If Reading Were An Olympic Sport

This post will seem incredibly strange to anyone who is not a complete book geek. Be forewarned.

After an email exchange with Riot editor Rebecca Joines Schinsky about why I couldn’t contribute to July’s contributor book round-up, I looked around my bedroom, at the scads of half-read books lying around, to confirm that it was true; I have not finished a book in the month of July. (Well, that’s kind of a lie… I finished On the Road with a read-along, but it was read over the course of two months.) And then I walked out to the TV room and sat my butt in front of the Olympics for most of the weekend. While doing my patriotic duty of watching my fellow country-folk competing, I couldn’t help thinking about what it would be like if reading were an Olympic sport.

With the myriad of sites that are the reading equivalent to ESPN (including this one), and others that give stats (such as GoodReads), reading is certainly a sport for some of us. How fast, how much, who are you reading? Do certain genres gain you extra points? Does finishing the next sure bestseller a few months shy of being part of the cultural cusp deduct from your score? And, like any great sport, does not practicing for any length of time weaken your game?

Back to the fact that I haven’t finished any of the books that I started in July: in the world of avid book readers, this doesn’t just border on pathetic, it’s dangerous. We all go through slumps; sometimes we’re busy with work, we’re traveling, or we would just rather take a break and watch TV. But usually during those reading slumps (and in the Olympic sport of Reading, we call those slumps), you aren’t reading, period. You’re letting your brain, eyes, hands, and wallet rest – and usually for good reason, you’re burned-out. However, when you have a plethora of books at your fingertips and leave them scattered about started, but unfinished, it usually means your head isn’t in the game. It means you’re too focused on the outcome and not enough on your form.

Sound crazy yet? Maybe, but here’s the point: When we get so distracted by trying to make a certain goal (pace, titles, amount) it’s like eating empty calories… what’s the point? Though, if meeting your goals come naturally, go with it. Whether you’re a very fast reader, happen to always know about and call the next big contenders before the rest of the world does, or you just really enjoy reading quality literature all the time; you are a natural in your category. You can train, like any athlete should, but (lucky you) it will always come easier to you without as much effort as it takes from others. However, if it does not come naturally to you, don’t be discouraged, you are not disqualified – it just means that you’ll need to focus a bit more to make your goals, whatever they may be. (We know this in other areas of our lives… for instance I abhor vegetables, but I eat them so I don’t have to lie to my mother when she asks. Okay, and maybe also so I don’t die of malnutrition.)

That night, after my e-mail with Rebecca, I picked up one of the books I’ve been reading. One that I knew was quite well written, and the plot of which I was actually enjoying (if not exactly finding thrilling). I reminded myself of what I already know, seasoned reading-athlete that I am–if I just slow down, if I concentrate on what I’m reading rather than the amount of pages in my right hand, if I keep my eye on the page and not on the ever-growing stack of books by my bedside, I start to find my rhythm. In fact, this book, the one that I’ve been taking a month to read, will probably be done by the time this post is published because I am now cruising right through it. And when I am attempting the painstaking process of choosing my next book (because part of the sport is finding the right playing ground, no?), I’ll be reminded that I may have to pick one that I’ll have to work for, because nobody does the reading for you – if you want the experience, the knowledge, the insight, and the accomplishment that comes from interacting with the written word, you have to earn it. I can remember that now that I have my head back in the game.

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