Saturday, December 28, 2013

200 books, or, who do we read for?

Today I hit 200, as in, 200 books read in their entirety this year.  This was very exciting, and I wanted to share, and then, being an academic, I started thinking about why I wanted to share.  Why is 200 exciting - simply because it's a nice big, round number?

So now I'm thinking about the difference between quality and quantity.  My husband pointed out that this total means I finished a book more frequently than every other day all year.  Is that excessive?  Is that indicative of a failure to choose difficult, long, substantial, and therefore culturally-edifying books?  I worry that in advertising "I read 200 whole books this year!" I might be implying that I've been reading for the sake of numbers rather than content.  And yes, I can make the disclaimer that about 50 of those books were hard-core academic texts on things like political uses of Beethoven's 9th symphony or the credit-based economy of sixteenth and seventeenth-century England.  But on the other hand, is a disclaimer needed at all?  Should I give one; should I feel a need to?

Do we read for others, or for ourselves?

Why can't it be a mix of the two?  I read a lot of children's books this year - about 100 - and this was just because I wanted to, because I knew that they would be a nice break from the constant higher-level thinking I'm asked to do as a graduate student.  But at the same time, reading this children's lit provided some interesting topics of conversation throughout the year, most notably at a recent dinner party, during which we all discussed childhood favorites.  That evening even led to a personal request from one of my husband's professors for recommendations for YA fiction that would serve as a nice gift for his wife.  Reading so much children's literature has meant that I talk about it more frequently, and as it turns out, many in our society LOVE talking about which kid's or young adult books they still think about.  Reading kid's books for myself has resulted in a whole lot of opportunities for others to share their own experiences with me.

Conversely, I read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy this year specifically because these books were a big deal and it seemed like everyone was raving about or criticizing them.  I wanted to know what everyone was talking about and be able to participate in discussions - and indeed, I've had a few conversations about them since.  But while I read those books for others, I unexpectedly found that they sparked my own contemplation of origins, reception histories, and incomplete consumption of related works meant to be received as a whole - ideas that have carried through into my academic scholarship.  In both of these examples, then, my reading ended up being both for me and for others.

How do we navigate the reality that our private reading has public results?  (I don't actually have any answers for this, but it's been interesting to think about.)

In the meantime, I'll choose to be excited that I read 200 books, all of which impacted me in some small way, and many of which led to really fascinating conversations.


  1. Wow . . . I am so impressed (and, I admit, a tad jealous!). I don't know how you find all that time to read with all your academic work. How did you ever narrow it down to just 10 favorites? I would love to see which children's books you read this year because, you know, I love children's books!

    1. Hi Amy, and happy New Year! I wiggle free reading time into all the cracks - waiting for the bus, on the elliptical during workouts, during lunch, before bed. It all adds up - and 200 also includes the 50 or so academic books I had to read for classes and studying for my qualifying exam. As for narrowing it down, it's actually not that difficult...I keep an ongoing list (see the tab above, "Fiction 2013") of all the books I read that year, and if it was one I particularly loved, I mark it in bold. So at the end of the year, I had twelve books in bold, and picked out my top ten out of that.

      All the children's books I read this year are on that list, if you want to glance through it, and I'm also planning upcoming posts on the children's lit from the library a few weeks ago and on the children's recommendations I recently made to my husband's professor.

      I definitely feel like you're much more in touch with children's literature than me though - I either read my own childhood favorites or ones that you or other bloggers have recommended! I never know what the new publications are, and I certainly don't know which ones are worthwhile (or even nominated for the Newbury).