In January of 2018, I read four books and listened to one on audio. I didn’t LOVE everything I read but I enjoyed all of my reading experiences.
I’m not sure what happened, though, because in February I finished exactly zero books. I couldn’t even begin to tell you the last time that happened. Or if it’s ever happened since I learned how to read. I’m a person who is always reading something. And while I guess it’s true that I tried to read several things, I wasn’t able to finish a single one of them.
I don’t think it had much to do with the books I chose. They were each well-reviewed, with interesting stories and a literary style I could appreciate. I just didn’t finish any of them.
This experience—and here it is, by the way, almost the end of March, and I’ve only finished two books, one of them a slim poetry book that I checked out in February—has caused me to consider my approach to what I read, and I’ve had some flashes of understanding that have brought me to some solutions that will, I desperately hope, help me to start reading like normal again (ie: start a book, finish a book, write a blog post about the book, move on to something else).
First off, I’m kind of a promiscuous book lover. There’s a difference between reading a book and reading about a book. Because of the nature of my work as a librarian, I am always reading about books. I read about something, I think “Oh, that is perfect for me, I must read it!” and then I either put myself on the hold list for it (if the library already has it) or request the library to purchase it. Or I just buy myself my own copy if it’s something that I think I won’t just love but really, really love. I probably fall in love with five or six books every single day. More on days when I’m at the library.
So then I have piles of books everywhere. Literal piles: books I’ve checked out, books I’ve recently purchased, books I purchased weeks or months or even years ago but still haven’t gotten around to reading. Also figurative piles: the books on my hold list on my library account (I’ve sometimes had more than fifty books on my hold list), the “I want to read this” list on my One Note app, the little snips of paper with titles written on them. The blog posts about books I want to read.
I think part of my problem is that I tend to fall in love with books that aren’t necessarily bestsellers. I could care less about the next John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Michael Connelly, Jodi Picoult, or Danielle Steel novel. The vast majority of the books I want to read might be known around the literary blogosphere and maybe even reviewed by the New York Times, but they don’t have long hold lists. The books I love (and let me be honest here: if I am a book slut, I am also a book snob, in the sense that I really don’t read the most popular fiction) have beautiful writing and complex characters, tell stories about situations that push me to think about my own experiences in different ways, avoid simple answers and stereotypical figures. I want to be challenged when I spend time with a novel; I want to feel like I am engaging not just with a story but with a dilemma. I don’t read to escape but to experience. But I also know that this is not what many (most, even) readers want from their reading experiences. That is fine—there is a book for everyone. I just want everyone to love the things I love, because I love them and think they deserve more love than they get. So I almost feel an obligation: I want to reward the author (who I envy for actually finishing and publishing a novel!) by reading and loving and interacting with his or her book.
So I end up in this space which is crowded with books that are all crying for my attention. Read me, read me, read me! And though I try to manage it by spacing out my holds, I still fall victim to the tyranny of my hold list: it’s my turn for this book that I want to read and that is begging me to read it, except I also have 27 other books I want to read.
So instead of reading all of the books, I’ve been reading none of the books!
My moment of epiphany came when I was cleaning out my scrapbooking space. In my scrapbooking world, I am a brutal purger. I no longer hold on to any supply I “might” use one day. Or anything that feels dated or out of style, or is impractical for my current approach. Or even things that are beautiful but I just won’t ever use. I have learned that if I have too many supplies, they drain my creative energy. This is because each of the items I want to use holds a little bit of my creativity, and if I use the item that little bit gets fed back into the greater whole. But if I don’t use something, it just sits there, holding on to a piece of my spark. I can only get it back by using the item, or donating it and getting it out of my room. (Or not buying it in the first place, which is a whole other topic!)
I’ve also learned that if I am organized with my supplies, I can find my creative spark faster. It’s taken me a few years to really get my stuff organized in a way that works for me (I organize by color), but now that my set up is functional and lean, I both make more layouts and enjoy the process much more.
As I was putting a sheet of half-used stickers into my “donate” box, it hit me: I need to do a similar purge, but with books. No, not exactly books—although my personal collection could probably use a good weeding. What I need to purge is my reading desires. I need to not invest my reading energy into every single book I want to read, and I need to not have literal piles of books everywhere. But at the same time, both because I will always be a reader and because I am a librarian, I need a way to organize the things I want to read.
I did a little bit of soul searching, and a little bit of Internet searching too, and I think I have come up with a new process that will help me keep my reading desires from overwhelming me. Check back on Wednesday when I will share the details. But until then, tell me: How do you keep your reading desires in check?