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How Deadlines Put My Reading Habits into Overdrive

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Alex Acks

Contributing Editor

Alex Acks is a writer, geologist, and sharp-dressed sir. They've written for Six to Start and been published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Shimmer, Daily Science Fiction, and more. Alex lives in Denver with their two furry little bastards, where they twirl their mustache, watch movies, and bike. Twitter: @katsudonburi Website:

This starts with a confession: over the last five or so years, I really haven’t read much outside of the Hugo voter’s packet and a few novels and stories that I was enthused about.

Compared to how I used to read, this is an utterly pathetic amount. I was one of those kids in high school who had at least three books going at the same time, who read at least three a week. Even in college I kept up with all of my reading assignments and had time to cram a couple of novels a month into my brain meats.

I’m not sure what changed. Becoming a busy adult, maybe. A lot of my old reading time has been taken up by writing, and by the internet. Does that count? I read a lot of news articles, a lot of essays. But one thing you hear over and over again as a writer is that writers read. Omnivorously. Not just the [at times brilliant] rantings of people who are angry about the same things you’re angry about. It’s the way to recharge your empty word bucket, and I let it slide.

But it’s gotten better, in the last few months.

The single biggest thing that’s happened to get me back on the reading train has been getting a library card and actually using the library. I think it’s the reality of the deadline. In college, you had to read Jane Eyre in a single week because the assignments were due. In library-life, you have a few more weeks than that, but you also normally have a lot more books than that, waiting for your attention. And you have to get these books read before (worst case scenario) you run out of renewals.

Having access to Overdrive has only placed this feeling of a deadline into, forgive me, overdrive. I can check out books on my phone. But I can’t renew them. Those 21 days are all I get, and then if I’m not done, I’m on the bottom of the waiting list to get it back out. Overdrive waiting lists are sometimes legendarily long, and not helped by the fact that a lot of people seem to just wait for the book to automatically return itself, rather than taking the extra step to send it back early.

(Please, please send books back when you’re actually done with them. Your fellow library monkeys will thank you.)

With the deadline hanging over me, I make the time to read like I never felt compelled to do before. I’m torturing myself on social media less, and I’m not writing every minute of the day I can—which I think has actually improved the quality of my writing. I’ve got more words recharging my word bucket, and I’m not driving myself as hard. I’m seeing what other people are doing.

It guess the lesson is: it’s amazing what having a reading deadline will do. I’ve only had my library card and access to overdrive for three months, and I’ve already read 24 books. This is probably more than I read per year over the last three years while I was in my Houston exile. Now I’ve always got three books going again, one on Overdrive, one from the library, and an ebook on my reader.

And it feels great. Like coming home. This has also turned me into an aggressive proselytizer of the Gospel of Overdrive.

The only potentially bad thing I see is that books I actually own keep getting shuffled lower in the to-be-read pile, since library books of all varieties get priority. I’ve got a serious “eyes are bigger than my free time” problem when it comes to checking out and buying books. But that’s the normal problem to have, right? It’s a bid for immortality, since I’m not allowed to die until I’ve read everything I have waiting.