Reading Achievement Unlocked

Achievement Unlocked

There’s been a lot of talk about how publishing has been radically changing over the past few years. The past couple of days, though, I’ve been thinking about how reading have been changing as well.

For a few years now, I’ve been using a site called GoodReads to track the books I read, and a number of my acquaintances online do as well. Before, I used to post a yearly list of books I was reading on LiveJournal, but I like the more social experience of GoodReads. As I’m reading a book, people will often comment on their own experiences on it or ask my opinion, and it becomes a reading club that goes at my own pace. But as I use the site and share my experiences, a couple of things have been rolling around in the back of my head.

First, GoodReads doesn’t really track rereading books really well. I mean, it’s possible to do it, but the site is really geared around reading a book once and calling it a day. As a perfect example, I’m rereading a lot of my Sherlock Holmes pastiches after going through the original canon, but I could really only track the books I hadn’t put into the site previously, or new books that I picked up between volumes. And in general, I’m not seeing a whole lot of people talking about picking up old favorites, but rather talking about the newest and greatest books in their collections.

Second, you can’t really tell how big a book is on the site,1 and it seems the trend in book length is reversing. As reading moves more and more to devices and ebooks, it seems (to me at least) that a long book I would have worked through in a physical book I find difficult to slog through on my iPad. Further, as writers find that having more books for customers to buy means more than having one big book, self-published ebooks are getting shorter and shorter.

Between the two, it feels a bit like reading books are like unlocking achievements in video games. Since it’s harder to track progress by page count, books themselves track progress. Reading five novellas feels like more reading than one compilation of the same five novellas. I’ve actually caught myself tempted to track the individual novels in a compilation such as The Chronicles of Amber, because I want to feel like I’m reading more, even though it’s the exact same words.

Don’t get me wrong – anything that gets people reading more is awesome. This isn’t a screed against how things were better before that damned Kindle, or how things are more awesome because I can read books in an afternoon. But it is different, and when assumptions about how people read starts to change, writers have to pay attention to it and keep those new patterns in mind as they create.

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  1. I mean, yes, many books have a page count, but as more and more ebooks don’t have specific page counts, percentages are more common than page numbers.