Blame The Bookworm -- On Reading and Self-Sabotage
For about two years, I've been working at a bookstore. It's a Mom & Pop shop of used pap, some in questionable condition, but I love it. Love that it's cheap, love that I have access to materials you can't find at a library. Love that I can tell when people come in who is going to buy a book and who isn't. Love that I can help genuine readers like yourself.
Amongst a few other things I’ve noticed in this racket: people are sabotaging themselves when it comes to enjoying reading. It’s like anything — if you let yourself get into a pattern, it will self perpetuate and lead to crummy habits that no longer feel like a choice. S'alright. Happens to the best of us.
Try to give yourself chances to break habits and patterns. If you’re feeling stale, have a fresh go at a genre you’d previously written off. For me, up until pretty recently that was biography. A good rip thru a graphic novel or three is a great change of pace from the usual text blocks. Want to slow yourself down? Try poetry. And I know this sounds weird, but unless you have to write a paper or something, try not to read too much of the same author back-to-back. However much you like them, chances are you'll sour on them at least a little.
When asked as a bookstore clerk for a recommendation, I first have some questions for you, after which I doubt you'll remain stumped: What was the last book you read and enjoyed? Would you like something similar or different? Looking for something really juicy or more on the lighter side? Favorite authors? What do you like to read about? Any specific subject matter? Which genre do you gravitate toward?
This too is important: skip ahead a little, or just read the ending and find a way to live with yourself about it, but for godsakes. Give yourself permission to quit a book. If after 40 or 50 pages you are slogging thru, put it down. Do it for yourself but also because it needs to be done. There are many, many, many books in the world, and only so much time to read them, so you can be picky! This counts for short books as well as long, however many so-called brilliant writers are casting a plague upon us with their massive, boring books. Chances are these cocksure bildungsromans needed another editing pass or three that they never got, and if you're really on the fence, I recommend consulting reviews on Goodreads.com to help you decide whether or not to continue.
There's a big dumb industry out there wherein lots of marketing people are trying to tell you what to read. Trust me, in this line of work, I get to field a lot of mass emails from these "publishers.” Unless you've personally solicited the advice, it's going to be flimsy. Sure, culture is fluid — Netflix adaptations are far easier to digest than a 500-page Philip K. Dick reader — and at least a few times in your life you can and should be prompted as to what to read. If you have one good take away from high school/university it was that a few teachers helped you figure out how to read. If you're really lucky, someone close to you started you off right by showing your own heart back to you in the form of The Velveteen Rabbit or Goodnight Moon...
But guess what: judging a book by its cover is a completely valid and necessary means by which to decide to read or not to read. I guess someone who thought books shouldn't have covers at all came up with that maddening phrase. Why would publishing houses in earnest hire designers, artists and writers to come up with jacket blurbs and spend so much dough on the look and feel of the volume if covers didn’t matter?
Too, I hear this phrase pretty constantly, and it's natural considering our collective materialist outlook on the world: “I have so many books at home I haven’t read.” Yep. Welp, unless you're the collector-type who just wants some bound pages to grace a shelf so they can appear intellectual, its time to clean the closet. We collect books similarly to how we collect clothes. Dump out your collection. I mean all of it. On the floor or the big couch or the dining table. Take a good look. Ditch a few volumes at the local freebie box. Don't have a freebie box? Make one and leave it where it can be responsibly maintained. Pass some along to friends in hopes that maybe they’ll be returned when the time is right for you to read them. If you’ve borrowed a book from a friend READ IT and return it. Books have a soul: if they’ve told you they want it back, they aren’t bluffing.
After you lighten the load a little, experiment with a new way to display your volumes. Most of my friends that are growers-not-showers when it comes to reading will hide their volumes, or face the spines to the back of the shelf so they won’t be tempted to simultaneously pick them up and start wolfing them all at once. Sorting by use seems to work pretty well. Since I'm also a writer I keep my writing reference books in a separate collection close to my desk at home.
Re-adjust if need be your comfort zone as far as consumption goes. I personally will read no more than three books at a time. This is just the amount that works for me. I've noticed folx in the academic world embracing seven to ten at a time, but that's not reading anymore. That's re-reading, or skimming for teaching and discussion content. A skill more akin to editing than reading. Never apologize for being a slow reader. Effective reading means different things for all of us.
And heck, why not keep a journal? Even if it's just a one-page note where you write down the author/title and find a way to annotate it to your specific needs, this little something extra might help you recommit to reading, thereby inviting it further in to enrich your cultural life. There are no rules, dudes.