As the new year approaches, we are bound to make aspirational promises to ourselves. A new beginning is often a great time for new goals, whether they are to do with bettering your body, mind, relationships, or anything in-between.

One very popular goal, set by avid bookworms and recreational readers alike, is either to read more books, or to have a set number of books to read. But is this a practice that’s serving us in the long run?

In recent years and with the advent of book tracking sites like Goodreadsor The StoryGraph, we are increasingly pressured into quantifying our reading: how many books we read, how many pages, what genres, and of course, whether we meet our reading goal or not. While these stats can be fun to see or to participate in, they feed into a bigger conversation around consumerism and the commercialisation of reading.

Therefore, the question you should be asking yourself this new year isn’t “how many books should I read?”, but rather “are my reading goals actually benefiting me?” In other words, should you be reading more, or reading better?

The rise of quantitative reading

It’s easy to see how the quantitative element of reading seeps into our lives and our New Year’s resolutions – there are millions of new books coming out every year, with new authors to explore, new things to learn, and new stories to experience. And if you weren’t already enticed to jump from one new title to the next, there are innumerable articles out there touting lists of the 100 must-read books of your lifetime, or ways in which you can increase your reading hours, not to mention the many social media outlets dedicated to promoting new releases.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that reading more has intrinsic value, or for not feeling like a “real” reader unless you go through 20 books a month. Fear of missing out is very daunting when it comes to books – we get that!

However, according to UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield, fast-paced reading – which is essential for getting book numbers in the double or even triple digits – actually slows down ‘deep reading processes’ such as ‘internalised knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight.’

By jumping from one new release to the next in an effort to get through as many books as possible and therefore be more well-read, you are actually doing the exact opposite: negating the positive benefits of reading in the first place. By setting a goal to read a specific number of books or pages under a given period of time, you tend to hurry things up in order to finish the task in time, making you remember little to nothing from the contents of the book, let alone reap the benefits of reading.

A switch to quality reading

A great first step to switching your thinking around is by acknowledging the truth – you will never read all the books in the world! It’s simply not possible. No matter how many books are advertised as must-reads before you die, the numbers will only keep growing, and as human beings, we will never catch up.

Faced with this fact, the alternative will become less daunting: if you can’t read ALL the books, then the ones you read have to count. This is where quality comes in.

Quality reading is purposeful reading that allows you to surrender yourself in that moment, noticing every enjoyable aspect of a book. It can reduce stress, help alleviate depression symptoms, help prevent age-related cognitive decline, and may even help you live longer.

This practice of deep or close reading has the benefit of better comprehension, better information retention and a deeper understanding of the text. Overall, it is better for us and for our mental and physical health.

How to practise quality reading in 2023

So how do you prioritise quality over quantity, and practise slower, more meaningful reading?

Here are a couple of things you can do to empower yourself to read with quality, rather than with quantity in mind:

Set quality goals

If you like setting goals regardless, make sure they focus on what you’d like to get out of your reading experience. For example, if you want to step out of your comfort zone, set a goal of reading different genres to what you normally prefer. If you want to be better informed on matters close to home, look into books on social issues by Australian authors. If you are wanting to introduce greater diversity to your own reading practices, check out these books by First Nations authors.

Don’t be influenced by social media

Do yourself a favour and skip articles and posts that promote huge numbers of books. You can even go so far as to unfollow posts or people that don’t serve your transition from quantity to quality. Trust us – your FOMO will decrease substantially!

Get comfortable

When sitting down to read, make sure there are no devices or other distractions around. If your phone pings with a notification while you’re reading, you are guaranteed to get distracted and you won’t be able to concentrate that well.

Take notes

Feel free to take occasional notes, so that you can notice even more about the book you are reading. Reading leads to meaning and meaning leads to enjoyment.

Join a book club

Join a book club and take the chance to explore and discuss a book with other readers. This will further solidify the messages of any given title, not to mention the social and mental benefits of debating different meanings. Be sure to only participate in reading a book that you want and have enough time to read, as opposed to jumping on every book and rushing the experience.

Have fun – and don’t be afraid to put a book down!

And most importantly, have fun! Life is too short to read the books you don’t enjoy or get something out of. Don’t be afraid to leave a book unread if it’s not the right fit, or even if you simply pick it up at the wrong time.

Read more of our tips and important updates when it comes to literacy on the Gold Coast here!