Books and the questions!

So every year, I set myself a goal of reading X no. of books, and set about reaching that diligently. I have a full time job that I love and don't want to escape, a family that I spend enough time with, a few other activities that I do, some of them even taking quite some time and effort, and a good social life.

In spite of these factors, I have focused on achieving this goal of X books per year.
When this comes up in conversations, I get a few questions, and few incredulous looks along my way. I thought I'd address them all, for myself and for people so I can refer them to this post. :) I should be aware of why I do what I do.

Why the goals?

This is almost always the first question. Either this, or something to this effect. I understand that people ask this question, coz its not everyday that you'll want to measure something you do, especially if you claim to like the certain activity.
Here are my reasons -
1. Well, turns out I am a numbers person. I like to measure the stuff I do. I also count the no. of hikes I've been on in a year, the no. of national parks I've visited so far and in a year, and the books I read, but I've only had goals for the no. of books I read per year. I like to measure things because at the end of the year, it helps as an objective answer to the question I ask myself - has this been a productive year? [Well, I tend to not count productivity at work, I let the bosses do that, but since I am the boss in my life, I get to do this here].
2. I believe that you can achieve quality in quantity. In terms of reading books, I always hope that I walk back with at least 10% of this number, X as books I'd always remember. You cannot always read a masterpiece, sometimes the brain needs a break too. You cannot also always read frivolous stuff, because I'd like to learn from my books. And if I want to have read at least one memorable book per month, I feel good about my year, and count it as productive. This applies to few of my other hobbies as well.
As much as I love setting goals, I do not fret about meeting them. The idea is to have a goal, and an agreement that you want to reach it. How I reach the goal, and what I do in the meanwhile are something that I don't care much for. Coz, at the end of the day, I want my life to be fun, not just goals.
[Btw, this is also my funda when I am traveling. I always have a plan for the day, but I dont care if we dont stick to it. I just dont want to wake up in the morning in a strange new city and dont know what to do, and thus while away time looking up stuff at that minute. A little homework doesn't hurt anyone. If someone else finds something fun for me to do, and it violates my plan, to hell with the plan. Fun is what matters! Travel with me, you'll know! ;-)]
And no, these goals are definitely not for showing off. I show-off my books goals once a year as a year-end post, and that's about it. I rarely ever bring this number into social conversations, coz I genuinely believe that this is not a bragging topic, and I know people who read far more books that I read.

Do I assimilate what I read?

In most cases, we all know the tone behind this question. There is an unsaid meaning that I don't read seriously enough and that I flick through pages. For such people, my answer depends on how much they've annoyed me that day.
For people who ask me this question genuinely, this is my answer - Yes. I assimilate what I read. Mostly. This is why I make notes of my thoughts post most books I read. So I don't forget what the book meant to me, and what I felt while reading it. You could call them a review, if you wanted, but these are mostly notes. Goodreads is a great tool to track this. For those few books that I do not make notes - its either unnecessary or I didn't really enjoy the book a lot.
Yes, mostly I assimilate the book. I might not remember the gist of every book I have ever read, but I have notes about the ones that meant something to me, and I can always refer back to them.
If this is an unforgettable book, then, thankfully, I am blessed with a memory to talk about these notes at the moment.

Why do I read?

Not a lot, but I get asked this question too. I used to be and still get perplexed when someone would ask me this question. Why do I even read? Well, coz that's the only way to be. May be because ever since I remember, I've only seen adults around me read or fuss about reading.
[I can never tire of telling this - growing up, I've seen my mother always read, when she wasn't in the kitchen. She still is the same. My Dad always got me the best books he could find, and later enabled me with generous allowances so I could buy what I wanted to read. My Uncle had a huge library and always read himself to sleep, and as a 18 yr old, I wanted to grow up to be like him. A few of my teachers made a big deal about story telling and reading, and worked hard at inculcating the love of the language in me. These were my influences.]
If I keep these subjective reasons aside, here is the reason why I read - I read because that's the way to learn. I like the awareness reading gives me, and I like it from the comfort of my couch. I want to know things, and I get to know things by reading. Also, like I eat, sleep and take a shower, I also read.
Also, I read so I can fall asleep. Really. For at least twenty years now, that's the only way I've slept. On the most tiring day, or even if I am super drunk, a book is the last thing I see before I fall asleep.

What genres do I read?

