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:

April & May reading

More fiction this time, which I mostly read in April, but I was too lazy to write this up until now.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi is mainly a retelling of the events of The Last Colony, but from Zoe’s perspective. It felt like Scalzi wanted to give a different first-person perspective of the events, as well as filling in the gaps when the protagonist of TLC was not present to witness things. I liked it, but not as much as the trilogy.

Cat of the Century by Rita Mae Brown is the latest in the Sneaky Pie series, and possibly the most disappointing. When she’s not using the characters to be the mouthpiece of her political views, she’s writing vapid and uninteresting narrative. I keep hoping she’ll stop writing this series so I stop feeling compelled to read it, but a note at the end of the book indicates there’s at least one more on the way. I was smart this time and borrowed the book from the library rather than adding it to my hardcover collection as I have done with the previous books in the series.

Heaven – Season Five: War by Mur Lafferty is a podiobook that is responsible for making my gym visits over the past six months much more tolerable, although even that wasn’t enough to keep me going regularly through the holidays. However, I managed to kick start my workout routine again, and with that, finish listening to the book. This is the finale of Lafferty’s metaphysical spec fic series, and while I am sad that it has ended, it was satisfying enough.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell was my workplace’s book group selection for the spring. I don’t think anyone should take this book too seriously, as he tends to find facts to fit his theories and ignores or discounts facts that go against them, but he does make some thought-provoking points about the outside forces that determine if someone is “successful” by his definition of success. I would be interested in seeing some authoritative social science research on the factors he identifies.

March reading

I started reading Getting Things Done by David Allen and ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (co-founders of 37 Signals). I’m enjoying both and am forcing myself to carve out time for them, but I still wasn’t able to finish them in the month. I did, however complete two books.

Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom by Frye Gaillard, with a forward by Juan Williams, was not a book I would have chosen myself (it was sent to me for review), but turned out to be an interesting read. It’s in part a travel guide, but mostly is a history lesson about events related to the civil rights movement in Alabama, mainly in the 20th century.

Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael S. Kimmel is the One Book, One Campus selection at MPOW this year. I refrained from reading further ahead than the chapters we were discussing, so I finished the book at the same time our lunchtime discussions ended. It’s an interesting perspective on “guy” culture and how much that dominates the rest of American/Western culture. I don’t agree with all of Kimmel’s arguments, but they gave me food for thought. I highly recommend this book to anyone in a university setting (male or female).

February reading

That’s right. Reading. Not plural. I finished only one book last month, at it was just the last few chapters I didn’t finish in January. I have a good excuse, though: my limited spare time last month was consumed with packing and moving and unpacking.

The book I finished was for the semi-annual book discussion group at work. We selected Nicholson Carr’s The Big Switch last fall, but weren’t able to meet to talk about it until early January. Here are my final thoughts on the book:

I found the parallels between the evolution of the delivery of electricity from self-contained generator systems to the modern-day grid and the evolution of personal computing applications from desktop to the cloud to be fascinating, and a good argument for cloud computing. However, once making that argument, the author proceeds to show his true colors as an anti-technology, privacy-focused, Matrix-fearing Luddite. Disappointing.

January readings

I always do better at the beginning of the year than later on, so I’m not going to crow too much about being on track for reading 50 this year, particularly since two are graphic novels that took less than 20 minutes to read. Nevertheless, here’s the round-up:

The first and last books I read this month are The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony by John Scalzi. Continuing on in the Old Man’s War universe, the first is from the perspective (mostly) of Jane Sagan, although not in the first person like OMW. The second is once again from first person perspective of John Perry. While TLC explains more of the politics of the OMW universe, I found TGB to be more interesting reading due to the issues of sentience and self-hood that Scalzi explores in the story. The fourth book, Zoe’s Tale, is on my reading list for this month.

Star Trek: Art of the Film is one that I read and reviewed for Blogcritics. It’s “is part coffee table book and part behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creation of the film.” Most of what I have to say about it, I said in the review, so check that out if you’re interested.

I started reading the new Wonder Woman comic series last year, and I found that I’m missing the context of an incredible amount of backstory, so I picked up copies of the first two trade paperbacks, Who Is Wonder Woman? and Love and Murder. It’s still a bit confusing, since even though they are the start of a new series, there is still an underlying assumption that the reader is familiar with the history of Wonder Woman. Me, I just vaguely remember the TV show. Anyway, I think I’ll continue getting the trade paperbacks instead of the single issues. It’s more cost-effective, and I need the longer story arcs to keep track of what’s happening.