The other day I stumbled on an article on Slate, “My New Year’s Resolution: Read a Book Every Day” wherein the writer, Jeff Ryan, resolves to read a book every day in 2012. And then he actually he does it (audiobooks, comics and short books were the secret, apparently). On paper it’s certainly an impressive achievement, but my main takeaway from the piece–other than that Internet commenters seem unfairly dismissive of audiobooks–was mostly amazement that someone could, in adulthood, approach the task of reading as would a fourth grader trying to win his class a pizza party.
I’m not saying that Ryan necessarily shouldn’t be reading books with a number goal in mind; it must have been satisfying to polish off Book No. 366 and overall probably a better use of his time than skimming articles online or playing videogames (the two activities he curbed in order to reach his book-a-day goal). But his piece overlooked one of the best perks of growing up and being out of a classroom setting, namely that it really doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read, or even which ones. Because no one else cares. Once you move beyond assignments or quizzes or trying to impress people (which never works anyhow, and mostly just makes you insufferable), it’s a pleasure done solely for its own sake, and if you would like to be challenged or enlightened or comforted or fed a tale about vampires, there is a book that will suit each one of those perfectly reasonable desires. “Reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing,” Nick Hornby once pointed out. “Because here’s something no one else will tell you: if you don’t read the classics, or the novel that won this year’s Booker Prize, then nothing bad will happen to you; more importantly, nothing good will happen to you if you do.”
A few days before New Year I started listening to Half Empty by David Rakoff, the second chapter of which wound up being the right thing to hear at the right time; he captured the strain of being an artist and an unhappy person at the exact moment I was feeling both of those things, and needed someone more articulate than myself to phrase it right for me. Which is the whole point of reading, at least for me.