The Number of Books You Read Is Not a Badge of Honor

In her piece for The Atlantic, Emma Sarappo dives into the practice of keeping track of the books we read. Can someone explain why people do this? Just because you read doesn’t mean you remember or apply. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve learned or enjoyed yourself. Why is the number a badge?


When I was younger, I guess I thought that the number of books connected to how much I knew. I couldn’t travel or participate in much, so that was the way I communicated I had some kind of experience or understanding.

Now, I’m lucky if I read two or three books or year. I don’t have the time to read the way I did. But I’ve learned because of that to be extremely selective. It’s not about the quantity, but the impact. That includes intense feelings of joy and escape, but it also involves the degree of change initiated in thought or behavior.

This past year, I read The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen. That single book did more to help me understand what to do and legitimize how to help people and myself than anything else. It answers the question of how you pull someone out of the pit with a wonderful simplicity that resonated with me. It said something about the core of what a human being is and needs and how that all ties to hope and faith.

I’m not saying here that you shouldn’t read a lot. Go ahead. I’m just saying that I’d rather read one book that leaves a mark than a bunch that don’t. If you can read a lot that influences you, great. But I think a lot of books aren’t going to do that job, and you have to be willing to take a pass on those.

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