What Counts for Reading?

Where-in I justify counting "Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle vol 4" as real reading.

So I’ve been keeping a Goodreads account for a couple years. I am aware of the many arguments against using a centralized and closed source site like them, but this provided much of what I was looking for to organize my reading and its limited social functions work well enough for me and the handful of friends I have added on there. But that skirts around the question of why Goodreads? But then that skirts around the real question of: am I reading enough “good” stuff? AKA am I reading enough serious things that count as reading.

Lets tackle that first question. Why Goodreads? Well, why not? Goodreads, without looking at its social and book discovery functions, offers a centralized way to keep track of what I’m reading, have read, and have yet to read. That could be accomplished with a simple list, either on phyiscal paper or as a txt file or page on the website. But those solutions, ironically, would be more effort than Goodreads given the scale of my reading. I do read a lot for college (the main perk and curse of being a history major) but I also do a lot of reading in my leisure time for fun. Constantly updating a txt file or webpage for each book I pick up, finish, or put down would be too much. Goodreads is good for this since I do start and put down lots of books compared to what I actually finish during the course of a year.

I recently got diagnosed with ADHD - Inattentive Type. Its not as if something magically changed in my brain overnight with this diagnosis. This is something that I’ve had my suspicions about for most of my life. It explains a lot really, and now I have a label for this juggernaut that disrupts my ability to do “normal” tasks like a “normal” adult (as if normal really is a thing). Its been equally eye opening and frustrating as a part of me did expect when I labeled this beast of my brain functions that I would instantly know how to conquer it and would do so. Neither has happened yet but that’s another discussion for another day. One of the most helpful things I have been doing for quite a while is to learn to not fight it at times. To let my attention and focus lead me to where it, and by extension I, want to go. This is most relevant with books. Any time a book catches my fancy, I end up opening it and reading a bit. Whether I keep with it till the end is anyone’s guess. Sometimes I’ll be hooked till the end, sometimes not. Sometimes I’ll come back to it infrequently, sometimes I’ll drop it for months and come back, and sometimes I drop it and never come back. Its been a slow and steady movement to accept this as the natural way I read and that I’ll enjoy reading much more the more I lean into this, especially for my leisure reading. As of writing and according to Goodreads, I have finished 77 books so far in 2021. This number will probably be more by the end of the year but an equally interesting number that Goodreads doesn’t track but I wish it did would be the amount of books I started and then dropped. I would guess the number to be almost double of what I’ve finished. One might initially think “well that’s dumb. If you had stuck through and finished those then you’d have more than double the amount of books read this year. This strategy is wasteful and inefficient!” and I know some of you may think that because that is a thought that still often haunts the back alleys of my mind. It makes sense at a first glance but once you take into account how my brain works, its actually very counter productive. Forcing myself to finish a book for the sake of finishing it rips all enjoyment of reading it out of it (part of the reason why it takes me a while to make it through even smaller assigned readings for classes) and all but ensures that it’ll be very difficult for me to get excited about picking it up. If the book isn’t what I want to read at the moment, I won’t enjoy it and thus will take roughly double the normal amount of time to read the same number of pages. By contrast, I am quite the fast reader when I am engaged with the book. Hence how, despite how many books I start and stop over the course of the year and how many Goodreads says I’m currently reading, I can still read more books than I would expect.

And that’s the rest of the reason I’ve liked using Goodreads. Having a solid centralized list of all the books I have read to completion within a given year gets rid of those haunting thoughts as laid out earlier. I am making progress and accomplishing things, just not in the way that I can always obviously see. Which is an important thing to keep in mind when dealing with ADHD. The barrier that holds me back from becoming so struck with overwhelming thoughts on how little I do or have done and how I should be doing more is quite thin; when it breaks, all hell is loose and it takes me a long time to regain my self-confidence to recover. I’m not afraid to admit I feel overwhelmed a lot, by a lot of things, and sometimes those things are actually manageable but I haven’t been able to look at the problem in a way that lets me see my progrss. I don’t have to worry about that as much with my reading because Goodreads is always eager to remind me how many books I pledged to read and how many more I’ve read past that in just this year. It has restored reading as an enjoyable and relaxing activity I can use to help my brain in other ways.

Of course, Goodreads itself is not the reason for this but its systems were the ones I found most useable and useful at the time that I needed them. Are there better alternatives out there? Most certainly. One day I might even switch to them and then write a blog post about it. And I’ll probably still see some utility in Goodreads (its social functions have led to me finding some really good books that my friends are reading and bond with them over other shared books). I think its important to keep in mind its not really the technology that’s important but its how I use and integrate it into my life.

One of the things that does still bother me is the nagging thought that I’m not reading “serious” or “real” stuff, or not enough of it. Anyone who looks on my Goodreads profile will see a lot of books going towards that yearly goal are manga and light novels with some comic books every now and again. Sometimes I feel like those shouldn’t somehow count for that total. However, reading that sort of stuff is still reading. It still means I’m spending mental energy translating symbols and characters on a page into words and meaning in my head. And I enjoy reading them. So why shouldn’t they count? Even if we were to remove them, we could add all the other things I read that aren’t tracked by Goodreads like scholarly journal articles, blog posts, and snippets of books as readings for class. Its hard to count reading a single chapter for a class discussion as being read on Goodreads but it is certainly “real” and “serious” reading so should it count? The goal I think shouldn’t be on the supposed quality of reading but on quantity. The more you are actively engaged with reading anything, even for stuff as small and inconsequential as a social media post, counts the same in your brain. It works the same mental muscles and engages the same sections of your brain. Now, one could make a quality case in terms of only reading content of a certain type or of a certain ideological leaning but that isn’t really what I meant by quality anyway. Reading is reading. One should engage with as much material in as diverse forms as they can and that is good. No one ever helped the world by trying to gatekeep what could be counted as “real” reading (looking at you, judgemental teachers who tell young kids comic books and the like don’t count. You’re not helping. You’re ensuring that child will always associate reading as an unenjoyable and stuffy activity. Good job.)

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