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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Reflections On A Year Of 100 Books: Is It Even Worth It?

Madeleine Remi |
December 26, 2014 | 9:39 p.m. PST


It's a problem when going to the bookstore to find something new to read ceases to be fun (Sara Newman/Neon Tommy)
It's a problem when going to the bookstore to find something new to read ceases to be fun (Sara Newman/Neon Tommy)
As this year draws to an end, I think it’s important to clarify that I am not a believer in New Year’s resolutions. I’ve tried, many times, and those sparkly new running shoes I get for Christmas or the volunteer pamphlets I pick up either lay in a closet or in a the back of a dark desk drawer never to be seen again. New Year’s resolutions are often doomed from the start as we try to keep fitting more activities into already overscheduled lives. They usually fall apart at the crucial juncture between more sleep and self betterment (hint: sleep almost always wins). 

Last year, however, I became so intensely bothered by how little reading I was doing that I actually stuck to my resolution. I realized that while in the midst of calculus and ACT prep, I’d let the newest HBO drama or brilliantly crafted sitcom satiate my need for quality storytelling. After all, when our brains are already working so hard during the work or school day, why would someone choose to spend the evening cracking open a book when they can easily get their storytelling needs met by Hulu?

All too familiar with the various distractions and excuses offered by the great black hole commonly known as the internet, I was determined to bring myself out of the time-crunched funk that high school had created for me and actually read. With just one more semester until the start of college, I pledged myself to the lofty goal of trying to read 100 books in a year. 

To those of you who are as obsessed with numbers as I am with words, that left me with the challenge of reading a book every 3.65 days, or 8 to 9 books a month. 

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The first month flew by. I was shocked by how much time I had suddenly found in my schedule. The hours spent eating lunch and browsing the internet or waiting to fill a prescription at CVS were suddenly prime opportunities to bond with my Kindle. 

Somehow I even found myself making my way through the books ahead of target, finishing off a new one approximately every two days.

I tried to vary up my reading material: one 500+ page novel, one YA book, one by someone no longer living, one graphic novel, one children’s book, one non-fiction volume, etc. It didn’t always work out perfectly, but I found that switching up narrative styles helped immensely. I had so many books to read and so many characters to captivate me; with this many worlds to be apart of, I felt invincible. 

Then I hit 30 books. 

By the time I reached my thirtieth book, all the excitement had worn off. The satisfied smirk of being way ahead of my monthly novel count had all but disappeared, and I’d even stopped downloading book samples on amazon. I started going back to NPR’s best book lists of 2007 and asking my teachers for recommendations, but even so, I found myself guiltily binge-watching House of Cards (a woeful mistake but at least one with only two seasons). Somewhere between book 25 and book 30, reading had become a chore, something downright frustrating. 

I got stuck in the trap of hating the book I was reading so much that former-me would have abandoned it, but reading-crazed me would reason that if I was already 40 percent done, I could simply power through and finish it the next day. 

Along the way, I also started to notice patterns. I began to take note of what types of books grow most tedious, and how most of the books on that bestseller list are eerily similar. After reading so much so rapidly, most books began to seem like a mere reiteration of some other book I’d already made my way through.

Maybe it’s not the books, I’d begun to think—maybe it was me. Maybe I’d caught spring fever and simply didn’t want to sit around reading anymore novels by some author long-dead. Why not devote myself to something more meaningful, like crafting the perfectly quippy 140-characters tweets?

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My goal to reinvigorate my love of reading had turned on me so unexpectedly that I began to dread reading almost as much as I dreaded the gym. I had to take a break. 

After three Kindle-free weeks I returned to  the task at hand armed with a new set of policies: no longer would books live past the 20 percent mark if they didn’t captivate me, and no longer would I torture myself with books I didn’t like purely for the sake of experimentation. 

This is not necessarily a story of victory; as of now I have reached 71 books this year, and while I may make my way up into the high 70’s by the end of the month, I will certainly not be reaching 100. My pilgrimage of books may not have left me with the euphoria I had expected, but it did leave me wiser than when I began. In summation…   

1. Reading should remain a source of joy, not obligation. As a college student, you already do a million things because you “should”. You try and eat a vegetable every once and a while, you go to a professor’s office hours so they’ll like you, you call family members you never used to speak to just to check in. If you’re going to carve out the time to read, make sure it’s something you like. (And if you don’t like it by the 30 percent mark, just put it down and find something better.)

2. You should always be reading something. It doesn’t matter if it takes you two days or two months to work your way through a novel, as long as you’re trying to chip away at it every day. Reading teaches us empathy in a way that television and movies simply can’t. When you read, you are forced to engage in a story, and have no choice but to sympathize with at least one character—and even if not, at least you gain a new perspective. The internet is a strange place where everyone seems to feel completely validated in their opinion, and it’s nice to be told you’re wrong by a person who can’t argue back. 

3. You don’t grow out of a love of reading. Your relationship to books is just that: a relationship. If you’ve abandoned it for the past few years, chances are it may feel a bit rocky going back at first. If you hyper-engage and allow it to take over your life, chances are that it will exhaust you, so like any good relationship, balance is key. Whether you read philosophy books or comic books, it doesn’t matter as long as you are engaging with complex storytelling. 

As for next year, I’m going to continue my reading goal-free. Remember that old adage about quality over quantity? Well, here’s to seeing if it’s worth something. My new vow is simply to never stop reading, and to allow myself the space to live with a book for as long as I choose to. Sometimes the best stories are the ones that take weeks to digest, other times you consume them in an hour. The timing doesn’t matter, so long as you reach that final sentence.

Contact Contributor Madeleine Remi here.



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