In 1994, when I first started keeping track of the books I finished reading, my reading habits were quite a bit different than they are now. I was 25 years old, had roommates my age, an active social life, and I was studying for the GRE to get into graduate school. During that entire year I managed to read a whopping five books. Since the list is so short, I will share it with you:
Wilderness Tips – Margaret Atwood 3/19/94Kind of an interesting and odd list, don’t you think? Two of the five are non-fiction, which I don’t read much of these days. The Barzun I have no recollection of whatsoever, the Marx is a classic text in the field of American Studies, which is what I was headed off to study in grad school. Of the remaining three, at least one is a bona fide classic (Fitzgerald), one is often considered an important novel, perhaps even a baby classic (Naipual) and one is by one of the greatest authors alive (Atwood).
The Culture We Deserve – Jacques Barzun 5/1/94
The Enigma of Arrival – VS Naipaul 7/10/94
The Machine in the Garden – Leo Marx 12/5/94
The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald 12/11/94
From late 1995 to early 1997 the number of books I read went up considerably thanks to grad school. Most were non-fiction but there was also a fair amount of great American literature thrown in as part of my degree. Works by Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Crane, Howells, Dreiser, and others were read and dissected in class.
Having to do all that reading for grad school did three things: it reminded me that I loved to read, it conditioned my brain to read older, and in many cases more challenging fiction, and the required reading lists left me chomping at the bit, wanting desperately to create my own reading list. When I finished my degree I couldn’t wait to get to the public library. I wandered the shelves four hours and discovered for the first time in my life some of the truly great authors: Willa Cather, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton, and James Baldwin among others.
From then on, and through another Master’s degree, my reading habits kept up pace. In 2004 I heard a radio feature on a woman who had written a book about reading a book a week. I remember thinking that I easily read more than 52 books in a year. So I consulted my books read list (which by then was also in spreadsheet format) and discovered to my surprise that the most books I had read in a year was about 39. So I made it my mission to complete at least 52 books in 2004. Every year since then I have pushed myself to do more than the previous year. Even though it hasn’t always worked out that way, 2008 was kind of slow for me, it has been an encouragement to help me keep striving to read more.
And now this year it looks like I am going to break 100. I must admit that keeping an eye on the number of books that I read has had an impact on whether or not I tackle some bigger books. I still manage to dig into a chunky Trollope now and then. And this year I even managed the Wilkie Collins doorstop also known as The Woman in White. However, I feel like reaching the 100 book mark really frees me up to tackle a really, really big book.
So I am going to embark on War and Peace. All 1,358 pages of War and Peace. I am not sure if I am going to wait until I finish my 100 for the year. I am kind of itching to start now. And I am not sure, with my other reading, if I will finish it in 2009. And frankly, at this point I don’t even care if I actually make it to 100 books this year (big step for an OCD-head like myself to let that go). I just love the fact that nearing that unintended goal, I feel kind of liberated take on the mother of all chunksters.
Besides with a cover like this who could say no?
Do your reading goals, whether they be driven by book or page quotas, online challenges, book clubs, school, or any other sort of real or perceived pressure keep you from reading what you really want to?