How I read

Image: Foyles in Soho, London.

Following on from my post about the best books I read last year – a few notes about how reading is changing for me.

Like 2016, I set a reading goal last year on Goodreads the slowly improving, delightful social network for readers of 52 books, an average of one a week. I passed that mark at the start of my Christmas holiday and after some confusing adjustments ended in 53 (a novella being the cheeky 53rd).

There are more books I want to read than I am likely to have years of life to conquer. My “Want To Read” list on Goodreads has grown from about 300 to over 390 books this year, and is probably only a fraction of the books I would like to set about reading. Seeing this data has given me pause over the past few week has made me wonder about how to prioritise what I read. Maybe that list needs a cull.

One change I have made is give up reading books that aren’t working for me more often. Awareness of the sunk cost fallacy — we tend to throw good resources after bad because we don’t like writing off investments we have made so far — and the ever-growing pile of other things I’d like to read make this feel like a habit I need to strengthen.

I did stop reading a few books sat the mid-point of the year, mainly because I was reading too many simultaneously and it was just getting silly.

The only book I declared a DNF this year was Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution. As a sometime insomniac, I am seriously interested in sleep, but this book wasn’t telling me much that I either didn’t know already or didn’t find useful.

Authors of books about sleep take note — I’d expect a large number of people who are interested enough to pick up your book in the first place are probably suffering from sleep deprivation — several chapters on just how badly your health is being affected by your current state just isn’t what you are going to find useful. SLEEP LOSS MAKES YOU DUMB AND LIVE LESS LONG. Yes, thank you. YOU SHOULD SLEEP MORE. Yes, I know. YOU ARE A DUMB ZOMBIE MAKING BAD LIFE CHOICES. OK, please bugger off now…

In terms of reading media, I am still an e-books person, although when I really love a book I will generally then buy a hard copy or several, to give as gifts or share with colleagues and add to our work library.

I have loved reading some paper books this year, and want to read more. The most beautiful book I read was Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari which I received the hard copy of as a gift. I was so taken with the typesetting and font — Dante, with headers in bold red — that I hunted down and bought a licence and created a theme for Ulysses, my favourite writing app, that mimicked the its pages.

I’ve definitely bought more paper books than i have read this year – a lot more – and I need to somehow break the Kindle habit and pull one from the pile instead of downloading a fresh new ebook from one of my lists.

When there’s a book I really want to devour, I love to get the audio version alongside the Kindle version. With the WhisperSync feature on this platform, the audio stays in sync with the text, so I can read a few pages at breakfast and then carry on listening to the text as I walk. I’ve forgotten – and cannot easily conjure in Google – the person who said something like, “You should read a good novel twice – the first time for plot and the second for the prose,” but I wholeheartedly agree.

One book I often return to is Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel. I’ve read it several times, so often that I can happily dive into a random bit of the audiobook and soak up the sad prose and enervatingly empty world she makes with it.

I don’t agonise over how I read. The only thing I want to stay vigilant about – regardless of the medium – is that I don’t waste time on reads I regret. There’s literally too many books I would rather be reading to waste more than a moment on a second-rate text.

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