Happy Sunday, everyone. Today is going to be the start of a long week, because I am traveling to Seattle on Tuesday for work. I’ve never been to Seattle before, and I’m excited to see the city, but I admit that I’d rather stay home. I’ve yet to get back into a routine after the holidays, and almost a week away doesn’t help matters much.
Last week I started The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, but I realized that I was picking it up and setting it down too much, and it seems to me like a book that needs a longer attention span. Also, it’s a physical book, and I’m planning to take only my Kindle on this trip (plenty of TBR titles on that bad boy), so I decided to hold off on that one until I get home.
Instead, I started Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I wanted to read it mainly because I’ve mostly recovered from the problem I had last year (plantar fasciitis, which is essentially just severe heel pain–and a real pain in the butt to boot) and I thought it might motivate me to get back into a routine. So far so good: I ran (a very slow) four miles this afternoon. Probably it’s not fair to call it running—it was more like jogging, really—but I did it.
This morning, I came across this passage:
Most ordinary runners are motivated by an individual goal, more than anything: namely, a time they want to beat. As long as he can beat that time, a runner will feel he’s accomplished what he set out to do, and if he can’t, then he’ll feel he hasn’t. Even if he doesn’t break the time he hoped for, as long as he has the sense of satisfaction at having done his very best—and possibly, having made some significant discovery about himself in the process—then that in itself is an accomplishment, a positive feeling he can carry over to the next race.
For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary—or perhaps more like mediocre—level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.
What does any of this have to do with reading, you might be wondering? For me, it relates in a couple of ways. First was simply that much of last year was not a good running year for me–and when I wasn’t running, my reading tapered off as well. I think I set more books aside last year than I ever have, and even the ones I made it through often didn’t satisfy me. This was troubling to me because a big part of my identity is “reader.” Another big part of my identity was starting to become “runner.” Neither of those things were going well, and I was unable to reach the bar I had set for myself in either area. It wasn’t pretty.
The other reason the passage struck me was that since I started blogging again, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my goals are as a blogger. When I first started this blog in 2009, I joined all kinds of challenges and set all kinds of goals for myself: to read a certain number of books, to read certain kinds of books, to attract some number of readers, to attract publishers so I could read the latest and greatest releases, to join read-alongs, and so forth. All of my goals were driven by what I imagined I should be doing with a blog, rather than what I really wanted to do.
Even when I decided to start blogging again a few months ago, I thought about what I should do. For example, I should have a ratings system of some sort, so that people know what I think. The problem for me was: I couldn’t think of a ratings system I felt comfortable using. Should I give stars? Should I rate books on a scale of 1 to 5? 1 to 10? Should I rank things with simple terms such as “Recommended” or “Highly recommended”?
I thought about it for a long while, and I could not decide. Then one day, it hit me: I am not at all interested in ranking books for people. I have no problem with other people doing it; many of the blogs I follow have some sort of at-a-glance system, and I appreciate it as a time saver, especially if I know I can trust the person’s opinion (Jackie at Farm Lane Books and Matt at A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook come to mind). But for myself, for what I want to get out of blogging, a ranking system won’t work, because ultimately, I’m not really interested in reviewing books. I’m interested in having a conversation about books here on this blog, and to me, when I think of giving something a rank, I worry it closes the door. If I give something two stars, it might keep someone from commenting who really thought a book was four or five stars. (More likely, it would be the opposite: I’d give something four stars, and I’d get the inevitable, “You liked that? Hm” kind of comment that drives me insane.)
To bring it all home, because this post is longer than I planned and getting a bit out of control, I suppose what I’m saying is, I might be a very slow runner, but I’m only worried about improving my own time, not in beating anyone else. I read a lot of running blogs, and many of those people are faster than I could ever hope to be. Reading is not only something I enjoy, but in many ways it’s something I have trained—both as an “amateur” and professionally—to do. But the only goals that matter are my own. Nobody has to read or like the books I recommend here. I am not trying to be a taste-maker. Quite honestly, if I had only two or three readers who got something out of the conversation, I would be happy, because what ultimately matters to me is reading, in and of itself. I perform the act for the sheer joy of it, and nothing else.