When I was a kid, I read all the time. At school, at home, in line, at restaurants, at church, in the shower, by the glow of Christmas lights at night… Even at the beginning of my undergraduate studies, I was still a pretty voracious reader. It makes me sad to acknowledge that that just isn’t the case anymore. It’s not that my interest has dwindled at all. It’s just that I never “feel like” reading.
What does that even mean? What does it mean to feel like reading? To be excited about a story or subject and eager to discover more? I still feel that way, but somehow that doesn’t translate to picking up the book. Part of it, I think, is fear of burn out. I have very limited energy these days, and the thought of completing a huge tome (like, say, The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson sitting on our coffee table) is really intimidating. I’m afraid that I will get totally exhausted partway through and never finish.
That would be a reasonable theory, except that I also have tons of short stories and graphic novels lying around, waiting to be opened. But I don’t open them, either.
The real reason, I think, is that reading has become like a chore for me. Something I put on my to-do list and feel disappointed in myself for not crossing off the list. I feel tremendous pressure to be the kind of reader I used to be and I just am not. I go through spells when I’m really motivated about reading and finish four or five texts and then I go dormant, so to speak, for quite awhile. Telling myself I’m going to read for 20 minutes a day and then forcing that to happen sucks all of the joy out of the act and makes it so I’m just checking my watch every thirty seconds and not absorbing a single word.
Maybe what’s needed, then, isn’t a schedule or a rewards system (hey, it got me to run a 10k) but just gentle acceptance that this is the kind of reader I am now. Maybe instead of checking out stacks of books from the library when I know I’m not feeling motivated, put their titles on a list of texts I might like to read sometime and let them stay on the shelf.
That revelation (“This is My Normal”) applies to a lot of areas of my life, but this was the one on my mind today. As a reader, I can’t do what I used to do. But I can still do something, and I can be proud of myself for it.