By: Rebecca Guzman  | 

Let’s Stop Keeping Track

“Thirty eight of 70 books completed. Two books behind schedule!” announces the little banner on my Goodreads profile. It’s only July, so being two books behind schedule isn’t too disastrous for my yearly reading goal, but the little banner seems to be mocking me. The exclamation point especially. I’m reading as fast as I can, I think pitifully, but then I stop myself. I’m reading as fast as I can? There I was, sitting with a closed book in my hands — the novel now merely another pixelated square in the grid reflecting my reading “progress” — despondently scrolling through an app that attempted no mercy in telling me how bad I was at reading. I wasn’t even thinking about the book, which had been phenomenal and mind-bending. I was thinking about the app, because it had transformed reading into a task at which I either succeeded or failed, and literature was the metric. And because I realized that I am the type of person who would much rather think about a book than an app, I deleted it. Farewell, Goodreads.

After that, I noticed that I was approaching literature differently. I wasn’t thinking about a reading goal; there was no number flashing in the back of my mind as I waded through novel after novel. I stopped rushing. I stopped focusing on the result — which, in the case of Goodreads, was impressing some random internet strangers and adding yet another book to an ever-growing list of completed reads — and I started focusing on the experience itself. I now had the luxury of reading and rereading the sentences and passages that amazed me. It was like I was a little girl again, sitting in the New York Public Library after school and begging my mother to please wait five more minutes so I could get to the end of the chapter. But I didn’t feel that way because I was rushed. On the contrary, I felt that way because I had allowed myself to slow down, and in slowing down, I was able to restore the wondrous experience of reading that I had lost.

This fast-paced, consumption-focused behavior is not exclusive to apps and sites like Goodreads, but is indicative of society’s relentless obsession with amassing goods and experiences. Literature is just one of the casualties of a culture where the completion of a task is considered more important than performance of the task itself. We engage in this toxic process constantly and often without realizing it. For example, you attend the concert of a band you love — they hold a place in both your heart and your Spotify Wrapped — but you spend most of the concert angling for the best shot of the lead guitarist, or trying to hold your phone above the heads of fellow concertgoers to capture the perfect video to later post online. Suddenly, the lights come back on, and you feel as though you were never there at all. 

When we yield to a cultural landscape that values the mere intake of artistic experiences over the adventure of them, we surrender the power of our human capacity to appreciate and learn from art. We lose the very thing we should be gaining and we forfeit the very purpose of the experience. Our perception of time and commitment suffers. When we submit to a value system that tells us to constantly look forward to the next shiny thing and to seek validation from the end result as opposed to the process, we rush through the present moment with our minds elsewhere. When I watch videos of the concerts I went to the summer after graduating high school, I can hear myself and my friends singing along to the music but I can’t remember the feeling of hearing it – that rush as the lights dimmed and the first guitar strum sounded, how much of it did I lose as I scrambled to record it? Those stacks of novels in my bedroom, did I concede some of their magic when I so egregiously dedicated myself to reaching their final pages? 

In a world that asks us to speed through everything, to look at the finish line and to neglect the awe of the race, it is difficult to engage in the very processes that require slowness and attentiveness. Reading, for example, becomes inauthentic when the ending of a book matters more than the thrill of the story. Nights out with friends become about the Instagram post instead of the connection. What else can we lose as we rush onward? Why should we lose even more? The works of art that expand our minds and the moments that shape us can only come about and impact our lives if we slow down and let them. In her 1990 poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver writes, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” The question is daunting, yes, but it can also be liberating when we decide to stop keeping track and just be. That’s when something beautiful can happen, and that’s when we can notice that beauty.


Photo Caption: The works of art that expand our minds and the moments that shape us can only impact our lives if we slow down and let them.

Photo Credit: Hermann via Pixabay