One thing that I have learnt is to not be judgemental about people's reading habits, and genres. Though, I find this learning hard to implement when someone mentions the Fifty Shades or Twilight series, or Chetan Bhagat and the likes, it is true. [In these cases, I tell myself that I am flawed, and I continue judging. Sorry. :) ]
The genres I like to read are related to my reasons to read - the books that can teach me something. And that's the reason why I do not indulge a lot in beach reads. Turns out even if you read only fiction, you can read stuff that will teach you a bunch a the world outside your couch.
I prefer reading world literature set in the remote corners of the world. I also read graphic novels because this is a medium in which some very interesting stories of pain, angst and struggle are told in a very engaging and consume-able format. I also read non-fiction if it is highly recommended - think the kinds of Sapiens, or stuff on philosophy and religion. I am drawn to stories set in conflicts as a background - think Holocaust, wars, refugee situations etc.
Another genre I enjoy reading is well written fiction in the magic realism genre. There are some authors who made reading a total joy in this genre, and those, I love.

How do I select books and what to read?

I always know what I am reading next and I always have a long To-Read list. It is not so long that it daunts me, but it is long enough to keep me occupied for at least another 2-3 years. I build this reading list with great care.
Though I believe that if you read what everyone reads, you'll think what everyone thinks, I have found the review system on Goodreads very informative. I look for book recommendations from people, book stores, my favorite authors, sites/articles I come across, and look them up in Goodreads. If the book has a rating of  3.8 and above, and has considerable number of reviews, then the book is in.
As subjective as I think this is, I also am aware, that there is a certain science to this selection, and this has worked for me. I have discovered some amazing writers and books this way, and so I intend to continue this method.
This is also the reason why I end up giving a 3-5 star rating for most of the books I read. These are already great books that have entered my queue. Unless they are super duds, I know I'll like them.

Do I read every book I pick up? When do I give up?

Oh yes, I give up. Plenty of times. In spite of the afore-mentioned science, I have discovered some absolute duds. My rule is to give every book a chance till I read it for 20%. If the book doesn't hold me in rapture even by then, then I dump the book and move on. Life is too short to be stuck on bad/uninteresting stuff.

When do I read?

This is a good question, always followed by 'I don't have time'. The truth is we are all given only 24 hours per day, out of which, we spend 8 hours at work, 8 hours at sleep and at least 4-6 hours to live life (cook, commute, family friends, etc).
I know that on the weeks that I binge-watch some TV show, my reading takes a backseat and those months I'd have read very less, so TV is a certain No if you'd like to read seriously. Also, the phone is a serious deterrent to reading. I sometimes get carried away in tweeting or Insta-ing about the book I am reading, and I can instantly notice my attention drifting away from the book. 
Also, I read before I go to bed. Many times, this means I wake up with incomplete sleep, but I haven't regretted it. Ever.
It also helps that I have a pretty good reading speed.
As far as I can recollect, I have read every single day of my adult life, including the days that I travelled. The only exception to this is on days when I am in Vipasana.
Almost always, I am reading more than one book at the time. There is generally a book I am reading on the couch, which is mostly a paper book. I'd be reading another one on my Kindle, which I get to, when I am in bed.
If you are serious about reading, get a Kindle. Pfft to all those debates about how a book feels like a book and Kindle feels like something else (like what? a device? Like these people have never held a device in their hands?). A Kindle ensures that a book is handy for you when you need it, and you can read even in the dark, so the annoying habit of keeping the light on and disturbing the partner's sleep can finally be put to rest.
Yes, even I love reading paper books, smelling into them and all that romantic stuff, but we gotta accept what's practical - A Kindle weighs far less and can have far more books in it.
When I travel, I can never decide what to read. I never buy books on a whim, so I know buying books in the airport is a No. I shudder to be stuck anywhere without a book, but what if I am stuck with a book I don't/won't like? This is where a Kindle comes handy. I have several comfort reads on the Kindle, books that I've read already and know I love. And I also go with one or two paper books that I am currently reading.
Also, I never start a paper book on a holiday, coz again, what if I don't like it. I don't want to have carried it all the way for nothing. The struggle is real, folks !:)

Do I buy all these books?

Hell, no! Well, sometimes, yes.
I take the concept of not-owning-things a little seriously, and I extend it to books too. I will never buy a book if I know I wont read it again. The books I own should be the stuff I can recommend to people. And since I don't really mind lending my books (and I am also super diligent and naggy enough to get them back), I want others to be able to read my books.
Most of the books I read in an year are borrowed - either from friends, or the local library. And if I really love a specific book or find myself thinking about the book months after I've read it initially, I buy it - with an intention of referring to it every once in a while, and to lend it to people I think would enjoy it.
I also buy books from specific genres that are hard to find in the library. These books, I give away instantly, and don't nag for them to be returned :)
In general, I also give away my books gladly, if I realize I haven't re-read them in a while or have no intention to re-reading.

Do I listen to audiobooks?

I know that I could read far more books if only I graduated to audiobooks, but till now I haven't been able to make the move. I feel like I don't have the required attention span to keep me reading if I switched from the book format.


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