Why I’ll Never Read a Book a Week Ever Again

December 30, 2019 | 2 books mentioned 24 4 min read

I’ve always been a slow reader. I’ve loved books since I was a kid, but I didn’t identify as a voracious reader until grad school. My writing professors touted the importance of students reading thousands of books before taking a stab at penning their own. So, in an effort to maintain positive habits after graduation, I decided to track my reading.

I’d jumped on the habit-tracking train before: daily words written, weekly miles run. For a while, I even tracked the minutes I wasted on social media (I don’t recommend this—it’s too depressing). The outer accountability of habit tracking has helped me form healthier routines and utilize my time more wisely. I set my first annual reading goal at 40 books, finishing the final page of book number 40 before the ball dropped that New Year’s Eve.

Moving into 2019, I resolved to raise my reading goal. I wanted to catch up with my own compulsive bookstore purchases and watch that pile on my nightstand shrink even more rapidly. I was intrigued by the 52 books in 52 weeks reading challenge I’d seen on Nicole Zhu’s blog. Surely I could handle 12 more titles than I’d read the year before. Plus, I liked the way it felt in principle: If I stayed on track, not only would I get a clean slate at the start of the work week, I’d get a second clean slate in cracking open a new book.

I started out strong, finishing four books in January, then five in February. To track my progress, I used the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which informs you when you’re ahead of schedule, on track, or behind on your reading goal. I liked my new reading pace, making haste with books. Instead of lighting up my phone screen the moment I woke up in the morning, I’d open a book instead, reading on the couch with my first cup of coffee. This habit has been a game-changer. I’ve never been able to read before bed because I fall asleep mid-page. But morning reading? I’m all for it, and for the tone it sets for the rest of my day.

As the year progressed, I read several books I wasn’t wild about. In the past, I’ve always felt at peace with abandoning a book before finishing it. Why waste time on a book I don’t love, trudging through to reach an ending that won’t satisfy? But reading a book a week made it harder to justify abandonment. I didn’t want to fall behind—like I said, Goodreads will tell you when you do. And the thought of that sent my Type A brain into a tailspin. So I wound up finishing several books I felt lukewarm about from the very first chapters. I bolted through short story anthologies cover to cover, most of which I ordinarily would’ve thumbed through, reading only the stories with openings that piqued my interest. The pressure to finish books sucked some of the day-to-day joy out of my reading life.

covercoverI also never thought I’d select a shorter book simply because it would take less time to read. But when I found myself stuck in a 700-page tome for three weeks, the next few books I picked off the nightstand pile had significantly fewer pages. I love big, sprawling novels and wish I’d made time to read more of them in 2019. My favorite summer memories from past years involve dragging a fat hardcover down to the beach, dozing off between chapters on my towel: books like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. And while I chose lighter books, I still barely took the time to watch the waves striking the shore this summer. And more importantly, I wasn’t immersed in reading. I was immersed in reaching a goal—a goal that was beginning to feel arbitrary.

On top of tracking my progress on Goodreads, I shared books on Instagram as I read. I was pleased when a follower told me I’d inspired her to set a reading challenge of her own. And when another friend said she’d started reading a book she saw I’d just finished, I was thrilled. Sharing a reading experience with someone is among the most intimate bonds.

I received many messages from friends who were curious about what I thought of a book I’d just posted: Would I recommend it to them? Why or why not? But it takes me a long time to digest a story. Often, I’ll come away from a book with lukewarm feelings, only to love the story more after I’ve lived with it at a distance. On the flip side, I’ve torn through certain books from beginning to end, adoring the story and its characters, only to notice it on my bookshelf months later and wonder what made it so captivating. Posting my progress as I finished books allowed little space before friends started asking, “What’d you think?” While I loved that my friends wanted to chat about books, I often didn’t have the words to do so. I felt pressured to form opinions too soon. My post-reading experience became more forced than authentic.

Finding myself in the middle of a book I never want to end is among the greatest joys of reading. I live for the desire to finish a book in one sitting, and the competing desire to slow down and make the pleasure last. Sadly, I robbed myself that pleasure this year. I blew through everything I read, including books I would’ve dragged out for weeks just to live in their worlds a little longer.

