The Adults Who Treat Reading Like Homework

Second article from The Atlantic today. PG usually doesn’t post excerpts of two items from the same source during the same time period, but he thought visitors to TPV would be interested in the topic of reading.

From The Atlantic:

When Stevie Peters was a kid, she used to read books for pizza. She remembers participating in Pizza Hut’s reading program, which still exists today, as her first experience with reading challenges. “When I was a kid, I read all the time, even if it wasn’t for school, so the idea of reading 200 books just so you could get a pizza was the best thing ever,” she told me. Peters, now 31 and living in Swansea, Wales (though she grew up in the United States), started participating in reading challenges again in 2016, though no one is giving her free pizza for doing so now that she’s an adult. Every January, she logs into her Goodreads account and sets a goal to read 50 books that year. She hasn’t hit that number yet—she said she usually makes it to 45 or so. Still, “I can definitely do 50,” she said. “I just want to keep challenging myself to read as much as I can.”

Though surely people have had personal reading goals for as long as there have been books, the book-tracking social-media site Goodreads seems to have institutionalized and popularized the practice of setting yearly reading targets. The Goodreads Reading Challenge started in 2011 and had 149,716 participants that year, according to the website. This year, more than 3 million people have pledged to read an average of 59 books before the end of 2019. (This number is skewed by some particularly ambitious folks—the majority of people pledged to read 1 to 24 books.) Other sites, such as Book Riot and PopSugar, have their own yearly reading challenges, and on Reddit, users strive for 52 books a year, one a week.

In 2018, only 16 percent of participants in the Goodreads Reading Challenge actually completed it, finishing 21 percent of the total books pledged. In earlier years of the challenge, those stats were sometimes higher—in 2011, 29 percent of participants finished the challenge, and in 2013, participants read 56 percent of the books pledged.

. . . .

Still, the fact remains, more and more people are making reading goals that most of them will not meet. Why set yourself an unattainable goal? Why quantify your leisure reading at all?

Perhaps the most intuitive reason is the most common: Adding some structure to your reading life can be a way of making sure that you actually read. In 2011 and 2012, Donalyn Miller, a reading ambassador with Scholastic and the author of two books about reading habits, conducted a survey of adult readers’ practices, trying to figure out what keeps people reading when they no longer have the structural support of having to read for school. One of the key things she found was that “the only difference between a nonreader and a reader is that a reader has a plan for future reading and a nonreader does not,” she told me. It’s easy enough for reading to fall by the wayside with the responsibilities of adult life and the on-demand pleasures of Netflix and the like. “A plan for future reading” might just mean putting books one is interested in on hold at the library, or a loose plan to dedicate more time for reading. Or it might mean a yearly reading challenge.

. . . .

Indeed, some people find the challenges to be the opposite of motivating. Sue, a 50-year-old teacher who lives in Crowthorne, England, just joined Goodreads this year and set a goal of reading 20 books. (She asked to be identified by her first name only so that her students won’t see her private information.) So far, she’s not enjoying her experience with the challenge. She’s kept a list of every book she’s read in a notebook since she was in secondary school, and can see from that record that she actually used to read more books in a year when she didn’t set a numerical goal.

“I put down 20 books, which I thought was not a lot compared to what I have done,” she told me. “Ever since I’ve done that, I found my reading rate has slowed down. I keep getting messages from Goodreads saying, ‘You’re behind target on your reading schedule.’ I’m wondering if psychologically it made it feel more like a chore as opposed to pleasure. I almost wish I hadn’t gone onto Goodreads. It’s making me feel like I’m back in my school days.”

This is the curious thing about reading goals—they are essentially homework that people make for themselves. Like homework, reading challenges can feel like pointless busywork for those who aren’t feeling intrinsically motivated to read. Or they can bring a sense of learning and accomplishment.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

If forced to choose between eating and reading, PG would have to think for a while.

While he’s not reading books all the time, he is interacting with words on screens or words on paper almost all the time he’s not watching the Chicago Cubs play baseball.

(While it’s still a mathematical possibility, things don’t look good for the Cubbies making it into the post-season this year.)

6 thoughts on “The Adults Who Treat Reading Like Homework”

  1. I still remember when my 6th grade teacher made reading for pleasure part of our homework. It was a pain in the patootie, but not because of the reading. I was already a voracious reader. The record-keeping was the problem.

    She stated us off with a 30-minute reading session in class. That was fine—reading in class instead of listening to the teacher was fabulous! The record of that session wasn’t a problem either. Book title, book author, brief summary of what I’d read.

    The classroom session was the last time it was painless. I finished a book every day or two, and having to finish each one off with a book report took some of the joy out of it. I began leaving more and more titles off my list just to avoid having to write the summary. I didn’t want to re-tell what I’d just read—I wanted to simply enjoy it while I was reading it. And, honestly, even keeping the list of titles up-to-date felt like a waste of my time.

    I was glad when the school year ended, and my reading for pleasure could be fully mine again.

    To this day, I continue to read 3 – 5 books a week. Admittedly, I re-read a lot, because I can’t find enough new-to-me material that I enjoy. I’m what Camille Leguire calls a “fussy reader.” Were I reading new dead-tree books rather than digital ones, I’d wall a lot of them. 😉

  2. PG: but why would you have to make that food/reading choice?

    Admittedly, my mother used to try to get me to choose between reading and eating with her “no reading at the table” rule but she was eventually ground down by my habit of ignoring her calls to dinner if I was engrossed in a book. I’m a bit more civilized now and don’t read when we have guests but my Kindle otherwise joins me for breakfast and dinner.

    As an Englishman I’ve no interest in the Chicago Cubs, or indeed any baseball, but the recent five match test series between England and Australia did prove a distraction (given that a test match in cricket runs to about seven hours of play a day and can run for five days). However, you can fit a lot of reading in between overs and between, before and after sessions and whenever rain stops play so I still manged at a couple of books per match.

    As for the OP itself, I do not like the idea of formal reading challenges at all, but I’ve realised I do have two running at the moment: one is to finish the books I’ve started and the other to read the next book in at least a dozen series. But I can see no reason to put them, or anything else about what I’m reading, on Goodreads.

  3. You can’t read and eat at the same time? Slacker!

    When I’m eating alone, I read the newspaper to protect my Nook. Articles and comics also allow me to pay attention to what and how much I’m eating, too.

    I make a record of every book I finish which includes the title, author, series name, and book in series. Then I write a few sentences of plot summary followed by a critique of the writing. I share those with a number of reading groups I belong to. These also allow me to do searches when someone asks for a book recommendation of a certain type. As of now, my list is over 150,000 words.

  4. Well, I’m on goodreads and so far its over 130 books this year. I’d never set a target though, those reminder emails would irritate the hell out of me. I just like to see all those pretty covers. Lol

  5. Speaking of pizza, the owner of my favorite pizza place where I often sit reading while eating a pizza is amazed that I read so much. “I haven’t read a book since high school,” he boasted. I can think of many reasons school discourages developing the habit of reading for pleasure but I found that disturbing and I’m debating a search for another favorite pizza place.

  6. > “I haven’t read a book since high school,” he boasted.

    I can easily see how he could get that way, and I don’t blame him.

    Across several school systems I attended in the 1960s and 1970s, book reports were assigned as punishments. Good way to cause an aversion to the whole idea.

    I had other classes that assigned mountains of arithmetic as group punishments when *one* child was a problem. What I took from that were lifelong aversions to both “authority” and arithmetic…

    Any “education” that happens in the public daycare/child prison system is likely accidental.

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