If you read this blog carefully, and occasionally click on the blue highlighted words you find, you might have already noticed that I am a regular user of the book-centered website, Goodreads.com. I keep a running log of my reading activities on the site, I offer up reviews of many of the books I've finished reading (though they are typically very short reviews and incomparable to what I put up here), and I keep up with the blogging activities of many of my favorite authors thanks to a very simple blog display interface. More recently, I've taken part in the 2011 Goodreads Reading Challenge, something that I didn't think much of to start, but have since become unavoidably obsessed with. The premise is simple. Since users of Goodreads spend much of their time sharing what they've read and their opinions on those books, it seems only natural that Goodreads is able to gather statistics on a user's reading habits over a given time, provided that the user bothers to offer that information up. Therefore, it isn't too difficult to keep a running total of the books a user reads during the course of a year. If the user had a reading goal for a given year, Goodreads could offer progress updates to the reader and basically keep the reader on pace to reach that goal.
I made a tentative goal to read 100 books in 2011. I remember as a child when my school would hold the 100 book challenge and we would all read for that mythical number and the resulting pizza party when we succeeded. When deciding on my own goal I thought, I read a lot of books as a children's librarian. Even though I don't have any kind of prior gage on my reading habits, I figured 100 sounded like a nice round, possibly attainable number. Then I started monitoring my reading, being sure to update the site on any books I finished in a given day.
Well, it turns out that I was low-balling it. I topped 100 yesterday and now I'm moving beyond that. And I have to say that I give Goodreads a lot of the credit. I'm not saying that I wasn't a habitual reader before. What I'm saying is that I was a disorderly reader before. I was in the middle of just about every book I put my hands on. I didn't finish things. I would read something, get really involved in it, put it down at the end of a day about half finished, and pick up something completely new and different the next day without ever returning to finish what I was reading the day before. I was a mess. I had a fairly good memory for books so when I would pick something up for the second time, possibly even years later, I would pick up where I left off with only vague blurriness about a few forgettable details. But it didn't cater to being the sort of reader who would finish a lot of books. I new a little of a lot of things, but not nearly enough of almost anything for my opinion to be worth its while.
Now, I find myself going back to the same book day after day, writing status updates on my current progress in the Goodreads sidebar, and being so engaged that I find myself driving my fiancee up a wall with an almost constant need to gush about what I thought of this or that book. That's where this blog is probably saving my life in some manner. If I poured everything I was thinking into one ear hole, the owner of that ear hole would have every right to attempt to murder me. It would easily be deemed self-defense by any court of law.
"Your honor," my former fiancee would say, "he had only just finished a one-sided discussion on the merits of Chris Crutcher's Deadline when he unthinkingly segued into an anecdote from a Sloane Crosley essay he'd been reading. Now, I like I Was Told There'd Be Cake as much as the next girl, but one person can only take so much! Am I right?" The judge would solemnly nod his head and pardon her of all charges, and justice would be done. I can't argue with that. One person can only take so much. So I put my thoughts down here, where the reader can choose to click the close button rather than doing me bodily harm for the sake of some peace and quiet. I clog the Internet with a little bit more mindless chatter, and I move one step further toward a happy marriage. It's a happy alternative I think. I'm sure my fiancee agrees.