This afternoon I spent two hours reading a book. You know how I know? It’s the influence of the internet. Everybody tracks the numbers online: calories, carbs, steps, and, most important, hours spent reading. They use apps; I’m doing it in my head.
Since I got Wifi, I have read hundreds of thousands of book posts and professional reviews. Some are brilliant, most disappointing. I thought I would like being acquainted with all these readers. But guess what? It often turns into a challenge-by-the-numbers–a bit like paint-by-numbers.
Or is it all in my head?
This time of year, everybody calculates the numbers. The New York Times posts “The 100 Best Books of the Year” and the critics’ “10 Best.” Before New Year’s Eve, all of us bloggers will post our 10 Best of the Year. At Bustle and Book Riot, writers are also worked up about numbers. They lament they may fail to meet their Goodreads Challenge goals, and urge each other to read The Grinch Before Christmas and other picture books to get their numbers up.
I spent a week reading and marveling over Dombey and Son (900 pages), while others read it (or perhaps skim it?) it in a day.
And if they say it on the internet, it must be true.
The odd thing is that in real life I read more than most people. I never thought, Oh no! I only read two hours today! The year I read 170 books, I glumly told my doctor it meant I no longer had a life. He told me to stop tracking the numbers.
The reading life has changed with the advent of Twitter and other social media. (That is hardly original, but true.) Ten years ago, I looked forward daily to long old-fashioned narrative posts from Yahoo groups on Trollope, Dickens, Austen, and other Victorians. Some of the members were common readers; others were intellectuals; all were well-read. The emphasis was on close reading, not facile reading. But people got older and retired, or went back to work. Some of these groups survive at group.io, but the Goodreads and Twitter groups cannot replace those that folded.
But I do wish I were like Thomas Hardy, who read six hours every night, according to one biography. Yeah. I could do that!
I would… if I could sit still that long.