How to Read a Book a Day in 2013

Perhaps one of your resolutions for 2013, like so many people’s, is to read more this year. I’m guessing, though, that you did not set yourself the daunting task of reading a grand total of 365 books over the course of as many days. That would be crazy, right? Not according to Jeff Ryan of Slate, who proved in 2012 that such a resolution, though insane, is not impossible to achieve. While I certainly do not have plans to attempt Ryan’s wacky goal myself, the tactics he employed to reach that number might help anyone looking to cover more literary ground this year. Here’s how he did it, how you can learn from it, and why Ryan’s goal might actually not have been so wacky after all…

For a resolution like this, Ryan had to start out with some ground rules. And no, priority No. 1 was not to lower the minimum page count of the books on his list. It was to avoid scrimping on his current duties as father, husband, and full-time job-holder.

My test for this was my wife: I didn’t even tell her I was tackling a book a day until six weeks into the project. If she suspected I was slacking—dishes undone, litter box a ruin, laundry growing sentient—then I was failing my prime directive.

The preference for quick reads didn’t come into play until rule No. 2: Read short books.

I don’t deny that 2012 was not the year for me to launch into Terry Goodkind. Want some Tolstoy? The Forged Coupon, not War and Peace.

Don’t hide your YA, exercise shamelessness if you want to reach your 365 book goal.

In similar fashion, if I had to point out a third rule of Ryan’s in this project, it’d be “Don’t be a snob.” You don’t get to read 365 books in a year without padding out your reading list with a bit of light fodder. The journalist’s “literary junk food” as he calls it consisted of “zombie novels, books about Old Hollywood,  books about video games (I can’t play you anymore, but I can read about you!), comedians’ memoirs, and essay collections.” Anyone else’s indulgence of guilty pleasures would easily stretch to include Young Adult books, chick lit, comic books, even erotica. Does everything you read have to be Booker-worthy? Not if the goal is simply to read and learn more, so feel free to exercise a bit of shamelessness.

One of Ryan’s most important tactics was to read multiple books at once. If you’re anything like me, you’ll imagine this point as being annoying; I like to give my full attention to a novel without interruption from other works, if I can manage it. But the thing about this project is that it opens your eyes to how many different things you already read simultaneously everyday, besides books, and how much extra stuff can be forsaken in order to read more literature. For instance, Ryan might in one day finish up a 1,000 page tome he’d been working on for a while, approach the end of an audiobook on his drive home, and close the final chapter on a Chronicles of Narnia novel with his daughter at bedtime. Sound like the kind of multitasking you’re used to?

And what happens when you replace the normal go-to forms of entertainment crunching up your free time and replace them with books? What might you inadvertently give up? For Ryan it was video games, “direct-to-DVD horror films” (in the manner of Starship Troopers 2 and Saw V-VII), and music, as he exclusively listened to audiobooks on his iPod. It’s also not difficult to imagine how much more most of us would read were it not  for our TV addictions. To many people, some of those casualties would be unforgivable. To others, pledging to read a book a day might help to check off other resolutions we might often swear to keep but never manage to.

It’s this new awareness of how most of us use our free time that suddenly makes this resolution appear less impossible and more like something we already engage in:

If you follow my path and read a book a day in 2013, you’ll find that you truly, truly will not be reading more than usual. Right now, you are probably reading a comparable amount to me—but you’re reading newspapers, Facebook and Twitter, and the work of the fine folks at Slate. I let that stuff go for a year in the interest of making my quota. (Maybe that’s why I liked essay collections so much; they’re like magazines in book format.) I always dreamed that in retirement I might be able to knock off a book a day: Turns out, I didn’t have to wait.

So you see, pledging to read more in 2013 doesn’t have to be a futile promise. As for me, I’m going to try something infinitely more manageable than 365 books and focus on six authors I always mean to read but never get around to. They are:  David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Phillip Roth, and (just for fun, because I’m appalling when it comes to Russian lit knowledge) Leo Tolstoy.

Do you have any literature-related resolutions planned? Perhaps you’ll plan to read a book a month, or even to participate in 2013’s NaNoWriMo? Please, share your ideas on how to read more in a comment below. Whatever you resolve this New Year’s, I hope your 2013 is full of inspiring and enjoyable reads!


Drawbacks to the Kindle in the Classroom?

If you were to go back to the old copies of the novels and plays I still rely upon—To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Hamlet—to do my daily teaching, you would see all sorts of scribbled notes in different colored pens.  You would see highlighters in every color imaginable.  You would see small pieces of printed material taped to pages.  You would see dog-ears and great big rips among the stressed-out bindings of my paperback copies.  You would see the small word “Ha!” scrawled next to anything remotely funny.

Well, according to a new Princeton study, if I relied upon a Kindle DX to view these same literary masterpieces, I’d be in quite the pickle, indeed.

I remember a teacher I had long ago preaching to the class about how margin notes reeked of lower intelligence.  I can only laugh at her now as I use some of those very notes, some from wise souls as far back as high school, to teach my own classes.  Although not for everyone, notes on the side of a page are like gold to me.  They always reveal the teacher’s wisdom on the subject:  wisdom that I often lacked at the time, . . . and that wisdom is scrawled right next to the exact quote from the work in question.

Thus stands the problem for both students and teachers for the Kindle DX.

According to a recent article from USA Today and follow-up in educationnews.org, the college students at Princeton (although well equipped to embrace the new technology) grew frustrated with a few simple functions that were lacking.  Stated simply, the Kindle DX has no ability to highlight, no ability to use different colors to differentiate underlined text, no way to scrawl simple notes in a margin (only typed on a keypad), no easy way to maneuver through the work to underlined text, no way to skim or flip randomly through a work, no way to mark text via “page” number, no way to keep multiple texts open at the same time, and no real system for organizing typed annotation.

In short, although this product is perfect for simple reading, the students at Princeton weren’t convinced it was a good scholarly aid.

This device needs to make things easier, not more frustrating, for students trying to annotate and, further, for students following along in class when the professor simply asks them to “turn to page 154.”  Michael Koenig, director of operations at Virginia’s Darden School of Business who also ran a Kindle DX study, said, “It’s just not as flexible or nimble as having your paper notes or your laptop right there, . . . not quite ready for prime time.”

Still, others called it a “first-generation product” with lots of potential.  At least 15% of students loved the device, citing perfection for students on-the-go as well as the “green” aspect of using zero paper products.

For me, unless the descendants of the new Kindle come with a stylus and different color options, I think I’ll pass on this technology for everything except the simple reading of a text.  However, that isn’t to say that these improvements aren’t already hanging in the balance . . . .


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