"How Can I Learn to Read as Much as Other People?"

Woe to the book read in December.

Dear Milo,

I like reading but I read slow. Most people read a lot more than me and it makes me feel bad tbh. How do I read more?


Slow Reader

Medford, MA

Dear Slow Reader,

Oh man, vent mode has been activated.

Let’s get something out of the way right now: Reading it not an inherently moral act. Reading doesn’t make someone better than someone who doesn’t read, and reading more/faster doesn’t make someone better than someone who reads less/slower. It’s a particular pet peeve of mine when some folks peacock like they’re the most empathic and intelligent person around because they claim to have read, like, 257 books in a year. This behavior not only makes a mockery of why writers write, but ruins why readers read, causing some to feel that their love of reading isn’t good enough within itself. It all turns into how much, how fast, and sometimes continues down a rabbit hole of which genres, which authors, and how recently the book was published.

It's one thing for a person to catalog what they’re reading and, hey, why not share it on social media because they find that fun and community-building. Some folks really are wicked fast readers and have plenty of time on their hands. Some need the structure of a numerical goal to get themselves to read until it forms a habit. But like most things, there’s a line that a reader might cross. And when that happens, the behavior of cataloging and sharing turns into competition, bragging rights, and insinuated (or not-so-insinuated) superiority.

I mean, sure, I engaged in the behavior of reading too much too fast (and cataloging it) way back when I was a small(er) human, but that was me in competition with myself so I could earn as many free personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut as I could. But as soon as I’d aged out of free pizza—the cruelest rite of passage ever—I calmed my cheese-drunk ass down and returned to reading like a human.

Setting a goal to read X amount of books in a given year is all well and good, but when someone holds themselves too hardcore to that goal, it can cause trouble. The later in the year in gets, the more frantic some readers become, the more they simply skim pages instead of absorbing them, the more they select shorter books simply because they’re shorter, and a host of other behaviors not organic to the spirit of reading. And especially if they’re not naturally fast readers—whatever that means—donuts to dollars they’re retaining little of what they read and likely not enjoying themselves. It turns reading into something stressful, something demoralizing. Homework, low-grade anxiety, a sense of shame and/or failure as the weeks tick by. By December, books risk becoming more of a performativity or gamification than actually read. And as a writer, knowing I could be just a notch in someone’s bedpost isn’t a good feeling.

There’s nothing wrong with you, my friend. Just because other folks are reading more or faster than you doesn’t mean anything. It has nothing to do with talent, intelligence, or morality. All it means is that people read at different speeds and in different quantities. Also, “fast” reading, “slow” reading, “few” books, and “a lot of” books are all relative terms. A trust fund baby spending their livelihood as a bookish content creator might see reading less than 30 books in a month as a failure, but a single mother of four managing to read two whole books in a year may be thrilled.

Try your best to stop comparing yourself to other readers. Disengage from number-based reading challenges. Reframe any reading goals from quantity to quality. (For example, instead of saying you’ll read 30 books this year, say you’ll read at least one book outside of your favorite genres, one by an author identity you rarely read, one recommended by a random stranger, and one that has been sitting in your TBR pile for 5+ years.) Stop social-based cataloging of what you’ve read. (If you still want to catalog for prosperity reasons, put it into a personal spreadsheet rather than, say, Goodreads. That way, you won’t feel outside pressure or judgement.) Do whatever you need to bring back the joy of reading. If reading feels like a chore, then we’re doing it wrong, whether it’s the wrong book, the wrong mindset, the wrong place, or the wrong time. I believe that most folks who either never got into reading or eventually stopped reading for pleasure did so because reading became a chore for them. I also believe that we can get anybody—absolutely anybody—out of that rut if we just encourage people to read what they want, how they want. 

And, of course, nobody’s stopping us from ordering a pizza.



Milo Todd's logo of a simple, geometric fox head. It has a black nose, white cheeks, and a reddish-orange face and ears.
Until next time, foxies! Be queer, write books!