An essay about my New Year’s intention to Enjoy Reading — how I finished fewer books, but enjoyed myself more than ever.
Reading has been part of my identity for as long as I can remember.
For most of my life, I’ve tried to live up to the title by quantifying goals. Each year I remoulded them: 52 books turned into 50 books – whoa. 50 books turned into 25 books every six months, with the aim to divide the pressure between June and December.
I was determined to land on a measurable goal that made me happy. Over the years, I dropped reading lists, quit book clubs, closed my Goodreads account. In 2019, I relinquished control. No more goals and resolutions. Instead, I set an intention around reading: to enjoy it.
I secretly hoped that this would result in reading more books than ever.
The grand total? 24. 24 books in an entire year – way fewer than any year since tracking. Perhaps way fewer than ever. But I realised a funny thing: I can finally say that I enjoyed myself.
This year, I did a lot of reading that didn’t ‘count’.
Magazine articles that weren’t part of ‘a book’.
Essays from collections I didn’t read cover to cover.
Passages from cookbooks.
Long blog posts.
Just a few pages from several of my favourites.
I discovered my luxury, my one form of rebellion against my structured self: reading that doesn’t count.
I write like I’m running out of time. I read like I have all the time in the world.
I remember one night I joined in for ‘reading sprints’ with the Harry Potter Alliance. We met online, set a timer for focused reading, then reported back on our progress. In 20 minutes, I completed all of two pages — and it was delicious. After all, there is no joy in dashing through Mrs Dalloway. Virginia Woolf is not meant to be rushed.
As an undergraduate at Oxford, I was expected to read deeply and widely. Racing through my reading lists, I dreamed of one day revisiting these texts at a leisurely pace. Now is that time.
(By the way I didn’t reread all of Mrs Dalloway. So that didn’t count either).
As a child, adults would praise me for being ‘such a reader!’
Sure, I ‘always had a book in my hand’, but I wasn’t nearly as well-read as people thought. I read slowly, and reread my favourites, often. I felt so guilty for the praise. If only they knew the truth!
In third grade, my language arts teacher selected extra books for a few of us who were ‘such readers’. Just for fun. I returned mine the following week, unfinished. ‘I didn’t like it,’ I said, ‘So I didn’t finish it’. ‘I’m disappointed,’ she actually said. I remember feeling confused; even at this age I was confident in my decision to put books down. Still, I wonder if this interaction prompted years of internal pressure around reading goals. I don’t have to finish every book, I reasoned, but I do need to make up the lost time by completing a different one.
Today, I can call myself a good reader with confidence.
Today I know that there are no qualifications. Being a good reader is a choice, that I can attach to my identity, and so can you. Among my friends are all kinds of good readers – great readers.
Some love nothing more than to read a novel in one sitting. Others would rather spend a morning on a single page, and an afternoon processing it. Some always carry books in their bags, some never do. We are all great.
Reading informs my writing, and I like to intersperse the two.
I keep a collection of books on my shelf that pair well with my writing routine: mainly essays, poetry, and non-fiction. Some I’ve read many times, others are new. I give myself the choice each morning: which of these anthologies will I bring to work with me today?
My balance of reading with writing checks out with my astrological chart. Juli, my astrologer – who is also a great reader – taught me that I’m heavy earth, so I shouldn’t read too much.
‘Write as much as you read,’ she suggested. I felt relieved of my lifelong burden, of feeling behind on pages. I began to articulate my best way of reading.
I get giddy over finding just the right book.
I listen to my intuition as I choose. Do I want to challenge myself with something different, or delve into the familiar? It’s part of the practice, trying on books like trying on outfits, putting them down after a page if it’s not the right fit – for now.
I love to talk about reading. I get recommendations from my great reader friends, not just for titles, but for the moods that go with them. I don’t need a summary – I trust their judgement. Instead I ask, ‘when would be a good time to read it?’. Time of year, time of day, state of mind.
I no longer read to get through pages.
I read to get through my day, to live in my life. I enjoy reading by creating space for it, inserting it into my daily routine.
As for you, Reader, if you do set reading goals, I doubt that my essays count towards your grand total. So an especial thanks to you, for reading – in rebellion – with me.
Until the Next Chapter,
P.S. I would love to hear your story too. How do you enjoy reading? Please write back on Patreon, Instagram, or email.
P.P.S. Thank you to my patrons and members of Everyday Wonderland, who make Heroine Training possible. <3