Or: An exploration on how we quantify our reading
June is more than halfway over and I have not finished any books (yet). My knee-jerk reaction to this realization was that I should hurry up and finish something so I have things to talk about in my monthly wrap-up. However, after a minute of consideration I realized that it really doesn’t matter.
The topic of “reading slumps” often crops up in the bookish community and is almost always presented with an apologetic tone (as though the mark of a good reader is one who completes as many books as possible). Personally, I don’t really like the term, though I acknowledge why it resonates with others.
To me the term “reading slump” has a negative connotation and implies that one is somehow failing or wasting their time if they are not constantly reading (and of course, finishing) books. This is simply not true and the self-inflicted guilt for not reading is probably counterproductive.
However, as the saying goes, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” so, being the overthinker that I am, I decided to dive a little deeper into what my lack of completed books can tell me about my current season of life and mindset. Here are some things that came up in the process:
There’s more to life than reading
One of the most common reasons people give when asked why they don’t read (or do other things they say they want to do) is that “life gets in the way”. But I think this throwaway excuse discounts the value of daily life and the multitude of interests that make us multi-layered human beings.
If all you want to do in a certain season of life is read, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you’re not neglecting anything or anyone that genuinely needs your attention. Lately though I’ve been prioritizing other things, such as:
I’ve gotten back into my creative writing practice and have a few projects I’m working on more seriously this year. While it’s sometimes a struggle, I find the process of brainstorming, researching, writing, and revising to be very rewarding. That being said, I find that when I want to focus on writing, I need to cut way back on reading long-form fiction (and narrative non-fiction) because it clutters my mind and messes with the tone and voice of my own writing.
Connecting with others
I’m not the most social person but I do genuinely enjoy connecting with friends and family. This month, schedules aligned and I’ve been spending most of my weekends going on mini adventures or catching up with friends and family who live nearby. I’ve also been making more of an effort to check in with loved ones who live further away on a regular basis and am hoping to plan some visits in the near future.
This year I’ve gotten back into a regular exercise routine and I’m loving it so much! In the past couple of months I decided to step up my game, which has led to more strength and energy, but also takes a significant amount of time away from other things I could be doing.
Practical Household Things
I actually enjoy taking care of my home and doing a lot of “daily chore” type things as long as I don’t feel rushed when doing them. This month we got a lot of fish and mangos so I’ve been trying out new recipes and spending more time on meal prep. At the same time, I’m getting ready to plant a second round of veggies in my container garden and have been researching more efficient ways to use my limited space. I’m also doing another round of decluttering and doing other things to improve our home such as re-organizing and decorating.
I honestly haven’t been great about prioritizing rest, but time spent doing nothing is valuable to the creative process and general well-being so I’ve been making a conscious choice to allow time to sit outside in the beautiful summer air and just relax.
Completed books aren’t the only measure of reading success
As I was reflecting on my month so far, I realized that I actually have been reading a lot even if I haven’t completed any books.
This is where I think things like reading stats and challenges fail sometimes us. By counting the number of books (or pages) read, we subconsciously equate completion with value. But here’s the thing: You don’t need to complete books to get value out of them. I could (and have) started several books this month that I may never finish and that’s a good thing.
Reasons I might find value in a book but not complete it:
- Some of these are anthologies with only one or two pieces I wanted to read.
- Others are non-fiction books that don’t need to be read cover to cover.
- Some fiction books may have intense value for others but are not written for me. I might read just enough to satisfy my curiosity and give me an idea of whether it is something I could recommend to others who might enjoy it.
Also, let’s acknowledge that traditional full-length books are not the only valid form of reading.
Short-form reading, in various formats, has been taking up much of my time this month. These sources of information and stories are just as important to me as many of the books I would put on my reading log.
Short-form reading I’ve been enjoying:
Research related to my writing projects
Articles, informative videos, podcasts, and other media are valuable sources of information and inspiration for the stories I’m currently working on. While not all of it would “count” as reading, or even make it into the story, the time I spend taking in the information is significant enough to mention.
I’ve been rediscovering my appreciation for the craft of short fiction. Since several of my projects will likely end up as short stories, as opposed to novel-length works, I’ve been revisiting old favorites and exploring new stories to get back into the right mindset. Some of the stories I’ve been reading are in anthologies, while others are online.
Some of the print collections I’ve been revisiting include:
- Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Lucas K. Law and Derwin Mak
- The Elephant Vanishes: Stories by Haruki Murakami
- Collected Stories by Gabriel García Márquez
- Bamboo Ridge Vol. 118 & Vol 119: Kīpuka: Finding Refuge in Times of Change
My new favorite online magazine is Uncanny Magazine, which publishes Science Fiction and Fantasy short stories, poems, and essays. My personal favorites from Vol. 46 are:
- Your Eyes, My Beacon: Being an Account of Several Misadventures and How I Found My Way Home by C.L. Clark
- The Scholar of the Bamboo Flute by Aliette de Bodard
- The Eternal Cocktail Party of the Damned by Fonda Lee
Manga and Webcomics
I’ve also gotten back into reading manga and have been catching up on some ongoing series. I generally don’t count these on my reading log because most of the manga I read are online rather than in bound collections. Some are quick and fun, while others have incredible depth, but either way, they are a welcome change of pace from a lot of the dense or emotionally heavy novels I’ve been reading lately.
Recent favorites: Orange (Takano Ichigo), Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card Arc (Clamp), The Promised Neverland (Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu)
Video games get a bad rap for being counterintuitive to productivity but some are very story-centered and involve quite a bit of reading. One in particular that’s been taking a lot of my time lately is Triangle Strategy, which has an extremely rich storyline, characters, and relationships.
So, what’s next?
Even though I really am okay with the fact that I’m completing far less books than in the past, I am hoping to finish Jade Legacy this month. I’m still in love with the world and the characters but this third book in the trilogy has been quite slow-going because it’s so dense with information (and it’s more than 700 pages).
I do also have several library holds that recently came in and I’m hoping that I can dip into them in the next few weeks before they’re due.
Final thoughts on how we quantify our reading
If you’ve made it this far, I would like to leave you (and perhaps myself) with a few reminders:
- It’s okay if you slow down on reading or stop altogether – you may have different priorities in this season of life.
- The number of books you finish isn’t important.
- You can get value from books you don’t complete.
- Reading extends to more than just traditional, long-form books.
Is reading a priority in your current season of life? Do you feel pressure to finish a certain number of books each month?