Tuesday, October 11, 2016

On reading guilt

I've been feeling guilty about my reading this year. I'm not reading as much as I was. I have bright spots, particularly when I travel for work and remember how much time in the day there is after a long day of work when I'm not playing with and taking care of a two-year old. This summer, I felt the shift as my reading became predominantly audiobooks, boosted by a nanny share that required a lot of driving (by Des Moines standards) two days a week. I realized I rarely picked up an actual book or my Kindle to read. I'd get back in the groove with one book, but then I'd lose my momentum again when I finished it.

When classes started, I found myself so stressed and intellectually exhausted that I often chose music in the car instead of my audiobook. I have been listening to the same audiobook since August 13th. I like it, but it is heavy, and I'm not always in the mood to listen to it. This weekend I finished a mystery by one of my favorite mystery writers. I started it August 9th, as I planned to read it on the flight from Shanghai to Dallas. I read a little on that flight, but mostly I watched tv. Recently, I went days without even opening my Kindle. I pick it up many times a day: I carry it up to bed each night, I bring it back down in the morning. I put it in my purse each day when I leave the house, and return it to the couch with me when I get home. But I don't read.

Lately I feel overstimulated. I'm really happy, but I don't have enough time to enjoy all the things I enjoy as much as I want to. I love my two-year-old, and even though part of me was dreading the terrible twos, they haven't hit yet. He has his moments of course, but I choose to focus on the amazement I have about all he is learning. His vocabulary is exploding. He knows his colors. He's learning numbers and letters. He's learning to put together phrases and rudimentary sentences. He's wonderful and exhausting, and I can't wait to see him when we're apart, and then I look forward to bedtime so I can have some 'me' time.

I love my job too. I'm in my sixth year there, and I love it even more each year, as I have the freedom to explore new ideas and ventures, and I keep morphing my job to include even more of the things I enjoy. I work in higher education, where a traditional work day is not a thing, particularly during the semesters. I bring home work with me. I answer emails from my phone at night. I cannot do my job the way I want to do it forty hours a week. And I'm okay with that because my job invigorates me, and I feel good about the work I do. I have a spouse who works a very different schedule than I do, which leads to a lot of solo parenting (for both of us.) I love the one-on-one time with Hawthorne, but it means there's less time for just me.

This morning I woke up before Hawthorne, and I decided to come downstairs and read a book instead of reading Facebook on my phone in bed. I finished a book last night, so I logged into Goodreads, determined to pick one (or more) of the books I'm currently reading, but likely haven't picked up in awhile, I saw that I've read 73 books so far this year. Something in my brain clicked, and I asked myself, "why are you feeling guilty about not reading again? 73 books by mid-October isn't terrible." It isn't. It's more than most of my friends (who aren't book bloggers) will read this year. It's down from the past two years, but when I look farther back (thanks, LibraryThing!), I see I read 94 books in 2013 and 2010, and only 83 in 2010. Am I reading as much as I think I should be? No. Am I reading as much as I want to be or as much as I think I should be? I'm not sure, and I think that's where the guilt comes in.

I don't think of myself as an ordinary reader. This blog has been such a big part of my life for the last nine and a half years. I've surrounded myself with super-readers, first here in the blogosphere, and then on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Snapchat and now Litsy. Reading has felt like a competitive sport many times over the years. At first, that was a good thing. This community made me read more, think more about what I read and why, and push myself to read more challenging books. At times, all this challenging has made reading feel like an obligation.

Lately I spend more time thinking about reading (or not reading) than actually reading. I love the way books take me to different times and places. I love the way books take me inside people's minds to help me better understand the world, other people, and make me more empathetic. I like to be pushed, but I also like to be entertained. My job is pushing me a lot right now. My child is pushing me right now. Parenting him takes more patience and intellectual energy than it used to. So I find myself gravitating more toward the entertainment side of reading. It's also why I often pick up the remote control after Hawthorne goes to bed. I grew up loving to read, but I also grew up watching a lot of television, and there is a lot of great television to watch too.

Because I'm reading less than I want to, or less than I'm used to, I find it makes picking which book to read or listen to next much more challenging. Every book I choose, means a certain number of others won't get read. It's as though I live in fear of choosing the wrong book and missing my next favorite book. Book guilt is exhausting. I don't have all the answers, but I do have one special challenge for myself. Each day, I will find fifteen minutes to read. Part of me can't believe I have to make this a challenge. Some days it won't be a challenge, and I hope it won't feel like one either. As a kid, I remember summer reading challenges and thinking, 'what's hard about that?'  This challenge isn't hard, but it is a shift of mindfulness. I'm off to start my challenge right now, as long as Hawthorne has at least fifteen more minutes of sleeping. If not, there's always lunch, or after work, or after he goes to bed.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I feel like so many of us carry around guilt about something. As a parent and someone who works and someone who wants some time to yourself to read or do whatever gives you some relaxation, it's about constant adjusting. Sometimes you need to give more to parenting and sometimes more to work, sometimes your house needs more tlc and sometimes you need more time to yourself than usual.

    I hope you find those fifteen minutes and they help you find your next wonderful read!

  2. Hi Nomadreader. I love your site here, and enjoy your reviews. But now I will speak with my wise old lady hat on. I raised four rambunctious boys. Having a child to raise changes everything. Period. With your job, plus Hawthorne, your days are FULL. One thing, my personal attitude toward reading is that it is not a "should" but a "want". You know you love reading, you know you love books, therefore, you know the want will come when it's the right time for it to come. To force yourself to read . . . hmmm. . . I just could never do that with myself. Of course, you could always do what my father did--their bathroom was one of the best equipped libraries for readers one could ever find! Had some of my best reads sitting on the toilet there. I did read when I was nursing the babies. But from two onwards it's go, go, go. And now, with my kids in their 40's, it's still go, go, go, only now it's to my grandkids' soccer games, etc. In my 70's, I go through an elaborate system for picking out the books I read, as it is one of the few pleasures left for me (I am disabled). What's really funny just now, is I have forgotten what words of wisdom I wanted to share with you!!! I guess, just "let it be". You love books, and books love you. It's a love fest, and they will continue to be a wonderful joy in your life. Why sweat it? Why feel guilty? Just ENJOY!


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!