Our Reading Lives

The Journey of a Reader: 900 Books Later

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Neha Patel

Staff Writer

Neha is an editor living in Dallas, TX who reads a little more than her optometrist would like. She works fulltime as a medical editor but also loves proofreading and copyediting all types of fiction on the side as well as conducting sensitivity/authenticity reads for Indian characters and Hinduism. When she's not reading or editing, she's writing her fantasy novel, bookstagramming at @bookishdesi, or collecting records. More at neha-patel.com

No one ever says this, but reading is a skill. Really. Not only are you expected to decipher the etchings of a complete stranger, but also to understand their deepest darkest musings. Perhaps that’s melodramatic, but it was Ray Bradbury who told writers, “Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”

Reading is not skimming the CliffsNotes of Fahrenheit 451 before a quiz or cramming a Wikipedia article on The Great Gatsby for a paper due in an hour. Reading is putting yourself at the mercy of someone else’s soul (which has been burned by a white hot light for good measure).

The Journey of a Reader

Throughout my 26 years, books have made me gleeful, infuriated, curious, and heartbroken. My parents forbade me from watching television during school nights, so I turned to books for entertainment.

I still remember picking up The Boxcar Children, Junie B. Jones, and Encyclopedia Brown all those years ago in my 3rd grade teacher’s classroom library. My tastes have evolved from orphans living in boxcars, but that’s the beauty of being a reader: you never have to settle. For the longest time, I had to really hunt for stories with protagonists who shared my heritage. And let’s not get into my Twilight phase.

Between perfecting transfiguration with Harry, running away from Count Olaf, and sassing Mr. Darcy, my reading skills got better. Why? Because reading takes patience, a virtue that my father tells me I need more of. Over the years, I struck a balance with my reading pace, one that comfortably got me to process information effectively.

Counting Books

For the longest time, I didn’t even bother counting how many books I read. In fact, I reread books I loved and never kept up with new releases. But then came the infamous Goodreads challenge. We live in a world dominated by numbers. But instead of looking at numbers, I look at memories. The numbers just follow.

I know there’s a ton of controversy surrounding the challenge and I agree with the criticism. However, I also love recording my reading life, and Goodreads is my tool of choice.

Note that I said “tool.” For me, Goodreads is a tool, not a task master. For some, it’s not the right tool and that’s understandable. I tend to be goal oriented, so having a space to keep track is helpful to me.

They Called Us Enemy cover imageUsing the Goodreads Challenge

In 2013, I was in my second year of college, swamped with lab reports for organic chemistry and papers on Romeo and Juliet. As much as I enjoyed my English classes, I was losing my way with personal reading and figured joining the Goodreads challenge would spur me to action.

Fast forward to November 2019, my sixth year doing the Goodreads challenge, and I realize that I have read over 900 books. How’s that for reading skills? Joking. Honestly, numbers are great for reflection years later, but in the moment, I say enjoy the story.

My 900th book was They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, a graphic memoir of his family’s forced internment during World War II. It’s everything I could want in a milestone read: poignant writing, gorgeous illustrations, and a timely message. I remember finishing Takei’s story, tearing up and reflecting on why I loved reading in the first place. It wasn’t about finishing some challenge or meeting a number—it was about experiencing the story of someone I normally wouldn’t have met (but would be honored to).

I doubt I’ll do the Goodreads challenge forever. Going into the start (or end?) of this new decade, I intend to experience “the prism light” of more authors who’ve had different life experiences than me and continue to refine those reading skills.

I’m proud of my reading accomplishments, but there are still too many books and too little time.