Last weekend, I resurfaced an old tweet on counting books (clapping hands emojis stripped for clarity).
Don’t focus on the [number] of books you’ve read. The fact that you’re reading is all that matters.
The tweet sparked a lot of conversation and some folks interpreted it as a subtweet. It wasn’t meant to be—sigh—yet, the replies mentioned nuances worth discussing about the New Year’s Chorus of “I’ve read X books in
yyyy!” Also, book counting segues to the next Distillations piece: “To My Unread Books.”
To clarify, today’s entry isn’t meant to ding anyone who rounded out the year tallying books. Reading, of all forms, deserves to be celebrated! I just worry that our tendency to focus on books alone overcasts other forms (poetry, papers, comics, essays, newsletters, blogs, etc.).
Sar phrased it well:
“I have always found it so strange that we associate reading with a format. Dismissing any format other than books is like dismissing short form videos. Says nothing about quality or type of the content.”
Nathan furthered the point (clapping hands emojis, again, stripped for clarity):
“Books are great but newsletters and other forms of writing are great, too—nobody likes book maximalists.”
And Sonya taught me about Goodhart’s Law—“when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
“[T]otal Goodhart’s Law situation…most important: what did you learn! and did you enjoy it?”
Fingers crossed that the narrative around reading reaches a point where answering “what have you read recently?” with something other than books isn’t met with a pause and head tilt. “To My Unread Books” attempts to move in that direction. The fictional letter is a tribute to the books whose urgency is no longer present and how they mark impulses to create different versions of myself.
Maybe the letter can cure any guilt, if your unread shelves are wider than the X’s amongst the sea of “I’ve read X books in 2018!” tweets. Writing it certainly did for me.
I hope you read whatever you enjoy most in 2019.