Our Reading Lives

I Read a Book a Day for a Month. Here’s What Happened.

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

Months ago, I signed on for an intimidating reading project that also happened to be a great opportunity. I wasn’t sure how I would fit so many books into my schedule, but that was a problem for Future Danika. When January rolled around, it became my problem. Partly because of bad planning on my part, and partly due to the sheer volume of books involved, I realized I would have to read a novel a day for month to finish by the deadline.

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Now, I’m a reader. I love books. But I spend a lot more time reading and writing about books on the internet than I do actually reading books. My usual pace has me finishing a book or two a week. I would have to read about five times faster than usual to stay on track. Twice a year, I do 24 hour readathons, and because of that, I did know that it was possible for me to sit down and finish a book in a sitting or two. It’s one thing, though, to try to read as much as I can for a single day. It’s quite another to try to keep up a breakneck pace of reading for a whole month.

Of course, if reading was my full-time job, that wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, I do not live that dream. In fact, January was the beginning of a new semester, and I also have a part-time job, on top of my various internet ventures. That’s not even counting my two needy dogs! (The nerve of them, wanting to be walked every day.) With dedication and a liiitttllle bit of cheating, I was able to pull it off. Here’s what I did:

First, I have nearly an hour on the bus each way to university every day, which meant dedicated reading time. I would also read during lunch whenever possible, and in the minutes I arrived in class before instruction started. Once I got home, I had already fit in 2–3 hours of reading, and I was usually more than halfway through the book. I did my homework, ate dinner, maybe watched a half hour of TV, and spent the rest of the time reading. Usually I could just barely finish my book for the day before going to sleep.

Some days I wasn’t able to, though. A month is a long time to devote to any one project, and occasionally other things would demand my attention. I got sick and couldn’t keep track of the words. Or I was spending time with family. Or a book just took longer than others, because it had a higher page count, or because it was just harder to read. On those days, it would have to roll over to the next day, and I’d spend my weekend trying to catch up.

The thing that really made this possible, though, was not reading every single word of every book. Generally, I don’t skim the books I read for pleasure. If it’s an assigned reading that I need to get specific information from, sure, I’ll hunt for that info and ignore the rest. But for the books that I choose to pick up, I’ll often read the same paragraph over and over because I keep accidentally skimming it, just to make sure I’ve caught every word. That wasn’t possible during this reading challenge. I had to read books that I wasn’t a fan of, and I already knew it wouldn’t make the top of my list by the first or second chapter. I had committed to see it through, though, so I would skim. I’d read what stuck out, and let my eyes drift over the passages I wasn’t interested in. I read dialogue and ignored scenery. I read the key plot points carefully and only paid half attention to the joining scenes.

Oddly, having to skim some novels was freeing. I don’t see clear pictures in my head when I read (not complete aphantasia, but fairly close), which means that I am bored by most visual descriptions in novels. Because it doesn’t translate into a picture, those passages are pretty much useless for me, unless I want to try to memorize those features (“Okay, so, the living room is on the left when you walk in the door, and then his bedroom is the right right after the stairs…”). It was a relief to give myself permission to just skip over those points, when I wasn’t getting anything from it. It was a lot nicer to read a book where I only liked one aspect or character if I was able to concentrate on that and let myself skim over the rest.

So what happened when I read a book a day? It took over my life. I wasn’t able to do anything else. I love reading, but I also enjoy other things. I wasn’t able to spend as much time with my partner as I would like. I was stressed. I didn’t hang out with friends at lunch. I had to power through books I would usually savor. I always had one eye on the page count instead of the content. It wasn’t the best use of my time.

On the other hand, of course, I did read a lot. Once I’m able to add the books to my Goodreads account, it will look impressive (to me). When my classmates were complaining about the homework load, I could look at them with dead eyes and say “I’ve also been reading a book every day” and they looked back at me with horror. But overall, I’d say the pluses don’t outweigh the negatives. I will be taking my new skimming skills with me, and I fully intend to skim over any scenery I encounter in the future. It was also nice to know that I am capable of reading a book a day, and I could probably read more than I do without having it completely consume my life. Would I recommend reading a book a day? No, not unless a) you read about twice as fast as I do or b) it’s your job. Otherwise, I think we can all relax. Reading isn’t a race, and and we’re all going to die with books on our TBRs. (What? You’d rather at some point run out of books you want to read?)