Reading books, writing words

It suddenly feels like a lot more people have been reading a lot more books. Or maybe they’re talking about it a lot more. I have one friend who went through more books in 2021 than there were weeks. And I’ve been quite jealous looking at her and others’ Instagram and Twitter feeds about all the great books they read and the places to which the books transported them. I want to go to those places too! But instead of reading books, I just really want to go to those places.

I lost my ability to read books years ago, probably around the same time, and probably because, I began to read articles, essays and short stories more. I don’t really miss it except when most of the people I generally interact with put their book-reading on display, typically at the end of each year. When I shared this sentiment with my friend, she said I should just give it time and that I’ll get the ability back at some point. Sage, but also unfalsifiable, advice.

Instead, I’ve found considerable solace – when I’m feeling down vis-à-vis reading books – in the realisation that I may not have read many words in books, but I’ve read many words in probably every other form of the written text than books (excluding social media posts). I launched The Weekly Linklist in July 2020 after an app told me that I’d been reading 12,000 words or so per day on average for at least a year until then. I believe I’ve read many books’ worth of words but just not books per se.

It’s helpful to frame things this way because the longer I didn’t read a book, the more stigmatising it got in the circles in which I moved and still move. “Oh, you can’t read books? I’m sure you will soon.” Some people implicitly make a virtue of reading books. Reading books is important, no doubt, but I’m wondering if things have got to a point where reading 50,000 words is less important than if they were printed on paper, glued together and published as such.

Granted, there is value in both presenting and consuming a single argument (used in its broadest sense, such that it encompasses fiction as well), or some non-tenuously related arguments, across tens of thousands of words. But not every argument that’s present this way is good (i.e. there are bad books) nor are shorter arguments inherently inferior. Yet books, and book-reading with them, have accrued a certain prestige that doesn’t attend to, say, essays.

Then again, it’s entirely possible I’m a frog in a well and there are other wells where frogs talk about all the great essays they read that year, share news articles talking about the same things, whose Instagram pages are replete with screenshots of essay titles, and so forth.

I’d originally intended to write a short introduction and then segue to the annual presentation of the number of words I’ve written in the previous year on this blog but the words snowballed. So:

  • I wrote 117,573 words in 2021 on this blog – bringing the cumulative total to 831,826 words.
  • Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series is a little over a million words long. I hope to cross that figure next year.
  • These words were published in 118 posts, which means the average post length was 996 words. I’m happy with this because it continues my trend of writing longer posts on average since 2014 (when it was 665 words).
  • However, I don’t see the length increasing much past 1,000 words because I like my own posts and articles, on The Wire Science, to be that long. And I’m pleased that I’m able to keep track without consciously keeping track (my first and final drafts aren’t very different unless I’ve made a big mistake.)
  • The vast majority of the posts were categorised ‘Analysis’.
  • In the last quarter of 2021, I mostly reacted to things that had happened instead of synthesising insights, and I didn’t like that.
  • I also wrote 127 articles on The Wire Science and The Wire in 2021 – the second-highest in a single year and for the second time in excess of 100 for the same publication. (The highest in both cases was for The Hindu in 2013.)
  • Thus far, I’ve written 845 articles across The Wire Science, The Wire, Scroll, Quartz, Hindustan Times and The Hindu.