My friend Terry Doherty has started a new monthly feature over at the Reading Tub blog in which she poses "a reading-ish question" for discussion. In her kickoff post Terry asks whether reading is an experience or an achievement. She notes that many year-end blog wrap-ups that she read recently included people asking things like:
"When did reading for the purpose of enjoyment/escape/relaxation/etc. morph into a something else?
What was the “something else”? Basically, three things:
- A (self-imposed) competition to reach specific goals.
- A means of self-promotion and selfie-ism.
- A measuring stick of personal success or failure."
Terry reflects on this in terms of her own reading, and she inspired me to think about it, too. (Please do head over and read Terry's post, and share comments with her there.)
I don't do much in terms of imposing specific reading goals on myself. I've never been one to participate in reading "challenges", even though many people love them, because they make reading feel like work to me. I did participate in the MotherReader 48 Hour Book Challenge back in the day, but for me it was just an excuse to read all weekend, not something I was trying to win. I've read roughly 150 books in each of the past few years, but I don't set out to read a specific number, nor to increase it in quantitative terms (though I am always seeking out more time to read).
However, I have made a pretty dramatic shift in what I've been reading over the years. I'm reading a much, much higher percentage of adult books now, vs. reading children's and young adult books, as well as a much higher percentage of nonfiction. Back in 2006 I read 156 children's and young adult books and 49 adult books. Five of the adult books were nonfiction. In 2018 I read 45 children's and adult books and 114 adult titles. 50 of the adult titles were nonfiction.
I'm not sure what to make of the shift towards reading more adult books, but I think that has a lot to do with burnout regarding reviewing. Since starting my blog, adult titles have been more recreational for me, while the kids and YA titles were "work" for the blog. Work that I enjoyed, sure, but still work in a sense. So I think the shift to reading more adult titles does reflect a wish to read more for my own personal enjoyment. It is a bit odd that I'm shifting away from reading kids' books right as my daughter is starting to read middle grade, but maybe that reflects the fact that reading books to recommend them to her is still work. A highly enjoyable part of my job as a parent, sure, but still work in a sense. If I'm reading adult mysteries and thrillers, that's just for me.
The shift to reading more nonfiction, on the other hand, is different. Here I'm reading much more with a goal of learning and self-improvement. Like most working parents, I'm juggling a lot of things in my life (job, family and blog). I find I can justify taking the time to read if I'm reading something useful, in a way that I've had trouble justifying the reading time otherwise. For example, I'm using a chunk of my listening time to listen to podcasts about current events or productivity improvement. This even though I'm already primarily listening when I'm doing something else productive (exercising, cooking, folding laundry, etc).
Don't get me wrong. I've enjoyed most of the nonfiction titles that I've read (see my 2018 reading list here). I've learned a lot about things that I am deeply interested in (parenting, raising readers, happiness, communication, willpower, time management, etc.). I have a number of nonfiction books stacked up on my nightstand and Kindle that I very much want to read. I'm also not saying that people can't read nonfiction for pure pleasure (many people adore biographies, and more power to them). But I'm a bit concerned that in my specific case I'm replacing too much of my reading for the joy of it with reading for edification.
As Terry noted in her own case, this is certainly not the message that I want to send to my daughter. I want her to fall in love with books, and fall into them headlong (as she's currently doing with The Lightning Thief). I want it to continue being difficult to get her to leave the house, because she just has to finish this chapter. I want to get back in touch with my own childhood self, the kid who got sunburned reading on a raft in a lake, and couldn't go on a two mile car ride without a book and a backup book.
But it's not going to be as easy as just deciding to read more of the mysteries and thrillers that I love. My reading time is limited, and I do have a lot of books that I want to read for various self-educational and self-improvement purposes. Clearly, I'm going to have to work to find more reading time somewhere, and try to mix it up a bit more. I think I'll start by reading novels before I go to sleep, instead of trying to read something more useful and then falling asleep. The price for that switch may be falling asleep later, and being more tired, but I think it will be worth it.
Wish me luck! Thanks for listening.
© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage.