Systematizing Your Reading Consumption: you can’t do it all and that’s okay

After listening to NPR this week, the Linda Holmes’ discussion You Can’t Possibly Read It All, So Stop Trying resonated with my consumptive reading style and had me thinking about its application to publishing.

She said:

“I had gone through and thought about the number of books you could conceivably read in a year, for example. And then if you extrapolate it out over your lifetime, how many can you reasonably read. And it got me thinking about how vast the world of books is and how small what you will ever take in actually is. And it becomes a sort of overwhelming thought when you realize that no matter how hard you try, no matter how smart you are, no matter how much you love to read, as I put it in the piece, statistically speaking, you’re going to die having missed almost everything.”

Now, I am a fast reader, it’s a consequence of working in the book industry and my love for reading book of all kinds, but the conundrum hit home with me. It applies to the publishing news I read in the morning, the number of queries an agent can read in a day/week/month, the magazines I read and more. You just can’t get to it all. You have like-minded friends and family members who recommend books to you, you follow people on twitter who tweet a great review, you find ways to consolidate information from bestseller lists and choose carefully how you spend your literary time. And, as Holmes says, this is a choice we make and have to live with–you can’t get to it all!

Those who have little time to read have to be even more resourceful finding book reviews and top 10 lists that connect with them. Book discovery is the key to finding your new favourite books, genres and tastes. Everyone’s looking for the next book that will change their life, which is what keeps many people reading and consuming fiction.

Her conclusion: Acknowledge that you can’t get to everyting and make literary choices that you can be at peace with. Develop your own opinons about books you feel strongly about instead of reiterating someone else’s review.

My subsequent conclusion: Reading everything you can get your hands on is a big part of being a writer or being in the industry, but the best way to learn about writing and inspiration is simply living your life to fullest. Achieve balance in your personal life and your literary life will be richer.

Q: What genres do you make a priority to read?

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4 thoughts on “Systematizing Your Reading Consumption: you can’t do it all and that’s okay

  1. How true this is! I try not to think about the fact that none of us will ever read it all (so depressing, somehow).Your post was a good wake-up call for me: I’d better choose my reading material wisely since I’ll never get to all of it.

    A question for you: do you stop reading books if you aren’t feeling them? I used to read every book cover-to-cover, whether or not I was enjoying them, but lately I’ve given myself permission to put a book down if I wasn’t into it. As a writer, I feel guilty when I do this, but there are so many books, so little time!

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    • I agree, the NPR article was a good way of summarizing the wake-up call to book lovers everywhere.

      To answer your questions I have a few thoughts. Firstly, Doris Lessing has a great quote (one that I live by) on this topic:

      “There is only one way to read, and that is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag–and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty–and vice versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. Remember that for all the books that we have in print, are as many that have never reached print, have never been written down–even now, in this age of compulsive reverence for the written word, history, even social ethic are taught by means of stories, and the people who have been conditioned into thinking only in terms of what is written–and unfortunately nearly all the products of our educational system can do no more than this–are missing what is before their eyes.”

      And secondly, my client Marian wrote a blog post on this recently: http://marianvere.blogspot.com/2011/06/life-is-short-stop-reading.html.

      Both of which I agree with. You can only spend time on material you love and you get something out of. If you feel that you get something out of finishing a book that isn’t resonating with you at least you are learning, but this comes back to the original NPR thought: if you can’t get to it all, why take away time from the next book on your list to finish a book that you won’t remember with fondness.

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      • Hi Carly,

        I love that quote from Doris Lessing! I have always felt guilty about not finishing books, so thank you for setting me straight! Perhaps it’s just not the right time for me to read that book.

        Thanks very much for the link to Marian’s blog as well.

        Carrie

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  2. Pingback: What Is Your Reading Diet Comprised Of? « Carly Watters, Literary Agent Blog

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