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,