Friday, May 6, 2016

Is it Unhealthy to Read 100 Books a Year?

I’m a little defensive right now, I’ll admit it. My youth group and I are doing a Reading Challenge this year. We’re not the only ones; there is a whole community of people doing the same challenge, which is fun.

The only problem is that on a discussion forum someone angrily posted that it was unhealthy to read 100 books a year. This person accused the 100-book-readers of slacking off at their workplaces or something. There was even an accusation that people in ministry are sitting around and reading when they should be ministering. Yikes.

For the record, I work in full-time ministry and none of my reading is done at work. I try to serve the church with excellence and integrity. I care deeply for God and His people, and I don’t ever want my hobbies to get in the way of Christ-centered ministry.

So today I’m writing to persuade you that it is possible to read 100 books a year. In fact, consider a few of these tips and reading 100 books will be downright easy:

General Tips for Reading:

1. Have fun!

Most of us stopped reading because the only books we read were assigned in school. It was a chore. The books were boring. We didn’t get to pick the topics.

Life’s too short for that nonsense. Reading shouldn’t be like eating vegetables; if those “timeless, classic books” don’t appeal to you then read something else that catches your interest. Read garbage! Read books you’d feel silly showing in public! Who cares, reading should be fun or interesting.

If you talk with lifelong readers then most will share that they came across the right book at the right time. Something lit the spark. And once they had momentum, it was fun to search out new books because, well, reading begets reading. Someday you may even find yourself at a point where those “timeless classics” catch your interest in a new way.

2. No guilt.

This is similar to “have fun” but with a sleight twist: a big reason why people stop reading is because they get slogged down in a book and it just drifts lower and lower on the to-do list. I get it, there are books I intend to read but end up collecting dust.

The result is we start books like we start diets. In a well-intentioned moment we say to ourselves, “I’m going to read more this year!” but then we somehow can’t find the time. We let our resolution slip and feel bad about not having created more free time.

There are a few ways to conquer this hurdle of guilt: First, give yourself permission to read in shorter spurts. There’s nothing wrong with reading a page a day as you brush your teeth, or wait for the microwave to cook your food, or while you’re waiting for a bus.

This short-spurt reading is especially great with e-books on your phone. The small screen of the phone means you quickly click through tiny, bite-sized pages. You’re less aware of the length ahead or behind of you so you fly through the book faster than you expect. (This principle is true when you purchase a bag of bite-sized candies or muffins too, by the way)

3. Genres.

Depending on what type of reader you are, you may want to read multiple books at once. I read several books at a time, each from a different genre. At any given time I might be partway through a non-fiction Christian book, a fiction sci-fi, and a book of poetry, for example. The genre differences make it easy to keep the books separate in my mind.

Why read multiple books at once? Because then I don’t care if it takes me months to read a boring or thick book. I chip away at the tome a couple pages at a time, and stay encouraged because I’m simultaneously flying through “easier” or “more enjoyable books.” It may just be me, but even if it takes a year to finish a book, I don’t feel stagnant because I’m completing smaller books. It works for me and it might also work for you.

4. Formats

Audiobooks, e-books, physical books. They each have their advantages and disadvantages so why not use them all!

I listen to short sections of audiobooks while in bed or while commuting. I read e-books on my phone if I’m stuck waiting somewhere. And I read physical books at home or while on trips.

Maybe I should throw in a comment about price too. By diversifying formats you can find great deals. I download audiobooks for free through my local library (with an app called Bridges). My local thrift store sells 20 books for $1. Seriously. And if you’re patient then you can nab e-books for cheap (or your relatives find out you like to read and give you Amazon gift cards on holidays).

5. Reading Speed

Some of us read fast, some of us read slow. It’s all good. My advice would be to read at your own pace and not to worry too much.

If you want to read faster then here are a couple suggestions: 1. try to get out of the habit of subvocalization (where you speak every word in your mind as if you were saying it out loud). 2. read more. As with anything, you’ll get faster with time. 3. dabble in a speed-reading course. It’s just a tool, speed-reading is not the same thing as usual reading, but it gives a different perspective.

I have different speeds: I read poetry the slowest because I want to savor every rhythm and word choice. It might take me minutes to read a few lines. I read fiction a little faster because I want to enjoy the events in “real-time,” getting swept along with the action. But I don’t want to watch an action movie in fast-forward, that would be strange. I read non-fiction a little faster because it’s more about receiving ideas than watching a scene being acted out. I read formulaic non-fiction the fastest. If you can guess the next 3 arguments the book is going to share, give yourself permission to up the pace a little.

Of course my absolute fastest speed is “speed-reading” or “reading for school deadlines,” which involves scanning the text to grab the first and last sentences of paragraphs, main words, the general flow of the argument, etc. Again, reading like that is just another tool in the tool belt. You might bristle at the idea of this kind of reading and that’s okay.

Tips for Reading for a Challenge:

1. Have fun!

I repeat this tip because it’s that important. I personally have a lot of fun doing challenges. They motivate me. I enjoy them.

If a reading goal/challenge becomes more of a burden than an encouragement then let it go. Or slow the pace. It’s better to have fun reading 2 books a year than to feel miserable trying to read 10. And if you’re like me then “fun” means the goal is hard enough to have to reach for it, but not so hard it pulls me down.

2. Be strategic.

Part of my fun was mapping out the books I would read. I’m trying to balance the thicker reads with lighter ones (so I’m not reading Dickens and Austen at the same time, that would be a killer). I’ve found short books to read. The fun of a challenge is being creative in accomplishing the goal.

3. Be flexible.

I mapped out what books I would read but then have switched a bunch. There are many reasons for this: either I found a shorter or more interesting book, I doubled in another category and could slide one over to something else, I found a different book in a more convenient format (like audiobook), etc.  [Some books make for better audiobooks than others]

4. It’s a challenge!

When you say yes to one thing you are saying no to other things. Because I took on this reading challenge, I’m writing less this year. I watch less television. It’s all about priorities; If you choose a different activity over reading then great, but own it, don’t get mad at the people who read and vent that you wish you had more free time.

If you’re looking for more free time then count up the time you spend watching t.v. and surfing the internet. If you are still looking for more free time then perhaps your schedule is overburdened and you need to create more margins in your life.

If you’re going to do the #vtReadingChallenge then here’s a quick-start plan:

A book for children.
A graphic novel.
A book of poetry.
A play by William Shakespeare.
A book with 100 pages or less.
A book you have started but never finished.
A self-improvement book.
A book of comics.
A book you have read before.
A photo essay book.

These 10 categories are extremely quick options. I’m guessing most readers can complete all 10 in less than 10 hours, which if you divvy into daily readings would be 98 seconds a session. (This blog post has gone WAY past that length). Add 3 audiobooks from your local library and you’ve already accomplished the first milestone of the reading plan. You get my point.

So read 100 books this year! Read 200 books! The number is not what makes the challenge healthy or unhealthy, it’s whether your reading habit encroaches upon your faith, family, friends, or work. Question for all you readers out there: have any tips to add to my list?

1 comment:

  1. Great Post! I read about 52 books per year, that's one per week. If I employ some of your tips I could read more, I think. Thanks!