Tuesday 7 January 2020

We're (not) going on a book hunt, or "How to stop tracking and learn to love reading again", by Dawn Finch

As you can imagine, I read a lot of books. I won’t bore you with the numbers, but trust me, it’s a lot.
A lot.

One of the questions I’m asked a lot is how I track my reading. It’s a conversation that comes up time and time again. There are endless online discussions about the various methods of tracking reading. People use spreadsheets, Goodreads, specially designed journals, and even apps. This week I saw a whole discussion about how to set your “annual reading goals” and track your progress towards your targets. A bit of a scroll through various hashtags and trends and I realised that there are a lot of people out there talking about how many books they are reading, and how quickly they are doing it. It’s all got a bit competitive, and it all felt a bit like school.

Last year I realised I was spending more time writing and speaking about the wider benefits of reading for pleasure, than I was actually doing it. There I was passionately speaking about how reading for pleasure improves your mental health and wellbeing, but most of the reading I was doing was for review or research purposes. When I stopped to think about it I hadn’t actually chosen a book purely for pleasure for months. That’s not to say I hadn’t enjoyed a lot of the books I was reading, but most of them had been chosen for specific purposes other than pleasure.
Last spring I decided it was time to practice what I preach.

First, I needed to look at my working hours and to consider reading for review and research as properly part of my work. This meant removing all work related reading from my evenings and weekends. I had been squashing review reading in at all sorts of times. As soon as I framed it in my mind as actual work, I stopped feeling guilty about setting an hour or two aside for it during the day and that meant I got more of it done.

The next step was to trim down my review reading and now I feel less guilty for saying no to requests for reviews. I set myself a limit for how many books I review at any one time, and I don’t break that rule. I never give bad reviews (in over 30 years working with books I’ve never found the need to review books I dislike) so I simply don’t finish books I’m not enjoying. This brings me to my next liberating moment – I never tell people what I’m currently reading. I only talk about books I enjoy when I've finished them. I don’t have it as my email footer, and I don’t put it on social media. That takes the pressure off, and I don't feel as if I'm trying to impress people or prove a point.

In the evenings, on holidays, while travelling, and at weekends I read for pleasure. I go to the library as often as I can and I choose a book simply because it catches my eye. Sometimes I get something because I’ve been chatting to the librarian and we read very similar books. If someone I like recommends a book to me, I pop a request on the library app before I forget – and then I forget until it appears. I don’t beat myself up for not finishing books, and I don’t feel as if there are any books I ought to read.

As for tracking…. I don’t. I stopped tracking all of my reading, even the review reading. I have a digital copy of all the reviews I've ever done so I don’t need to keep a note other than that. I do quite often find I’m halfway through a book I’ve read before, but that doesn’t matter and I don’t care if I read something again. It's not a race or a competition.

I’ve found that all of this means that last year I estimate I read about a third more books than I did in the previous year. At least I think I have, but as I don't track them I'm guessing. Ditching all my formal tracking definitely meant I read more, and I read a hell of a lot more for pleasure. I found myself looking forward to the evenings and the book I was reading for pleasure, rather than feeling nagged by the “to be reviewed” pile.

I always say that I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, and this year is no exception. So I won’t be setting myself reading targets, or goals. I won’t be compiling a list of “must-read” award winners, and I won’t be checking to see how many of the “100 classic books” I’ve read. I’ve nothing against people who do track their reading, or who have targets, but it’s no longer for me.

I will be listening to people I respect and get on with, and giving their choices a go. I will be chatting to the librarian, and the people I run the bookshop with and giving their suggestions a go. I will be allowing myself to relax and really enjoy reading purely for pleasure.

Dawn Finch is an author, librarian and library activist, and bookseller.

If you are interested in the wider benefits of reading for pleasure, the report below contains links to all the evidence you will ever need.


Jen Robinson said...

Thanks for this post, Dawn! I recently stopped accepting any books for review, because the pressure of the stacks was weighing me down. But I do have some reading that would help me with my paying work that I've been putting off - you inspired me to just make time for that reading during my work day. Thanks!

Penny Dolan said...

Thsnks for adding the link to the Reading For Pleasure Report, Dawn.

Er - must add it to my reading pile!