Today’s habit-happy productivity culture advocates for setting measurable, attainable goals. Finishing what we start is considered a victory. But our reading lives shouldn’t depend on filling in a Goodreads progress bar. That’s because reading isn’t just any old habit to track.

While I can’t change our society’s obsession with productivity, I can change my own. That’s why I’ve set a different reading goal for 2020. This year, it isn’t based on the quantity of books I aim to finish. Instead, I resolve to abandon books I don’t like. I’ll take the whole summer to pore over that staggering novel I never want to end. I’ll recommend books to friends after I’ve lived with the story awhile. I’ll read intentionally and joyously. After all, there are too many good books out there. From now on, I’ll take the time to savor them.

Image credit: Tonny Tran

is a writer from Florida whose work has appeared in Bridge Eight’s 15 Views of JacksonvilleThe Legendary, and Babes Who Hustle. She’s a graduate of Lesley University’s MFA program and has since been a student at Lit Camp, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Mors Tua Vita Mea. Follow her on Twitter: @hurleywink.

24 comments:

  1. I love everything about this post! You’re right – reading should be savored. And there ARE too many good books out there to struggle through ones we don’t particularly love. In fact, you may have just influenced my decision to abandon a book I’m reading that I WANT to like, but am struggling with (still, at page 120). Love the concept, the setting, the plot — but not the delivery. Here’s to reading with intention and digging into those meaty novels (love them, too!)

  2. I did the 52 books in 52 weeks once – and it took a lot of the joy out of reading. I won’t do it again either. Also, I give books about 50 pages before I jump ship for something else. Life is too short to slog through a book I don’t love!

  3. One year I read 104 books! That’s right, 2 books a week. But the next year I didn’t want to continue on a track of trying to do the same or better. I just wanted to read a book for the enjoyment of reading. I have lots of books to read; some I can’t wait to read, others I don’t even remember why I wanted to read them! Quality not quantity!

  4. I’m very glad you took the time to write this essay and I’m very glad I took the time to read it. Clarifies a lot that is important and in a way that really hits home. THANK YOU.

  5. I loved this post because I so related to you. I’m a slow reader. I’ve always loved books. (My mother would say, “You always have your head in a book,” but she would let me order as many Scholastic Books as I liked.) And it also takes me time to process a book after I’ve read it. I do have trouble abandoning a book–especially if it was selected by a member of my book club; sometimes I am rewarded for my persistence (in that the book gets better) and always I have a renewed appreciation for good books and good editing. Bad books teach me what a good book really is. Grateful for you and for this post.

  6. I track all the books I read, because I’ve always found I read too many and frequently forget their titles, only to pick them up again later without realizing I’m rereading them! Sometimes that’s a gift, but it’s really frustrating to not remember the title of a book I loved that I want to recommend!

    One thing I’ve done is set goals for my proportions. I want to make sure I’m reading diversely, and not just picking up the same authors time and again. I want to read outside my experience. So I track notes about the author’s background (gender identity, ethnicity) as well as if I’m reading inside my genres or expanding my horizons. I tend to join the Book Riot challenge (which is I think 24 books), but mostly to push my boundaries. I haven’t finished it the last two years, and I’m ok with that.

    All that to say, I totally respect your decision not to do another 52 book challenge, as well as being willing to put down a book you’re not enjoying. There are too many good books out there to waste time on one that’s not for you!

  7. I read hundreds of books a year and I couldn’t agree more with this post. With more than 2 million new books published each year, life is definitely too short to waste on a book that meets a goal but doesn’t touch your heart and your head.

    My biggest issue is managing to track them all. I am either too tired from the last book to take the time to record it or too excited to get to the next one to pause my reading. That also robs enjoyment from just reading.

  8. Such a nice piece! I relate to the frustrations you have so lucidly pointed out. Here’s to a more fulfilling and happier reading in 2020!

  9. You bring an interesting perspective to this popular reading challenge, Hurley. I think the goal stems from having that pile of “To Read” on one’s nightstand or GoodReads shelf. I have no problem finding books I want to read or quickly abandoning those I don’t like. Rather than saying I’m going to read X books this year, I prefer to say I’m going to devote more time to reading…maybe less time to Netfilx.

