Our Reading Lives

Calling A Time-Out On Reading For Sport

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

I laughed when Tivo came out with QuickMode™, the option to speed through shows at a faster playback. I mean I guess if you have to watch something for homework or something (is that a thing?) and don’t really want to watch it, then the faster the better. But if you’re doing something for enjoyment, why rush it? That’s when I realized this is what I was doing with my reading: rushing through books as fast as I could to get to the next one on my can’t-wait-to-read-it TBR, and also trying to break the previous year’s number of how many books I had read.

We Ride Upon Sticks cover

But why? Pizza Hut isn’t giving me a free pizza for my reading accomplishments. There is no prize I’m working for. While part of my reading is for work, and pleasure and work gets blurred when you like your job, I have always read for the enjoyment of it. For the places I travel to. The people I meet — friends and foes. It’s the time of being between the pages and disconnecting from *gestures wildly at the current world.* So why was I reading instead to be finished with a book and get to the next one quicker?

Yes, a book nerd’s goal is always to read as much as possible, because there are just so many amazing books and so little time — *shakes fist over recent stolen hour*! But wanting to get to as many books as possible and speeding through what you’re reading with the constant goal of what is next, to the point of not being in the moment of the book you are reading, was certainly not any goal I wanted. Yet that’s where I found myself in 2020. You may have just shuddered at me even mentioning that year, so yes, your most likely assumption that the year itself probably had something to do with the breaking of my very long great reading life is somewhat accurate. But I think it just highlighted for me a problem I hadn’t realized had started.

I was constantly checking the percentage of how much I had already read and how much more I had to go. I was already thinking of the next book I would read as if it was already more important to the one in my hand. I was aiming to read to make my yearly read count higher and my actual reading life was severely suffering. Who exactly cares what my exact book read total is? Was I competing with the bookternet? My past self? What exactly was the point? How had reading turned into a sport?

I started 2021 by taking a huge step back. Every time I caught myself doing something in my reading life I asked myself three questions: Why are you doing this? What is the point? Is it adding to the enjoyment of your reading life?

Checking what page/percentage I am on and how much is left is a thing I have since banned myself from doing. This took the most work, like not checking your cell phone.

Tallying up how many books I read in the month is out.

Pushing a book aside because it is too many pages and I could technically read two in its place is a ridiculous thing.

Related: keeping track of how many pages were in the book I read is bye-bye.

Selecting the next book(s) I will read when I am still reading my current book(s) — unless for Unusual Suspects newsletter planning — is a thing of the past.

Sneaking in reading at ANY single moment where I could maybe even read just three pages has stopped — unless I’m reading a page-turner, in which case this is mandatory. But tiny spurts of reading — and I mean tiny, like the time it takes me to walk up two flights of stairs — wasn’t enough time to get into any book and detach from real life, and once again seemed to tie back to some imaginary goal of “must read as much as possible as fast as possible.”

And wow, has my reading life improved. I’ve found myself again feeling the way I did as a child, crawling into the world of a book to escape, to learn, to laugh, to cry, to meet so many people, and see so many worlds. If I set myself a goal now I make sure it is for my enjoyment and benefit, like seeking out more comics and narrative nonfiction/memoirs because I always really love them and only read less of them because I don’t take the time to seek them out. I do still keep a list of what I’ve read, for work purposes and because my memory is so bad I’d end up reading the same books over and over again, but the number doesn’t matter. It actually never did. 

VIZ Media

Throughout this I asked myself where and why this had started, and I didn’t really find a definitive answer. I love seeing what everyone else is reading, and I was never trying to outdo anyone else’s inhaling of books, just my own. Which has allowed me to continue enjoying the community of book nerds on social media who do keep track, and or share their end of the month STATS. Something can work for one reader and not another, and I just needed to realize which camp I had found myself in recently and make adjustments. And oddly enough, even though my goal was to stop trying to just inhale every book as fast as possible, it seems I am now reading more than before. I guess I just needed to get myself back to reading for enjoyment and not some weird imaginary sport.