I love recording stats. Not because I love math but because I love tracking achievement. I track things like my sleep schedule, running mileage, and exactly how many books I read per year.
That’s why I can tell you with great authority that in the past five years, I’ve read 905 books. That’s an average of 181 books per year. In one low year, I only read one hundred and fifty, and in two high ones, I read two hundred books each.
To quote from The Greatest Showman, “This is me.”
I grew up in a reading household. My parents read a lot—both on their own and aloud to us kids. We visited the public library once a week and always signed up for kids’ programs. There wasn’t much else to do in 1980s rural Lancaster County. Other than get lost in the corn field behind the house, of course. A casual flip through our family photo album reveals snapshots of us decked out in matching Readers of the Round Table ringer tees.
When I went off to college, I brought my reading habit with me. One of my first acts as a college student was to take my student ID down to the public library and get a library card because the campus library didn’t have enough novels. Once every two weeks, I’d swing by on my way to work and pick up a fresh stack to plow through between assignments.
This established a pattern that’s continued throughout my adult life. I find holes in my schedule and plug them with books.
Most days, I read for a solid hour in the morning with my coffee. That’s when I tackle the heavy lifting—theology, history, and tragic journals of doomed Polar explorers. In the evenings, I consume light fare before bed—novels, essays, or anything YA. In between I read whatever genre I’m currently obsessed with. (Just now? Memoir.)
Sure, I have a few natural advantages. I read and process quickly, though I don’t speed read. I don’t currently have a romantic partner, and I’m not raising children—which frees up my schedule a bit, as you might imagine (or sympathize with, as your case may be).
For me, reading isn’t some sort of escape, nor does it lessen my enjoyment of “real life.” If anything, it enhances it.
There’s a phrase from scripture that runs through my mind in relation to choosing books: “In the fullness of time.” In God’s providence, that’s how books seem to come to me. Right on time, just when they’re needed.
And they’re always needed.
Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns peeled the scales from my eyes regarding the racialized complexities of American socioeconomics. Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care has forever influenced how I view my own writing (as gift rather than commodity). Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead developed in me a hyper-awareness of light. Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor has helped me separate my worth from my work. Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying and Laruen Markham’s The Far Away Brothers shaped my current posture toward immigration. John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation offered soul care in due season.
As my reading list expands, I can feel my own personal growth. Excluding scripture and the Holy Spirit, nothing has revealed the unreliability of my own inner voice quite like reading. Often while reading I experience retroactive shame. Part of me hates this aspect of my reading life while another acknowledges its grim necessity.
A commitment to lifelong learning is a commitment to humility and the daily willingness to own areas in which we’ve been wrong or uninformed up to this point. This is what deep, continuous reading does. It whittles me down, shapes me, and builds me back up. It’s not comfortable, and there are definitely times I wish “voracious reader” didn’t describe me.
When asked why I read so much, I am often at a loss. All I know is that when I do it, I feel most like myself. For me, reading isn’t a hobby but a natural outflow of who I am.
I consider reading one of my strengths, a gift of my personhood that God gave me. Like everyone else I have a moral responsibility to steward my gifts. Although I do read for pure pleasure (currently: Alan Bradley’s The Golden Tresses of the Dead, Flavia de Luce #10), what I read isn’t all about me.
Not everyone has the time, energy, or internal makeup to read stacks of books, nor do they need it. My friends and family help me rearrange my furniture and put up my hurricane shutters. In turn, I connect them with resources. At two hundred books a year, no matter what you’re looking for, I probably have something to recommend.
I think this is why God made some of us both readers and extroverts. Anything I read other people are going to hear about—one way or the other.
Personally, I’d rather light my head on fire than join a book club. But if we’re next to each other on the treadmill and you ask if I’ve read any good books lately, one of us is going to launch into a breathless twenty-minute monologue, and it’s not you.