What Qualifies as Reading?

There’s no arguing that reading has changed over the course of history. From scanning cave drawings to opening downloaded books on the latest tablet, we are a society interested in sharing ideas by freezing out thoughts in time for someone to engage with at a later date.

New York Times columnist David Carr recently polled his co-workers regarding their reading habits. What are they reading? How are they reading it?

The Sweet Spot video focuses primarily on books however there are so many more reading touchpoints throughout our day.

Think about it this way: When a friend asks you what you’re reading what’s the first thought that comes to mind? Probably the book you’re currently flipping through, right? Why is that? Is it because a book involves a process, sitting down over multiple days, spanning several or dozens of hours depending on its size?

Now think abut everything that you read today. How many blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates, online articles, magazine features, newspaper columns, and so forth did you pick up or scroll through? In a few weeks you probably read more words than you have on your bookshelf at home. That’s because we constantly type, read, type some more, and wait for the next response. Messages via email or texting night just be the most words you will read in your life (just a guesstimate).


2013-03-22 12.31.00 (1)The other day a friend asked me what I was reading. I had just finished Homeland, a bit of teen fiction by Cory Doctorow that I checked out from the library. I was staring at a stack of books, all with Dewey Decimal references on their spines. Next up was Engage! by Brian Solis. I hadn’t cracked it open yet and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I had it in my head that this was homework, a book I acquired for the sole purpose of learning more for my profession.

This is the perfect moment to explain my one rule of reading books: never assign yourself homework. I had broken that rule here and it was haunting me. But I digress.

I couldn’t answer my friend because I wasn’t reading anything. That is, I didn’t count the NY Times Magazine article I was catching up on from a few weeks back, the research I was doing for a client, the hundreds of tweets I had read that day, or the press release I had ghost written for a friend (yes, writing involves reading).

Unlike Carr’s questions to his colleagues, I saw what I read as a fundamental qualification to if I was reading. I disqualified anything web based, opting only for the inky pages of bound stories. Why was that? Sure I dislike digital reading and I don’t own a tablet. I have shelves lined with books, a desk stacked with print outs, and a coffee table with a separate shelf for the growing pile of newspapers and magazines my wife brings home each day. I spend hours reading every day, scanning the internet for blog post fodder, newspaper features to quickly dive in and jump back out of key moments in someone’s life story, and countless online articles linked through Twitter.

So what made the cut? What was I reading? It seems it is everything and nothing at the same time. In my mind, reading is a process, defined by putting something down and picking it back up, maybe at least three times – this disqualifies feature articles and really only makes room for books.

Why is this? Maybe it’s because we didn’t receive a newspaper when I was growing up or that my formative years were before digital posts. Maybe it’s because I prefer physical books and the smell of aged paper over pixels.

Maybe it’s just that reading is personal and it means something different to each one of us. So what are you reading?

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2 thoughts on “What Qualifies as Reading?

    • Not yet, though it is still on my desk (I renewed it at the SF public library). I am interested in reading WTF after following your tweets and posted reviews but I’m just waiting for the library to get it in (I like to support my local library). I think you’re right, WTF is more the style that I’m currently in the mood to read. Hopefully I will crack it open soon. Thanks for reading!

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