads:

When I made the original list, it was a mix of books I’ve wanted to read but didn’t own and books that I owned and hadn’t read yet. I thought maybe the list would make me more focused, and only 12 in one year seemed doable. In fact, I read 17 books total last year, just not all of the ones I told myself I would read. About four of the books I read were ones I found in audio format at my local public library, and they were my road trip companions for the Thanksgiving and Christmas pilgrimages to Ohio.

Ultimately, what it came down to, was a mix of feeling like the list of 12 were more like school assignments and less like something I would choose to read, even though I did choose to read them and no one but myself “assigned” them. It was an interesting experiment, but this year I’ve decided to just make the time to read, and leave the material selection up to whatever I’m feeling like or have recently discovered.

Maybe all this resolution making and breaking is a good thing in the long run. Maybe it teaches me more about how my brain works and how to trick myself into making better decisions. Or maybe I just need to turn off the computer and pick up a book.

camping & Hamlet

Hamlet's BlackBerry

This weekend I went camping for the first time in about eight years. I’ve always liked the idea of camping much more than the reality of camping, as in my mind, weather conditions and insect populations don’t exist. It went better than I expected, and I even had fun. Not sure I’m up for more than one night, though. By the next morning I was ready for the indoors.

One of the things I brought along with me is the book Hamlet’s BlackBerry by William Powers. I’ve been reading it off-and-on since February, and I hoped that during the down times I could finish it up. There were a few of those moments, but not many. I ended up finishing it at home.

The book is one of the most fair arguments for dialing back online activity, or at least creating a space away from the distractions of the internet and focusing on being physically and mentally present, either alone or with other people. I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel pressure to be connected all the time, but I do miss it when I’m not. On the other hand, a part of me was looking forward to disconnecting this weekend, at least for the 24 hrs away from civilization, but I wasn’t quite sure if I was disappointed or relieved to discover I had cell service at the campground.

The Hamlet connection comes from a reference to “tables” in Shakespeare’s play. These were hot tech at the time, and reminded me of something like portable dry-erase boards. Hamlet makes some notes about the things that are bothering him, and feels relieved to get them out of his head and into a device that can store them for him until he his ready to do something with them. I feel the same way about my smart phone and the Remember the Milk app — no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I can usually take that thought that would quickly disappear and make a note about the thing I need to do.

I liked the idea of stepping away from the screens for a period of time. I thought that a 12 book challenge would be easy to complete in a year, but I’m not reading as much anymore, in part because I spend so much time on the computer when I’m at home. I need to start setting aside dedicated time at home that is not on the computer, and not just when I’m cooking, cleaning, or doing laundry.

12 book challenge, 2011

I’ve been trying to hit the 50 book challenge for the past few years, which basically requires me to read at least one book a week. Not happening. My average is around 25 in a year, and that’s often the result of reading a bunch while on break or vacation, and not paced throughout the year.

This year, I’m going to try something different. In addition to reading as many books as I can, I’m making a list of the twelve books that I want to try to read this year that are currently sitting on my shelves or wishlist. In no particular order, here they are: