Here at Busy Nest News, we believe in the power of reading. Whether you’re reading fiction as an escape or a means of discovering greater truths, or nonfiction to color in the past or improve your future, there are lots of ways that reading can make your life better. We genuinely believe there’s something out there for everyone! Which is why this feels like a confession.
I broke up with reading.
Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but it felt dramatic at the time. Tragic, even.
It would be fairer (and more accurate) to say that reading for fun and I took a break. Another correction; we took two breaks.
The first break was by far the longest. When I was in college I was all read out. For the four years of my bachelor’s degree and the one year I spent in graduate school, I had to do a lot of assigned reading. Some of it was inherently fun, but a great deal was very dry and dense. By the time I was done with my assigned reading, I just didn’t have it in me to hold another book over my face in bed, or even an e-reader. I was reluctant to pack one more book in my overstuffed backpack when I went to class for the day. As someone pursuing a career in libraries, this burnout around reading was baffling, troubling, and even a little shameful. After all, until then, a great deal of my identity was wrapped up in my perception of myself as A Reader.
Talking to fellow grad students relieved some of this angst. They confessed that they, too, found it difficult to read for pleasure while school was ongoing. Summer and winter breaks were our chance to read again, but those were also our times to work double shifts or second jobs; hardly conducive to the emotional investment required by a new book.
Eventually, life slowed down for me and I was able to read for fun again. Then I had a baby, and the reading came to a halt once more. This break was shorter, though, especially when I remembered that audiobooks were a thing. They allowed me to be a prodigious reader, even when my hands were full. Still, I missed curling up in a comfy spot and holding a book in my actual hands. I knew from college that breaks like this were a season that would eventually end, but kids are pretty much forever! Would I have to wait until my children were all grown and gone before I could lounge on the couch with a book in hand?
Fortunately, while parenthood is forever, the baby and toddler stages are not. My husband and I read lots of books to our daughter from the day she came home, and just as she was about to start kindergarten I felt confident reading print and e-books for myself again. It was important to me that I do so, too, because I wanted our budding reader to see her mom reading for enjoyment. Kids need to know that picture books are just the beginning of a lifelong adventure.
But here’s the thing. Another confession. I’m kind of on a reading break right now, too. Living through a pandemic is exhausting! Just as I’m developing a new routine to best care for myself and my family, something changes and my whole week has to be rearranged. Decision fatigue is a real thing, and constantly reevaluating every aspect of your life and obligations absolutely will take it out of you. I’ve actually started and gotten about halfway through three books in the last few months. I’m still listening to favorite novels I’ve read before, and a couple of new ones, but my non-fiction consumption has slowed right down. Some days I feel super productive and blow through a few chapters of one of the books I’m working on, but most days I carry it around with me and never quite get around to it.
Maybe you’re going through something similar? Perhaps you’re reflecting on this past year and judging yourself for not following through on the annual resolution to “Read More.” You feel like you should have been taking advantage of your unusually empty social calendar to do more reading, but every time you picked up a book you just felt too tired to commit to it. And the longer you put off reading, the more guilt you felt every time you saw your book. It became a symbol of all the ways you let yourself down in 2020.
I’m going to let you off the hook. There are some seasons in life when you are just too burnt out to read, or you have way too many responsibilities to take on another obligation (even to yourself). Yes, reading is very important, and it can bring you a lot of joy. If reading is helping you through these times, great! But if it’s becoming one more “should,” go ahead and set it aside for now. And give yourself permission to assess it one day at a time. Like me, you might find yourself very motivated and energized to read one day, and completely turned off by it the next. If you’re just not feeling it one day, instead of playing your shame tapes again, try shrugging and saying “I guess today’s not a reading day. Maybe tomorrow; we’ll see.” And then take it off your mental to-do list for the day.
If you really miss reading and just don’t know how it fits into your new world right now, try switching some things up. Maybe now’s a good time to try audiobooks. Maybe you change what you read and try a different genre for a while. Perhaps it’s your routine that needs to flex; if you typically read before bed, try first thing in the morning or during your lunch break. Likewise, a morning reader might find it easier to settle in for some pleasure reading in the evening, as a way of unwinding after another full day. Also, while it’s great to stretch yourself and read new things, there’s nothing wrong with taking emotional shelter in the comfort of an old favorite when you’re going through a hard time. Examine your assumptions about your reading habits and preferences, and then experiment until reading makes you happy again. But above all, don’t use something that used to give you joy as an excuse to beat yourself up. Give yourself some room to breathe and try again later.
We know that reading goals are very common resolutions for the New Year. Some people commit to reading a certain number of books, or one type of book, or only books from minority groups or other countries. Those are all admirable and can be a lot of fun, but again, it's only helpful to push yourself when you're starting from a fairly steady baseline. Because of some family changes and possible career shifts that my husband and I already know are heading our way, I am not setting any reading goals for myself this year. The one thing we know about this year for sure is that it WILL contain a lot more change for us than usual. So I'm not going to make assumptions for July Brianna based on how January Brianna is feeling. If you're in the same boat, know that you're not alone. And January 1st isn't your only opportunity for change. Personally, I usually make my biggest habit shifts during Lent; you may also find some seemingly arbitrary part of the year to be when you're more open to the introspection, planning, and commitment that are usually associated with New Year's resolutions.
I hope you're able to take joy in reading again this year, and let go of your guilt if you're in a season of less or "lighter" reading than you'd like. Stay open to your needs. And may 2021 be kinder to us all than 2020. Good luck, friends!
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Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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