  10. I have been the host of a Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge for the past 11 years and we have always emphasized quality versus quantity, reading for pleasure as well and for self education. It brings me great pleasure to see people who went from reading nothing at all to setting their own goals and surpassing them, enjoying their reads and discovering new authors, genres, and styles of writing. It does have its benefits. The only pressure is the pressure each person places on themselves. My reading has slowed down quite a bit over the years and also become more eclectic. The point of any reading challenge is to read. Doesn’t matter how many books in the long run.

  11. I faced a similar dilemma last year. I usually read 45-50 books a year and set a goal around about there (with Goodreads of course). This past year I came in at a dismal 38 though.

    Why? In short – Life. Work got busier, I started dating someone, and we went through some pretty big transitions at my house. So while I aim for a few more books this year, I will be good if I don’t hit my (slightly lower) goal this year. I love books, but experiences are pretty fun too.

  12. Wish I had written that article myself. But, some kind of record keeping is helpful. In fact, we do go for the numbers only after finding “so much to read, so little read”. No more must-read-this-year for me though.

  13. To each his/her own, right? Great job relating your thoughts on the subject, and based on the many comments, you’ve struck a chord with many other readers.

    In college, I acquired two reading-intensive degrees. On average, I was reading four books a week– three for classes, one for pleasure. These weren’t slim selections either: Dickens, Hardy, Woolf, Steinbeck, Doyle, etc. I was always a voracious reader, getting through “Moby Dick” in a month when I was twelve-ish and “The Count of Monte Carlo” the same year.

    After college, I had multiple jobs and my rate dropped to a book every couple weeks. I devoted more time to socializing and pursuing other activities. After a few years, something felt off; eventually, I realized it was my lack of bookish indulgences.

    There are so many books out there, and publishers keep churning out more every week, lol! Getting further behind the 8-ball is inevitable, but the sense of missing out grew ever more urgent and compelling. Hearing others talk positively about a book on my TBR list that I haven’t gotten to yet frustrates me for not also enjoying the experience of that particular read.

    I’m back up to 80+ books a year, running a bunch of book clubs, and connecting with other bibliophiles on the networks. I’m glad for my somewhat regimented resurgence of quantity. The discipline it encourages has broadened my selections and motivated me to work steadily through bigger, deeper works.

    The grass seems to be green on both sides, which shade dost thou prefereth? :-)

  14. I love this! I, too love reading and feel pressured when I set my goal of x number of books. Often times, I am reading a wonderful book and I like to go back and review certain chapters but felt I needed to go on to the next book. This year, I started out with a wonderful book and just took my time and enjoyed it so much more. Thank you for voicing some of my own thoughts! Happy New Year and Reading

  15. I keep an annual spreadsheet of books i’ve read that includes a note about the books genre, a sentence or two that both describes the book (to jog my memory in the future) and rates it according to my personal preferences. I love looking back over the years to see how my reading has changed (or not).

  16. At this point in my life in through with competition, I read because I enjoy it. Soooo many books and so little time, fiction, nonfiction, or magazine just read.

  17. Really great article and observations. Thank you! I guess I use the challenge differently. I really don’t care if I actually achieve it or “win”, I just track whatever I am already reading. If I abandon a book, I put it on my “could not finish” shelf and be done with it. It is interesting to see at the end of the year how many books, how many pages, the genres etc. But perhaps part of my reasoning is because I am a PhD student. About 1/3 of the books (or more) are books I am required to read. I don’t want to lose track that I read them nor when I read them. To each his or her own. I think reading should be something we enjoy, not something to just “get through”.

  18. How do you folks find the time to read so much?
    I’m a primary care doc, married, with a couple of teenagers, averaging 20 books a year of leisure reading, feeling a bit like a slug.

  19. Just the fact that you achieved your goal is great. I find that I go back to books I’ve read before; it’s comfort reading, the same way telly is for them wot watch it. One book that has always captivated me is “The Edwardians”, by Vita Sackville-West. I don’t read the whole book anymore. The chapter labelled, “Sylvia” captures the moral tone of London Society in 1906. I won’t give anything away, except to recommend Sackville-West to anybody who thinks brilliantly written stories are a profitable use of one’s time to read.

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