If you have a lot of books in your house, people usually assume one of two things: a) you’re a speed reader, or b) you spend all your time reading. And they’ll usually ask you this outright like you’re some kind of weirdo.
In my case, because of my reading list and some of my articles, I get asked over email. For simplicity’s sake, I have always answered rather sheepishly, “Yes, I do spend a lot of time reading.” I am definitely not a speed reader, but I’ve realized over the last few months that my answer hasn’t been totally honest. In fact, I was lying to hide a secret that I was evidently ashamed of. Inquiring minds may have thought I was a bit strange before, but if they really knew, well… It doesn’t matter because that ends now.
I have a problem. I am a binge reader.
I often go days or weeks without so much as picking up a book. Or I’ll half-heartedly tell myself I am reading a few off and on. And then, I lose control. I’ll read seven books in five days. Or I’ll read for hours and hours in a row. I’ll blow off meetings or going out to finish reading a book that’s hooked me. I’ll read book after book in a series in an author’s bibliography. In that moment, I’ll even read The Hunger Games if it’s the only thing in reach (or worse, as a kid, I once made it several books deep into the Babysitter’s Club series when I ran out of stuff to read). And then, just like that, the urge is relieved and normal life resumes until the cycle starts again.
I’m only half joking about this being embarrassing of course. Because it really is my secret. One that I wasn’t totally aware I was keeping.
Fifty pages a day is not my thing. I’m not a “at least an hour before bed” kind of guy either. I’m much more manic than that. I go where the mania takes me. It might be strange but I find it to be far more effective and inspiring than trudging along. Besides, it all adds up to the same number of pages at the end of the day.
In the last ten days or so, I read an 800 page book of southern fiction. A 270 page book of writing advice. A 350 page book of advice columns. And I’m immediately moving on to a 230 page book of essays. In between these books I’ve stopped and started a couple others while researching for my next writing project. I have another book after that that I am almost salivating over to start.
If this essay book is as good as I’ve heard, I’ll blow through it and the momentum will carry me onto the next one. Or perhaps life will intervene and my rhythm will be disrupted. Or the book might not be very good and I might get stuck for a week or more until I find something that really fascinates me again.
I can think recently of books that were so amazing I read them all in one day (or started at night and finished the next day). John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce. David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter. Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things. The Boys in The Boat by Daniel James Brown. Michael Jackson Inc by Zach O’Malley Greenberg. Dying Every Day by James Romm.
Over the years there have been so many more. To me it feels like a fever you can’t shake—where the only way out is through. And you have to keep throwing yourself at it until the thing is slain. And then once it is, you can come up for air and decide whether you need to go back in for more.
Sometimes you do. When I talk about “Swarm Strategy” this is what I mean. I want to learn every single thing I can about the Civil War like time is running out. Every second is spent on it, in fits and batches, like it’s some terrible itch that needs to be scratched.
But these periods are not the norm. The norm is being too busy with work. Or wanting to watch TV with my girlfriend or play with my dog or check Twitter or respond to email. Oh my god, there is always so much email. The norm is not spending 20 hours in the air over the course of a week, but when it happens, I’m going to nuts with it. The rest of the time I’m like everybody else.
So there it is. I don’t actually read a lot, I read like a person with a disorder—bingeing with frenetic energy and then a lull and then attempts at normalcy until I revert back to my own habits.
I am a binge reader. Not a diligent, disciplined one, but one with no self control. And I love it.
Maybe you are too.
It’s awesome right?