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Winning at a losing game

Courtney’s recent blog about New Years resolutions got me thinking about a similar resolution that an old friend of mine once took on—to read one book each week for an entire year, fifty-two books in all. 

That might sound excessive, but consider how much time it takes to read one book. Let’s say the average book is 300 pages long, and that it takes on average two minutes to read a page.[1] That is, on average, 600 minutes, or ten hours, to read one (average) book. So when all is said and done, you could read fifty-two books in a year by only reading for a couple of hours a day. That’s not so hard. I’m sure those of you in humanities graduate programs right now are like, “Pshh, that’s just how much reading I get done while I’m sleeping, you lazy intern.”

But sometimes it feels like even two free hours a day is hard to come by. Or maybe not that I don’t have those two free hours, but it’s hard to constantly motivate myself to dedicate that free time to reading. So what am I doing with that time? Well, I’m most likely spending it reading—technically. Sometimes just staring. Probably while simultaneously listening to music, momentarily pausing it when an important cat video comes up, “keeping up” with people I haven’t seen in years, always ready to move on to something else if I get remotely bored. That’s right, I’m on the internet.

The internet is the middle ground between reading and TV. You can carefully choose your content if you put the effort into it. But more and more as media conglomerates realize that you’re out there waiting with your mouth open, you can just passively consume what’s being fed to you. I do it all the time. Check the RSS feed, favorite blogs, major news outlets, scan a few articles, quit reading if I lose interest without feeling any guilt, rarely reading any particular piece longer than 1000 words. And I do this for hours, idly making someone a few bucks from Google ads, all while lamenting that I don’t have enough time to read all these books that I know I’d love.

But honsetly, and be honest with yourself, how much time do you waste? How much time do you blow every day? - LCD Soundsystem 

There are gobs of great books out there that I want to read, and I know that no matter how much I try, I’ll never be able to read more than a minute fraction of them in my lifetime. It’s a losing game from the start. Even reading fifty-two books in a year barely makes a dent. And yet, for most of my life, I’ve not even read that much. Instead I’ve given more of my time to the immediate satisfaction of hot, buttery internet.

And it’s totally okay not read every great book. If you did, you’d probably be really boring and not know how to talk to people. And don’t get me wrong, I think the internet is a wonderful thing, full of brief, up-to-date content, bite-sized pieces of beautiful art, and unprecedented communication potential. But books, novels particularly, are still incredibly important because they talk to us from a single voice. We spend a good chunk of time with one other person, get to intimately know their perspective and ideas in a way that is quite simply impossible to do in 1000 words or less. It’s like a lifelong friendship versus speed dating.

Maybe I won’t get around to all fifty-two books this year. But my resolution is to spend at least as much time reading a single, time-consuming narrative, whether it’s bound in paper or on a screen, as I do ogling the internet. I have a number of books on my list, but there’s plenty of room for more, so let me know what I might be missing out on.

[1]That is, unless you're reading a book by David Foster Wallace, and he’s putting footnotes in his footnotes, and you’re getting distracted because all you can think about is Xzibit saying "Yo, dawg, I heard you like footnotes, et al."

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