The Frenemies of Reading

There are a few confessions in the following paragraphs. The first is, I was a mediocre student. Prescribed reading and set curriculum fired up my rebellious nature. Unfortunately, that meant denying myself the love of reading until my twenties. When I had choice of what I wanted to read, when I wanted to read it, it became a passion.

It is hard to know for sure but I estimate that I have read over 2,000 books. Many blogs and articles state that successful executives read over 50 books a year. I am now north of age 50 so suffice it to say, that if I averaged reading 50 books a year for 30 years then I have hit 1,500. I know it is more.

But it is not quantity. And, let me be provocative, it is not quality. It is what you pull out of a beautiful page of prose and it is how tightly you have held your nose when you read a stinker. Both offer equal value, if you get my drift.

The value is in the reading. It is the practice. It is the fun. It is the discipline. It is the sense of discovery. It takes you light years beyond learning. It is fireworks of enlightenment and understanding. It is fierce debate and collective understanding. It is an unexpected tear rolling down a cheek and a surprising chuckle that you cannot control. What we read moves us, can change our minds.

Both fiction and nonfiction are powerful vehicles, extraordinary time machines, and streaking spaceships. They take us on journeys.

Now for confession number two. I am reading less than I ever have. There are strong forces at play eroding my exploration of the written world. They are keeping me from, or are impacting the extent and manner in which I now claim to read. These are the frenemies of reading. They can be conquered and managed but it is critical to identify and come to grips with their existence.

Frenemy #1: Netflix, Prime, Etc.

Reading for me took a big hit from the various streaming services. I justify this by saying, “Well, it is storytelling. It is entertainment.” I have binged amazing amounts of the programming being pumped out. My wife and I killed season two of Ozark in five days. There are only so many hours in the day. So, something had to be sacrificed and that was reading.

Frenemy #2: Amazon Reviewer Rankings

I am a performance-based dude. I am competitive. I have been a reviewer on Amazon for close to a decade. At my best, I was reviewer #1,215 on Amazon.com. And number #17 in my home country of Canada. There was pride in this activity. I only reviewed books. To me that is better than writing a review of teaspoons or inflatable pool toys.

Yet, I was lumped in against anyone who put a review up on anything sold on Amazon. If the company segmented properly, I would be in the top 100 in book reviews. But I digress and rant.

What this ranking poop did was have me speed through books. That meant I did not fully enjoy or appreciate the effort made by the authors and publishers. I was responding to Amazon’s algorithm. More reviews meant better performance as a reviewer. So, given the implied reward and recognition, I raced through books rather than digest and reflect on the content. Shame on me. Amazon just wants me to buy more … duh.

Frenemy #3: Goodreads Book Challenge

Amazon subsidiary, Goodreads, now offers a challenge. At the beginning of the calendar year, you pick how many books you want to read in the next twelve months. Well, guess what behavior that drives. Something directly akin to reviewing books. It is a stupid metric that drives bad reading behavior. Once again, it is about selling more books, not enjoying books.

By the way, I chose 50 books for 2018 and am four ahead of schedule. Goodreads tells you that you are falling short or exceeding your goal. Goodreads wants me to buy more … double duh … and guilt me out in the process.

Frenemy #4: Audiobooks

Purists disdain the audiobook. I am divided. No audiobook I buy from Audible (another Amazon holding) is deep. They are thrillers. Escapes. Easily digestible and often forgettable. That is because I am listening to them on a hike, treadmill or in the car. I am still not sure audiobooks qualifies as reading. I do know they are not in direct competition with my actual reading time because I would not read a book while hiking. However, when I finish an audiobook, I give myself permission to be lazy on real reading because, hey, I just “read a book”.

Frenemy #5: E-Readers

I was a very early adopter of the Kindle. I still have my first one tucked away with my first cellphone (a brick) and first iPod (thick as a pack of playing cards). I now use the Kindle app on my iPad. There are three big problems with this type of reading. First, percentages instead of pages makes me race faster through a book. Second, it is too easy to buy books so I amass tons then feel pressure to consume them rather than enjoy them. Lastly, I miss picking up a tangible book and seeing the cover. I can be reading an e-book and never recall the title or author’s name.

Tangible books still rule. The tactile, precious nature of their printing and binding demands reverence. I am one-hundred pages into Amor Towles’s, A Gentleman in Moscow. So far, it is bloody fantastic. I bought the hard cover edition and am cradling it like a Faberge egg. More importantly, I am digesting and reveling in every word.

Those are the big five. They have impacted my reading but I only have myself to blame. Reading, like any hobby or activity, takes discipline. I have to apply myself, prioritize real reading and incentivize myself by enjoying a scotch with a finely written book. All the while, pondering and recognizing how hard it is to write and get a book to market. Yes, I will do all that, that is, until season three of Ozark comes out.

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