Introvert Reading Habits

Like many introverts, I absorb a lot through reading, mostly because it’s quiet. Also like many introverts, I often immerse myself in one particular topic and read as much as I can about it. In this way, I find myself way behind on my “books I’d like to read” list. Fortunately, I have a plan.

I joined Amazon.com in 2000, when it was a new, big, and shiny thing, mostly for acquiring books that were difficult to find. However, last year I was horrified to realize that some of the books on my wish/to-read list from 2000 are still on the list.

I’ve become a list maker as I’ve gotten older as a way to keep the content I write in order, but also to keep my work and life on track. If I make a list, I usually intend to do something about the items that are on it. Last year, after much rumination and self-recrimination, the Amazon wish list/Goodreads to-read list reached a critical threshold of irritation.

I thought, “I am never going to get through this pile.” And worse, I kept adding to it. Some items I put on that list in 2000 are still on there. So I decided to lay down the law with myself and established a plan to clear out my List Anxiety:

  1. Read what’s on the list now.
  2. Do not add more books to the list until you’ve finished the current list. This applies even if a dear friend says, “You need to stop what you’re doing and read this book now!”
  3. Remove from the list any items that you know you’re never going to read.
  4. Read all the books on the current list until you are done.
  5. After you’re done reading what’s on The List, just read books for fun and don’t make another list!

When I started this process, I had 220 books to read. Since then, I’ve read 60, bringing the list down to 160 or so. I’ll probably finish up in four years or so, given a pace of 40 books a year. That seems reasonable.

I have not been nearly as diligent about Point #2 as I would like, partly because priorities change, impulse buying strikes me at Barnes & Noble, or I need to read a book for work purposes. Or, yes, a friend will say, “Dude, forget the list, you need to read this! Now!” I hate to be rude, but my List Anxiety gets the better of me sometimes. When that list is done in four years or so, I’ll be happy to pick up whatever random book strikes my fancy. And Point #5 is important because most of the books I have on my list now are akin to homework: they are things I ought to read. Anything I read after that can be for pure pleasure.

If some of this “List Anxiety” seems over the top, I apologize. Somewhere along the line, I made myself a dutiful, task-focused creature. If I make promises, even to myself, I intend to keep them.

I can’t feel too bad, though. I have another introverted friend whose to-read list has a horrifying 6,921 items on it. Mind you, she reads 100 books a year and is younger than me, so she might finish her books by 2086 assuming she lives that long, stays on track, and doesn’t add any more books to the list. However, I doubt she’ll stop adding books to her list and she’s probably okay with going to her grave with unread tasks on her to-do list. Or maybe she isn’t but just covers it well. I just know that as a task-minded introvert, I felt that clearing out my reading list was something I needed to do. Check back with me in five years. I’m sure I’ll be much more sedate about my reading by then. 🙂

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