What does it mean to read a book?

"I don't think Where's Waldo? counts as a book you read," was the response that one of my friends had to viewing my book list for the first time. That made me decide to add this page to explain my criteria.

Every listing here represents something that falls under my personal definition of a book, and also under my personal definition of having been "read". The quality of being a "book" and the quality of having been "read" turn out to be rather fuzzy concepts for a number of reasons, and defy easy definitions. Here's the guidelines I follow.

First, I list things here which I feel are "bookish". This includes children's books, plays, screenplays, textbooks, novellas, and poems of sufficient length. It excludes periodicals (even if each issue is 300 pages long), pamphlets, documents, one-act plays, short stories, normal poems, and posters.

You've probably noticed that the difference between several of these categories is blurry; for instance, what separates a short story from a novella? Where is the dividing line between a "poem of sufficient length" and a "normal poem"? There are no hard answers here. I go partly by the "Book Fair" test: if they could bind it and get away with selling it at a Book Fair, it goes in. I also go by the "Project Gutenberg" test: if it could be listed in Project Gutenberg, it goes in.

But on the whole, I'm guided by self-honesty. If I felt like it was a book, it goes in. If I didn't, it doesn't. (Even then, there are a few questions I'm iffy on. For instance, if I've read all the comic books that make up a compilation, can I list that compilation even if I've never read a copy of it? Similarly, can I list a book if I've read all the short stories in it? In general practice, I will not list a book based solely on having read its components, unless it's to record a substantial amount of reading I've done that hasn't yet been reflected in the list. For instance, if I read every short story by an author, but never a book by that author alone.)

Second, I use the word "read" a little loosely. I include books on tape, which, of course, I have never actually read in the sense of laying eyes on the symbols that make up their words and mentally computing those symbols into language. I also include a few books that have no words in them at all, such as Anno's Counting Book (incidentally the earliest book I can remember "reading", at about 4 years of age).

What I really mean by "read" is that I have taken in enough of the content of the book to feel that I have comprehensively experienced it. This can take the form of physically reading a book, or it can mean that I have listened to the book on tape, had the book read to me, looked at the illustrations if it's a picture book, or read the book and looked at its pictures if it's a graphic novel. I do not include plays if I have only seen the play performed, screenplays if I have only seen the movie, or radioplays if I have only listened to the radio drama. In those cases, I'm missing out on the stage directions.

I also include some books which I have not read in entirety; some of these were books where I read an abridged version, and others are books that were unabridged but which I skimmed in some sections. Since I am not competing against anyone but myself, my own judgement over whether I feel I've "read" a book is the last word in the matter.