Reading Review — 2016 Edition

Consistent reading is one of the most beautiful and practical evidences of God’s grace in the literate world.  Books help us in the effort to discover more of God’s reality; they are tools like no other.  I believe this so much that a friend and I will install and operate an at-cost bookstall for our church early next year to help fellow members turn back to and better understand the Bible.  My personal favorite read this year was a tossup between Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus and The Grace of Giving: Money and the Gospel, both given as gifts from fellow church members appropriately.  If anyone is interested in borrowing them or any other books, they can get in touch.

So when reviewing my reading habits of this past year, I have been careful to first see the blessings from the actual content within the books and only then seek ways to improve reading habits.  This discussion ought to help those who have never taken a moment to reflect on the frequency or breadth of their reading (like me about a year ago).

My goal this year was to read 26 books, no qualifiers—just 26 books flat out.

Fewer words now; more graphs.

books-read-by-month-2016

Even a person not accustomed to graphs can recognize above how volatile the past year has been for me in terms of reading.  Volatility on its own is not necessarily bad.  I met the goal of 26 total books in 2016 after all.  However, I had a suspicion that the books I picked up in the months of more frequent reading were shorter ones.  Now that is bad.  Rushing through novellas and handbooks is not as valuable to me as diligently discovering more of God’s reality.  These two actions are not mutually exclusive, but they usually do not happen together in my life to be completely honest.

With only 10 data points (excluding June and July), the good old-fashioned scatter plot below confirms my suspicion.

avg-book-length-vs-books-read-by-month

For the statistically minded out there, the ten data above do not “prove” anything per se, but there is at least some inverse correlation between reading frequency and average book length.  In the month when I read eight books, those eight books were far below the average page count across all of 2016.

I set a goal for 2016 and accomplished it, but not in the healthiest of ways.  Now we turn to a potential solution: independent quarterly goals.

From my experience forecasting customer demand for certain products at certain retail stores, I have learned that larger collections of units and time are much more predictable than smaller ones.  It would have been much easier for me to predict how many books I would complete in 2016 than doing the same for just Memorial Day weekend or just a particular Saturday in October.

With this in mind, independent quarterly goals will help make smaller chunks of time more predictable and thereby make 2017 a more consistent, earnest, and diligent year of reading.  Each quarter (span of three months) will have its own separate numerical reading goal, and extra accomplishments from one quarter will not rollover so to speak.  Viewing the graph below, for example if I read nine books in the first quarter, I still would need to read at least seven in the second.

projected-books-read-by-month-2017

All of this nitpicking over goals should not distract us from the goal of reading: namely, discovering more of God’s reality.  If I am not doing this, attempting this, or praying to the Lord to help me do this, then I am not reading rightly.

If readers take just a second to consider their own reading habits, then I am grateful that this discussion had some impact.  Even Socrates, half a millennium removed from Christ and half a sea removed from God’s prophets in Israel, knew that “the unexamined life is not worth living”.