Between bloghopping and IRL networking, I get a lot of comments along the lines of “OMG you’ve read so many books this month/year!” or “I used to love reading too, until I started high school/college/working.”
Although I know it’s often meant as a compliment, or just making small talk, it doesn’t usually feel that way. Instead I find myself annoyed by the inherent assumptions that they probably didn’t even realize they were making.
There’s always going to be someone who reads more than you; unless you don’t read at all, there’s always going to be someone who reads less than you. (And if you don’t read at all, well, there are still people tied with you.) Some people read a book a day; others read a book a year. It doesn’t make anyone more or less of a reader, and it’s not actually a competition.
“A Lot” Is Relative
I think we all know on some level that everyone has different reading speeds, different amounts of time and energy to devote to reading, different levels of access to reading material, et cetera.
Unfortunately, it’s human nature to measure our results against others’, because how else will we know how well we’re actually doing? (Which ignores the inherent flaws in using number of books read as a metric for anything except, well, number of books read.)
In elementary school they taught me to “only compare [myself] to [myself],” but in reality this doesn’t work either — these factors change even relative to my own baseline, so the number of books I can read changes too. Sometimes I have lots of spare time and a string of books I just can’t put down; other times I have to study for exams, or I just don’t feel like reading.
When you say that I’ve read “so many” books, you’re making an assumption. Unless I myself have stated that I’ve read a relatively high (or low) number of books, you don’t actually know how it compares to my usual.
Maybe I average 50 books a month, or maybe it’s 5. Maybe I was on spring break yet only got through one book that week, or maybe I procrastiread ten books instead of studying for exams. (As I’ve already mentioned, though, the actual number doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter.)
The point is that just because it may seem like a lot to you, doesn’t mean that it is to me. Imagine how it feels if you marvel at the number of books I’ve read when it’s just a fraction of how many I normally read. Imagine how it feels if you congratulate me on reading a lot, at the end of a month when I’ve been making an effort to work out or study instead of reading.
I’m not trying to make you feel bad if you’ve ever made this kind of comment. But I am pointing out that you might have made me feel bad, no matter your intentions.
I think it’s also worth mentioning, on a related note, that sharing the number of books I read is not an invitation to pass judgments on my life. I’ve seen people imply that I must not have a social life/good grades/other hobbies since I read so much, or that I must be lying since it’s impossible to read a book per day (for the record, I’m not and it is not).
While these are the minority, it happens frequently enough that I can’t help wondering whether someone is thinking along these lines when they comment on the volume of my reading, much as I want to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Sure, I shouldn’t care what Internet randos think of me, but that’s easier said than done.
Quality vs Quantity
I’ve spent quite a bit of emotional energy coming to terms with the fact that my reading log will fluctuate based on circumstances outside my control. Some days I feel like I’m in a race with myself to read more books than I did last month, last year — but I’ve been trying so hard to redirect this focus.
Even if I get through a relatively large number of books, it doesn’t mean that I enjoyed all of them. (I’m very much in favor of DNF-ing, but sometimes I have to finish a book for class or I only hated the last third or I was just barely interested enough to read to the end.)
And I’d rather read three solid 5-star books than fifteen 3-and-below-star books; I’d rather spend a week thinking about an awesome read than DNF a book per day for a month. Lately I’ve been making special note of my 4.5- and 5-star reads, taking a few days to write up a thoughtful review instead of just jumping right into the next book, savoring detailed worldbuilding and lovely prose rather than tearing through pages to reach the end.
Quality over quantity, I remind myself; it’s okay as long as I just read when I get a chance and as long as I enjoy what I’m reading. But it’s hard to really believe it when people keep commenting on the quantity.
It’s A Conversation Stopper
Last and probably least, “You read so much!” bothers me because — no offense — it’s just such an inane thing to say.
How am I supposed to respond? Do I say “thank you” for something I can’t really take credit for, followed by inevitable awkward silence or having to listen to you lament how little time you have to read? Do I humbly deflect by saying that I just read fast, so no I can’t teach you my ways? Do I just nod/like the comment and move on?
I know it’s an easy, even automatic, thing to say and generally meant positively, like calling an artist “talented”. But it’s particularly frustrating when I go out of my way to provide alternative topics for an actual conversation.
There’s a reason I end blog posts with discussion questions: What have you read this month? Have you set any goals for next month? And in person, I talk about my other hobbies: baking, piano, sleeping.
This post isn’t meant to call out anyone in particular; I’ve gotten similar comments from a lot of people. But please, let’s stop focusing on how “much” a person reads and talk about something more substantial.
We can talk about the actual books we’ve read. Or what we love about reading. Or how we make time to read when there are a million other claims on our attention.
- This was a long one, so if you made it to the end, thank you for bearing with me!
- Do you also get annoyed when people comment on how “much” you read, or do you always take it as a compliment?
- Has “wow, you read so much!” been a go-to response for you? If so, has this post changed your mind about using it?