All of the data that follows was collected by me throughout the year using a combination of Google Sheets and Google Calendar. This year, I analyzed my reading using both the start and finished dates for each title: for example, I totaled how many books I started reading each month and also how many I finished each month. I calculated separate averages for both and found the overall totals work out the same either way. Average days to read titles are based on the number of days actually spent reading each title, and not necessarily the full span from starting date to finished date.
Starting Monday, December 9, I’ll be posting my top 10 books from 2019 on Twitter under the hashtag #LibFaves19. In preparation for this, I’ve begun creating my overall favorites and least favorites lists for the year, and prepping for my annual Year in Reading post.
This has me thinking more about my recent post on reader burnout. And I’ve made a decision:
This will be the last year I do a Year in Reading post for a while. I won’t track my reading in 2020.
This will be the sixth year I’ve tracked it and it’s not working for me. I think it does more harm than good. My hope is taking that obligation off my plate will relieve much of the stress I feel around my reading life. Which means I won’t be able to do a comprehensive Year in Reading report next year.
I’ll still participate in #LibFaves and I’ll continue to post lists of my favorites and least favorites of the year. But no more tracking or reporting. I just want to let my reading be what it is without worrying about it.
I want to talk about reader burnout. I think this is something a lot of readers deal with but I find that being a librarian makes it worse.
I’m a voracious reader. I always have been. It’s a core pillar of my self-identity.
But there are times when I just don’t want to read, sometimes for few days and sometimes for couple weeks or more. I feel guilty about this. Readers read, right? Reading is a good thing and we should all do more of it, right?
I didn’t used to feel this way. I used to read as much as I wanted, when I wanted. And that was that. It was all good.
Some of this sense of guilt started when I became a librarian. As a librarian, I feel a professional obligation to read as widely as I can. It’s part of my job to understand the reading landscape so I can help guide patrons through it.
A lot of this pressure to read more started when I began tracking my annual reading a few years ago. Tracking reading is something a lot of librarians do. I hadn’t ever thought to do it until I saw how popular it is on library Twitter and the librarian blogosphere. For many people, it’s a useful thing.
I’ve had a couple conversations recently which have challenged me to examine this choice more deeply and articulate the reasons why I made it.
It has a great deal to do with my commitment to diversity and building empathy. I support #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Sharing stories is how we forge understanding and respect. I want to embody this belief in my personal reading choices.
But I also have a more selfish reason: my own personal entertainment.
My dad likes to tell a story about a man he knew who was the head of a college. Every summer, this man would take a weekend to go out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, all by himself, unconnected and alone. He brought along a blank notepad and a pen. On the top of the first page, he’d write, “Five Years.” He’d flip a few pages in and write “Ten Years” at the top of the page, and then “Twenty Years” a few pages later. He’d spend the weekend jotting down everything he could think of that he wanted the college to do in the next five-to-twenty years.
One summer, his weekend came to an end and he looked at his notepad. He had four or five things written on the “Five Years” page, just a couple things written on the “Ten Years” page, and nothing under “Twenty Years.” When he got back home, he tendered his resignation. He believed that if he didn’t have a vision for the organization, then he wasn’t the right person to lead it anymore.
I had been talking about the Two Spirit and queer authors and characters, the Indigenous settings and perspectives, the prefatory material which lay out the history and politics and which argue the need for stories like these—the important context surrounding these stories—and my friend noticed I wasn’t talking much about the stories themselves. Thus, his question.
I fumbled a bit to answer. Yes, some are good, a few excellent, some just OK. I voiced my belief that there’s benefit to reading stories like these even if they’re not good: I appreciate these works because of what they can teach me, how they challenge my assumptions and show me very different experiences and understandings of the world.
But the truth is also this: I don’t always know whether the stories I read are any good. I’m not always qualified to assess the quality of these works.
Or: Why ’80s Pop Bowie Is Better than ’70s Glam Bowie
David Bowie is one of the most important musicians in my personal pantheon. And I’ve always liked the pop music he made in the 1980s better than the glam rock that made him famous in the 1970s.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to define why I like ’80s Bowie better than I ever liked ’70s Bowie. Part of it is because I’m a child of the ’80s and that’s the pop music I grew up on. But there’s more to it than just that. And it leads me to an interesting insight into the nature of ideational work.
Our modern culture prioritizes innovation to the point of fetishizing it. Because of this, we assign the greatest value to people who can come up with new ideas. This is an immensely valuable skill.
But it’s not the only skill necessary for us to do our best ideation work.
I’ve known people who weren’t any good at coming up with new ideas but who were brilliant at exploring the ideas of others. They can take your idea and discover potential in it you never saw. They can develop your idea into something better than you ever envisioned.
I’ve known people who were geniuses at connecting ideas together. They can take your idea and match it to some other idea you never would have thought related, and together these ideas become better than anything you imagined.
To borrow from the language of copyright law: There’s original work and transformative work. Some people are brilliant at doing the transformative work even if they’re not skilled at doing original work.
This sort of exploration and development work is as important as the work of coming up with new ideas. This is the work that transforms ideas into their best possible versions.