Shortly before the end of 2019, I was urgently reminded that I was two books behind schedule if I was going to reach my grand target of 30 books for my Goodreads challenge. Apparently, I should have been reading 1.5 books per week to stay on track…
How should I have resolved this dilemma? I do most of my reading on my commute and when I can snaffle a few pages before bed, so it’s not always possible to read a good chunk in one go. I could have maybe practised reading and eating simultaneously? There was the risk of spillage or scalding, but the deadline was hovering wasp-like in my mind. Should I have read a novella, poetry collection, or perhaps a children’s book? All options were good and valid but weren’t necessarily the thing I’d naturally gravitate towards without an impending deadline.
Reading challenges aside, there is not only the issue of how much we are reading, but what we are reading.
In an increasingly curated world, how pressured do we feel to have the most up to date, on-trend bookshelves? Picture this: a beautiful desk; preferably rustic, second-hand. On the desk is a novel absent-mindedly left open besides a hand-thrown mug of steaming tea.
A succulent sits squatly in the right-hand corner of the frame. I get a tingle of bookish joy. This is solid Bookstagram content right here. And as lovely it is to scroll through accounts of carefully edited photographs of cosy, home interiors, books stacked and ordered according to colour and genre, it’s not completely truthful.
The reality of many bookshelves is dust, well-thumbed favourites, untouched tomes, dog-eared bookmarks; all individually yours. There may be the odd stray cat hair or a condensation ring, or candle wax that just won’t budge.
The anxiety induced by reading the ‘right’ thing too is not new either. Many a reader have had the question:
“Have you read [insert weighty classic/literary masterpiece from the Western canon here]?”
If the answer is negative, there is a minor gulp, a shift of the eyes and with a perfunctory ‘No’, we cast ourselves into the fires of bookish ignorance!
Moby Dick, Middlemarch, War and Peace. No, no and no. If you have read these, I salute you. If you have read them and enjoyed them, a double salute to you.
You might feel the bandwagon has upped and left without you. Books are published, read, chewed and spat out again quicker than you can keep up with. As more and more people receive proof copies before publication date, it can feel like the time to read something has passed even before the title has hit the shelves of the local book shop.
Are we at risk of over-curating our reading habits? And, fundamentally, could we be sapping the joy out of a good book? When it comes to reading, it is essential to enjoy the experience.
If we’re constantly worried about what other people are reading and how we present our reading habits in this digital age, we’ll lose sight of why we love reading in the first place.
It is perfectly fine to read self-published fanfiction if that’s your thing. You want to re-read Lord of the Rings for the bazillionth time? Go right ahead. No one is stopping you. And actually no one is really judging you.
Surprise- it’s all an illusion! The reading wizard dictating what we read, think and buy is just a tiny version of ourselves, hiding behind a curtain of self-judgment.
Go forth, reader, and read with pleasure.