Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Books, bikes, and numbers

I'm interested in the ways people keep track of their reading, or don't; in the comments to yesterday's post, people said some interesting things about the benefits and drawbacks of lists. Yesterday I mentioned the range of books I'll probably end up reading this year, but the truth is, this is the first year I've kept track of my reading, so I have no idea how representative my number of 50-60 books is of my typical reading pattern. And it's reading blogs that gave me the idea; seeing the lists of books read in people's sidebars made me want a list of my own. That, and I don't always remember accurately how long ago I read something, and now I have a way of checking.

This is the good thing for me about lists -- to jog my memory -- and it's a good thing about the blog itself, where not only can I look up what I read, but what I thought about it. I wish I had a better memory, but I'm better off acknowledging I don't, and therefore keeping a good record.

But the bad thing about list-making and book-counting is that it feeds my obsessive, number-crunching, year-to-year comparing, self-critical, and worried-about-stupid-things-all-the-time side. I'd like to think that it doesn't matter how many books I read in a year or how long it takes me to read them, or how many pages I can read an hour. Actually, I do think it doesn't matter -- what matters is what I make of my reading and how much pleasure I get from it. I really do believe that. Well, one part of me does, the sensible, reasonable part. But the other part of me, equally strong, does care about numbers and loves making comparisons and would wonder why, if one year I read 60 books, another year I'd only read 40. When this side of me speaks, it says "keep track!" When my sensible, reasonable side speaks, it says "don't!" So which side of me will win out? Probably the number-cruncher side. The blog, in spite of all its wonderful qualities, does encourage the number-crunching side of me. It makes it so much easier to keep lists and count books. And I do like math. I like numbers and statistics. I find them fun.

Bettybetty wanted to know if this worry about reading speed is a carry-over from cycling. In one sense, no; I'm not really worried about my reading speed; I can accept my slow pace with a book when I'm less likely to accept it on the bike. But in another sense, the interest in numbers is similar in both areas. There is so much I can count with my bike computer/heart rate monitor: miles ridden on each ride, miles ridden this month, miles ridden this year, average speed, maximum speed, average heart rate, maximum heart rate, average cadence, maximum cadence, calories burned, time spent in target heart rate zones, etc. etc. I'm sure I'm forgetting something. I discovered a website this year where I can keep track of these things: Bike Journal. Here, I can enter all my information, and it'll keep track of it and add up my monthly and yearly numbers.

This is a wonderful thing. But it's all about codifying an experience that is wonderful for all sorts of non-codified ways. Numbers are great for serious training, so there's no way I'm giving them up, but I can get too obsessed with them, and wonder, for example, why I rode slower today than yesterday. Why is my average speed in August slower than it was in July? Ugh. It's impossible, thank God, to keep stats about reading in the same way I keep them about riding, but the counting impulse is still there.

Somehow I have to find a way to balance my sometimes unbalanced self.