The Three Rules of Reading

I am a co-moderator for what is becoming a medium-large sized online reading group, and it amazes me how much I see people apologizing for their reading habits or sounding guilty or ashamed over which books they read, or the format of their books, or over not reading as many books as other people. And the more people we have in our group, the more I also see people acting as if those who read a lot of books ought to be self conscious about their reading, too. So here are the 3 rules for reading, according to me.

Rule #1: It is ok to read a lot of books. It is also ok to read however many books you read. If your time and priorities mean that you only read 12 books this year, that’s ok. If your time and priorities mean you finished 365 books this year, that’s ok too. 

Honestly some days I just want to start an ‘over-200 books’ club just for people who read more than 100 books per year on average, because it does get annoying when people who only finish 12-15 books per year chime in about how slow they read or how many other things they are doing instead of reading, not just occasionally, but every time they see a post about plans for reading. I am an unemployed/self-employed writer, so I am home a lot and have plenty of reading time (but no money, on account of being unemployed). So, of course I can read a lot, and yes, when I was in grad school and working close to full time, I didn’t read 200 books per year, but rather closer to 60.

I still read a lot, I guess, even when I had a lot less free time, compared to folks who only finish 12 books a year in such circumstances. I prioritize reading, and always have, and I by far prefer books over movies, TV, and ‘going out’. Most people don’t have those same priorities and many people have jobs and family that cut into reading time. And yes, most people could read more books, and reading more books improves your vocabulary and language skills, and broadens your perspective.

But still, how many books you read is not something to feel guilty or ashamed about.

Rule #2: Format doesn’t matter.

I used to avoid ebooks and audiobooks and graphic novels and children’s books, as not ‘real’ books, and therefore not countable. My siblings and I have kept counts of how many books we’ve finished each year, and we compare lists and book counts at the end of each year. We are in competition with each other, friendly competition, but still with some rules about not counting rereads, and about what constitutes a ‘book’. We’ve become more open minded though over the past few years, because audiobooks are getting so much better, ebooks are far more available than they used to be, and one of my sisters really loves graphic novels. Outside our family, even our rules don’t apply.

If you have your own rules for your own reading, that’s great, but there is no universal ban on considering an audiobook a ‘book’, nor for how good or complex a graphic novel must be to count as a book. Outside specific events and private competitions/goals, the format of your books is totally your own business, and also not something to feel guilt or ashamed about. Audiobooks and ebooks are still books, and so are graphic novels and children’s books. You get to decide what you want to read, and what to count as a book for your own tallies, and whatever you decide, you should not feel guilty about the formats of your books.

Rule #3: Read what you like. Read what you choose to read. Like what you like.

There are truly bad books in every genre, where the plot is so clumsy, the characters so flat and inconsistent, the dialogue so fake, and the editing so half-assed that the book really ought to have been sent back for another round of revision before it could be considered a finished book ready to publish. If you like these books, I’m sorry. Honestly, though, most books are at least ok, crafted well enough to hold together for at least an entertaining, fast read while waiting in lines, even if not quite ready for a careful, in depth book club discussion.

I personally am not into romance genre books, though I have read about 50 or maybe more (I was stuck staying at my Dad’s friend’s apartment for a few weekends with nothing to do but read, and nothing to read but her very large romance novel collection. I read a lot of them. And I actually rather enjoyed Fabio’s books, and Fern Michael’s series about lady pirates and the Dutch East India trading company.)  I got tired of real-life romance a few years ago, so reading romances for me now is a bit like reading teen dramas set in high school. I remember when that stuff really mattered to me, but I’ve moved on and those stories just don’t resonate with me now. That doesn’t mean romances (or teen dramas set in high school) are categorically bad or inferior to other books. And, if you only read one genre, even if it’s romance, that doesn’t mean you should feel ashamed or guilty about what you read.

There are benefits to reading a more diverse range of books, and to reading more books, and to reading physical books, but only to the extent that it fits with your lifestyle, your commitments, your priorities, and your reasons for reading. If you read to relax because the rest of your life is stressful, obviously you should not be reading War and Peace (unless you really enjoy 1000+ page Russian society novels in which people cry all the time), and maybe an inane, super-obvious harlequin romance is just the right fit for you. And if you are unemployed and need to add some sort of substance and a sense of accomplishment to your life, reading more books, reading a more diverse range of books, and reading challenging books like War and Peace may be a great idea.

So, at least in my world, those 3 rules are the only universal rules to reading. Groups with prizes and competitions and group activities set more rules to keep things running smoothly and fairly, and you may add in rules for yourself, of course, but otherwise reading defaults to these 3 rules.

Rule #1: It is ok to read however many books you read. 

Rule #2: Format doesn’t matter.

Rule #3: Read what you like. Read what you choose to read. Like what you like.

About Ravenmount

Independent science nerd/writer/music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently in Colorado.
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3 Responses to The Three Rules of Reading

  1. Elyse says:

    *claps* This. Is. Perfect. So much yes! There is no reason for book readers to make other book readers feel bad/ashamed/unproductive, etc. As long as we’re all reading, it doesn’t matter how many, what format, or what genre. Reading anything is enriching your mind and your life! ❤

  2. NocturnalJen says:

    I think read what you like i such an important one. I study English Literature so I’m often told what to read. Which is helpful to an extent obviously for my degree, but when it comes to reading for pleasure I think people shouldn’t feel pressured into reading something like War and Peace when they really want to be reading Bridget Jones. They’re all books and it’s all still reading and worthwhile.

    • Ravenmount says:

      Exactly. I think those of us who went to college got an extra dose, too, of being told what we ought to read, on top of what high school and grade school provide. So we have lots of internalized voices telling us what ‘good’ reading is, too, in case no one is around to tell us to not read books our teachers would disapprove of.

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