The Problem With Reading Competitively

January 1, 2015 4:12 PM

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Many of us readers like to think of ourselves as unlike everyone else. We’re not macho or ego-driven, but retiring, introspective, and thoughtful, right? But anyone who’s spent time around bookworms knows we can be deeply competitive, whether we’re airily noting the time we read War and Peace in seventh grade or offhandedly mentioning that we read 200 books a year, no big deal. These two forms of literary competition tend to belong to warring factions, the snobs and the every-reader. The snob turns up her nose at the idea that reading 15 Y.A. books means anything at all, as she prefers to read Dostoevsky; the every-reader reviles snobs who “tell people how to read,” but often loves to humblebrag about how many books (Y.A. or non-) he plowed through last week. Regardless, we’re almost all competing, on some level, to be the best, most readery reader we know.

Increasingly, with literary snobbishness on its heels (after all, it’s hard to love a snob), the every-reader seems to be dictating the rules, and the rules of the game are: read more books and win. New Year’s is a particularly competitive season, as we tot up our year’s worth of books and set more ...

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