When Have You “Read” A Book?


I once heard that Seth Godin reads 1000 books a year. How is that possible? Apparently, because he only reads the introductions.

I don’t actually know if this fact is true. I tried to verify it, but I couldn’t. Then, I came across this post where he actually recommends the opposite. So, who could know? But assume, for the sake of argument, that it is true. The next question, at least from my perspective, is—does that count as reading 1000 books? Does that count as reading a single book?

If you had asked me those questions a year ago, I would have scoffed. I would have said no. I would have said Seth hadn’t read much of anything, much less 1000 books. But now, things are different. I don’t know.

For someone who has written—more than once—about reading more, it’s shameful to admit I’ve only “read” two books this year. But that number is misleading. I only count books as read if a) they’re for pleasure and b) if I read them cover to cover. By those rules, I’ve clearly failed. By this time last year, I’d already read 11 books.

But what this metric fails to capture is that I’ve probably read more in 2019 than I did in all of 2018. Not only does my metric ignore the books I’ve started and quit, it also completely discounts the 50-plus books I’ve read for school (which do more closely approximate the Godin method).

Austin Kleon writes:

“If you aren’t getting anything out of a book, put it down, and pick up another book. Every hour you spend inching through a boring book is an hour you could’ve spent plowing through a brilliant one. When it comes to books, quitters finish more.”

To that, I would add—if you’ve gotten everything you need out of a book, put it down as well. And if you do, maybe that should count as progress. After all, no one really cares what or how much you’ve read. It’s a personal metric. For example, I think it’s kind of neat that Art Garfunkel’s website lists every book he’s ever read since 1968, but I did not feel compelled to click through the list.

If I do care what someone reads, it’s primarily as a means of sourcing recommendations. And if that is the utility of a reading list, isn’t it equally, if not more, important that they also list the books they quit or the books they skimmed, rather than just those they finished?

Psychologist Adam Grant writes:

“Lower your standards for what counts as progress, and you will be less paralyzed by perfectionism.”

I’ve spent a lot of time finishing books I hated just so I could “count them.” But maybe we should count books as read the minute we start, rather than the moment we finish. What you put down is just as important as what you complete.

Each Monday, I share strategies to help you pursue your passions. Try it. You’ll like it.

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The post When Have You “Read” A Book? appeared first on I'm Making All This Up.


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