Strong opinions, weakly held

Will a library card lead me to read more?

Like many people who spend too much time online, read fewer books than I’d like. It’s not that I don’t read as many words as I once did. I read blog posts in Google Reader, updates on Twitter, message board posts in many places, email, and long articles in Instapaper. And my temptation is often to play a computer game, watch a TV show, or catch up on various online reading when I have leisure time. While I enjoy all that stuff, it’s just not the same as diving into an interesting nonfiction book or a gripping novel.

For years I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my incentives to align with my abstract desires and start reading more books. My new theory is that I’m more likely to read books if I check them out from the library. I am a deadline driven person, and when you check books out of the library they come with a deadline. You have to give them back whether you read them or not. The other difference is that buying a book is a commitment. You spend money on it, and so it’s worth looking into carefully to make sure you’re buying something that’s really good. Books are sacred. On the other hand, if you check out a book from the library and it’s not your cup of tea, you put it down and drop it off on the way home from work the next day. No pressure.

So today I went to the library and got a library card and checked out Rosecrans Baldwin’s novel from last year, You Lost Me There. I knew his name from The Morning News and I have enjoyed his commentary on Layer Tennis matches so I picked up his book on a whim and now I have until April 25 to read it. We’ll see how it turns out — first I have to finish reading this issue of National Geographic from last September.


  1. I find that the ability to go online and reserve a book is a great motivator as well. The instant gratification of “doing something” and then I get an email reminder in a few days to a few weeks to go pick it up.

    Wake County’s library system is second to none, imo.

  2. Jeff Slabaugh

    April 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    The single change I’ve made in the last five years that has lead to me reading significantly more was moving to ebooks. Hopefully the library does it for you… If not, maybe try a Nook or Kindle.


  3. I actually got a library card last fall after learning about Blue Fire Reader for the iPad so that I could check out the Adobe DRMed eBooks they offer. I’ve been averaging roughly 1 book every two weeks (the eBook lending period) since then.

  4. I got a library card because of my kid — their abilities and interests change so fast in the early days that there’s almost no point to buying — but quickly found that it hugely increased my own reading. It’s not that I don’t have unread books at home — in fact, I have a whole bookcase of them — but somehow the combination of Amazon-level ease (I have the idea, I read the reviews, I place a hold request at the library) with the deadline incentive (and the email reminder, as Jeff mentioned) really works for me. (Heck, I hardly remember why I got half the books on the To Read shelf, while anything coming from the library was something I read about and was interested in this week or so!)

    I’ve gone through several series already (the hold system becomes a handy way to keep track of where you are) and have read more books in the last two years than in the previous decade, I’d guess. Mostly lighter stuff, what with toddler overload, but I could see it working either way, especially if you were willing to have a couple of books out at a time to let you mix it up.

    Let us know how it works out for you! Don’t wait to finish a magazine — get something into your hold queue right now! (My New Yorkers are always back-logged, but the nearly forgotten joy of immersion in a novel is something else entirely!)

  5. I am definitely starting out with a focus on fiction. I really like history and other non-fiction, but I read a ton of non-fiction in every other written form, and so I’m trying to break away a bit and go with novels for a change of pace.

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