On my last day of high school, my English teacher gave us one piece of advice: to keep a reading journal. Being a teenager, of course, I waited six years before starting to keep track of my reading. I’d feel bad about that—I guess if I’m being honest, I do—but college was pretty legitimate in its distractions. In any case, I’ve been thinking a lot about books lately, because I’m on pace to read more books this year than any since I’ve been keeping track.
I set a goal for myself to read 30 books this year. I finished the 30th the day before yesterday: Franny Choi’s Death by Sex Machine. (It was excellent, by the way, a collection of poems using artificial intelligence as a frame for how people are marginalized, alienated, and dehumanized.) This is the 16th week of the year, so if I maintain this pace, I’ll end 2018 having read 97 books. I doubt I’ll be able to keep that up, but it seems likely that I’ll beat my previous record of 51.
Reading this much is on one level exhilarating. It’s a feeling I haven’t had since I was a kid, when I used to spend whole days immersed in one fantastic world or another. In some ways the world felt more alive, more electric, bigger back then, and I suppose I’m not sure whether it’s because I spent more time mentally elsewhere or simply because I hadn’t had my own shine worn off yet. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t feel worn down back then, but even the grinding felt epic in its way.
This year I’ve read more, and more widely, than I can ever remember. It’s been thrilling, but at times I also feel like I’m drowning. Like the written word is simply too energetic for me to hold close, and I’m overwhelmed. And then when I come back to reality, I’m left both spent and disconnected, feeling as though I’m floating, unmoored from any sense of narrative or progress in my own life. I find myself wondering if I should try to be more present, more in the world, if I should read less.
At the same time, I find myself increasing anxious about all of the books I’m not reading, and which I’ll never read. Since 2003, I’ve averaged 24 books a year—though, of course, my journal doesn’t include the picture books I’ve read to my kids for almost ten years. Nor does it extend far enough back to include all of those lazy afternoons when I was a child, myself, nor the decade or so of assigned reading from middle school through college. If I’m generous with my estimates and my definitions of what a book is, I may have read as many as 1500 books or so in my life so far. If I live to be a hundred and keep to a pace of 100 books a year from now on, a feat that seems staggering to me, that seems to put an outside limit of 7700 books in my lifetime. In reality, it will be less than that. 7700 books might seem like a lot, and in truth it’s probably more than most people manage, but when I consider that over 600,000 books are published each year in the United States alone, it seems miniscule.
When I think about this, I feel a tiny bit of panic. And not just because of the books, themselves. While I sat and read during my lunch break today, the articles, essays, short stories, and poems in my bookmarks app sat untended. The video games I bought over a year ago sat unplayed on the hard drive of my neglected console. The movies and shows in my Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll queues sat unwatched, and this is to say nothing of the music I still haven’t listened to. Even while I’m reading, if I choose to read a new book by a favorite author, there are countless writers whose work I’ve never experienced that I’m still not reading. I’m certainly not writing anything of my own.
It’s that last thing that’s the crux of it, of course. I know that my anxiety tends to spike when I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything. I don’t want to slow down my reading, of course, but I need to get back to my own work, too. Aside from my reading goal, I also set a submissions goal for the year. Maybe it’s time to get to work on that one.
I had a whole other topic, but it’s late and I’ve gone on long enough already. Perhaps another day soon. I’m trying to get back in the swing of this thing. Thanks for your time and your patience.