why do you read?
I’ve been asking myself this question lately because, like many of us, I’ve found myself in a reading slump. I’d rather lie on my floor and stare at the ceiling than pick up any of the dynamic, interesting books I’ve got lying around my apartment.
Reading slumps are a common phenomenon. They’re the spaces where we experience burnout, a reminder that reading takes a level of effort and accountability. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we should be using our time in more productive ways like that laundry you’ve been putting off. Laundry is my number-one source of procrastination guilt.
When I fell into my most recent reading slump, I asked myself: why do you read?
The answers were boilerplate. I read because I love stories, because I like reading. But when I asked again, my answers were more authentic. I’m reading because I feel like I have to. Because I’m a Reader, and reading is what I think I have to do.
That realization made me pause. I started this blog four years ago because I wanted to share my love of stories with like-minded readers. Where did I lose the magic? When did reading become something I felt like I had to do, like it was an inevitability instead of a choice?
What’s ironic is that when I start reading, I always end up loving it. It’s this sense of obligation, like I have to read because it’s what I do, that stops me. It reminded me of in high school when I would sludge through the required readings because I wanted to read what I wanted to read, not what my teachers made me read.
Maybe I’ve lost that sense of freedom along the way. Bookstagram, lovely as she may be, is a huge culprit here. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the endless scroll of exclusive ARCs and candy-colored new releases. It’s easy to dream about getting on a publishing house’s mailing list, to dig our puny little claws into a highly-anticipated story.
But why do we want these new releases? As sad as it can be, most of them won’t be memorable in a year’s time. That sucks to think about as an aspiring novelist, but it’s kind of the truth. Most of the books we gush about now will be the pariahs of next year’s bookstagram feed.
As I got more involved with blogging and bookstagram, reading became this popularity contest, a productivity competition. There was this pressure to read as many books as possible in a year, to get my hands on as many new releases as possible. Where the pressure is real or perceived, it was powerful enough to turn reading into a game.
If reading is a game, I don’t want to play anymore. I’m ready to make my own rules or, even better, set fire to the rulebook.
Here’s to the readers who pick up dusty, unpopular titles in their local sale bin. Here’s to the readers who read backlist books, even if it kills their engagement. Here’s to the readers who snap candid, unfiltered photos and slap them up on their feed. Here’s to the readers who post on bookstagram because they’re reading, not read because they want to post on bookstagram.
Here’s to the readers who prioritize their enjoyment, who find the childlike wonder in the smell of new pages and wonder of old stories. Here’s to the seven-year-old kid in all of us who checked out too many books at the library, ambitious to read every book on the shelves.