I’m a voracious reader – and if you were ever to have coffee with me, the phrase “I’ve been reading this interesting book recently about…” is almost certain to come up. So back in January when setting my New Year’s resolutions I wondered if I could increase the total number of books that I usually read in a year to 52 – and essentially read one book per week for the entire of 2017.
I won’t bore you with a review of each book (there are/will be separate posts for the ones relevant to this blog) but I did think it would be an good exercise to reflect on some of the things that the experience has bubbled up for me so far, now that I’ve reached the halfway point.
Highlighting the tension between consumption and creation
“Surfing the digital seas easily becomes a substitute for heading in any specific direction at all.”
I think one of our biggest challenges as modern day information navigators, is to find the right balance between consumption and creation – or at minimum, consumption and synthesis. It’s increasingly easy to find different ways to access and take in new inputs – whether that’s blog posts, animated gifs, status updates, news alerts, video summaries…the list keeps growing as the platforms for sharing them do. But how often do we step back and do the harder work of sense-making? Of spotting the common threads between things we’re interested in or taking something we’ve learned and adapting it to our own lives? Or simply questioning the reliability of the sources we’re turning to?
That process of reflection and synthesis may ultimately result in the creation of something new – whether that’s a change in habit, a discussion with others, noting ideas down in a blog post or something else. And when it’s so easy to keep on consuming, it’s tempting to drop the synthesis part completely. Staying busy surfing the digital seas easily becomes a substitute for heading in any specific direction at all.
And so too with my book experiment. The pressure to keep moving onto the next book as soon as the previous one was finished often took away any time for reflecting. Thanks to the work-related texts, that’s meant my head has felt increasingly full of new ideas, without the space to do anything useful with them – something that gets stressful after a few months! Combine that with other inputs from conferences, workshops and online reading and I found a strong motivation to revive this blog 🙂
Book clubs are great for accountability and new perspectives
“…a valuable additional layer of accountability”
This year was the first year that I joined a book club – one that we’re running online in a Facebook group. This has been a great source of new book ideas – leading me to read things I might not otherwise have heard about. Many of the books we’ve read have been by American writers and that’s also led me to compare the differences between them and some of the UK authors I like, while also expanding my cultural awareness of the US. (Not everything that happens in this country is set in NYC! The Deep South has a powerful history. The challenges of growing up in a small town are both similar and different to the UK. Familial relationships provide inspiration for literature the world over etc. etc.)
A book club has also provided a valuable additional layer of accountability – committing me to one of my four books every month. Plus it’s been good to hear the perspective of the other group members (many of whom I don’t know offline). The whole experience of joining a brand new online community of interest – and experimenting with how to participate as a member and negotiate the community management of that group has been fascinating for me as a community manager too.
Making space to move on
“You’ll make more friends through books than you will in real life”
My high school English teacher said more than once that “You’ll make more friends through books than you will in real life” – and while this may have been before the internet concept of “friends”, she had a point. By spending somewhere between 200 and 500 pages with a character in a novel, learning about their past, their key relationships and some important things that happen to them, you’re probably getting closer to that imaginary figure than you might to most new acquaintances.
Plus some characters just grab hold of you and won’t let go – books can be intimate, moving experiences. So it’s not surprising to me that they can also require time to settle once they’re over – to imagine what the character might have done next, remember the most intense bits of their story and let go of your relationship to this whole other world that you’ll never see again. I’ve missed the pause between novels that this experiment has removed even as I’ve relished getting to know more characters.
Exploring biases – and course-correcting
“…exploring the equivalent of “you are what you eat”
For many years I’ve been tracking all of the books I read – everything from poetry collections to novels, self-help guides to work-related texts. I started doing this for several reasons. Firstly, I could never remember how long ago I’d read something. If I associated it with a certain period in my life I liked to be able to map the books to the personal milestones with certainty. Secondly, I’ve been more and more intentionally exploring the equivalent of “you are what you eat” – namely that what you read is going to impact your world view. As we are invited more and more to consider our biases, I think being aware of our individual information diets is an important aspect.
On a more subtle note, I think what you read can also impact your mood or immediate outlook if the topic is particularly emotionally charged. For example, I’ve somewhat accidentally (thanks to the book club) ended up reading a series of dystopian novels this year. But what started out as a desire to read “The Handmaid’s Tale” ended up with reading about national economic collapse on Independence Day and realising that I’ve really had enough of imagining the end of the world and need a shift in focus… Likewise, reading three different books about slavery and/or racism in the US was hugely eye-opening but needed counter-balancing with some lighter topics.
Reading this much requires a lot of quiet time!
“Sorry, I can’t come out tonight, I have a book to finish”
I’m an introvert by nature but, even so, reading a book a week has required a lot of quiet time! In the weeks when I’ve been travelling, reading on trains, buses and planes has worked out well, but in the more regular work weeks it’s typically involved a lot of time sat on the sofa. “Sorry, I can’t come out tonight, I have a book to finish” hasn’t become a regular occurrence, but it’s crossed my mind more than once now that I’m “on deadline”!
More please? Or make it stop?
I’m already pretty certain that I won’t be repeating this experiment next year. It’s taken a lot of time and commitment to keep it up so far. My mid-way conclusion is that I could read less novels, still read interesting non-fiction books, and have time left for thinking too!