Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm counting you out

I love the book2 site, but this idea? — not so much. Not at all. In fact, I hate the very notion. I can't imagine too many things more inimical to genuine reading than obsessively tracking the number of pages you read.

bkkeepr — I’ll sure be glad when the people who name applications rmmbr whr d vwls r n thr kybrds — is bad in three ways.

First, it takes attention away from the experience of reading and towards the mere fact of having read.

Second, it renders the mere fact of having read in quantitative terms — the emphasis is on getting from page 1 to page 220, not on paying attention to what happens on any given page. If your eyes are scanning the lines, then it doesn't matter whether your brain engages with any of the words.

And third, it diverts the reader’s attention from whatever he or she is reading to his or her own (supposed) achievement as a high-volume reader.

Reading a book shouldn't be like putting in X number of minutes on an elliptical trainer. It shouldn't be a form of what C. S. Lewis called “ethical hygiene.” Read what you like and stop with the counting already. As Randall Jarrell used to say: “Read at whim!”


  • Surely it also selects for small format large-print editions, so I can read the same content in 500 pages that you'd get in 300 in trade paperback.

  • You actually have to enter the ISBN rather than the title so the database will know just how many pages you're reading — so yes, there's a real incentive to go for the Large Print editions.

  • The Reticulator said...

    Speaking of elliptical trainers and large print, I like books with large print and small format to read while running on my elliptical machine.

    But where did C.S. Lewis say "ethical hygiene"? That sounds like a good name for something that needed a name.

  • Erik Leafblad said...

    I used to be one of the types of people who read as a form of competition. I found no joy in it, and thus would often stretch just how much I'd read of a given book.

    Then I realized what a completely silly undertaking this was. I started reading for the sake of enjoyment, and it mattered not how much I actually read. I discovered that when I gave up the quest to compete with my reading, I actually read more because I actually just enjoyed reading for its own sake.

  • Alan Jacobs said...

    Erik, you're my hero.

    Reticulator, the phrase comes from CSL's book An Experiment in Criticism. He discusses "the Vigilant School of criticism," whose members are scrupulous about what they read because they see reading as a form of “social and ethical hygiene.”

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