I have nothing against productivity culture on the whole. In many ways I find that I can thrive within it. I love a good checklist. I love a measurable goal. And I certainly love the rush of endorphins I get when I definitively crush that goal. I suppose it was natural that I let this productivity mindset creep into my reading habits as well. I set monthly goals of a certain number of books to read. Then, of course, I needed to note and review all of them on all the proper channels. If I was feeling particularly put together, I would bullet journal my notes on the book with the appropriate doodles and handwriting. (Ok, that last one is a lie. I’ve never actually been put together enough to pull that off. It didn’t stop me from wanting to though and that’s the point.)
After following all these “important bookish behaviors” early in the year,
I found myself falling deep into a book slump. It was a dramatically deep book slump. It was no lingering book hangover or a lack of interest in reading for a handful of weeks. Oh no. This was a book slump that lasted for months. I didn’t even want to think about opening a book. It was the sort of book slump that had me asking “Am I even a reader anymore?” and “Will I be interested in picking up another book before the end of this year?”. Of course these feelings could be attributed to a myriad of different, and perhaps even partially responsible, reasons. (Not the least of which being that it’s 2020). In this particular case though, it ran deeper than just outside circumstances. It had turned into something far more internal. I avoided reading like I would folding the laundry or answering some dreaded email from work. It started to feel like an unwanted, looming chore.
After this went on for a while I knew something about my approach had to be wrong.
Reading was always meant to be my escape. It was always my safe space away from reality when I needed it. It was a place to dive in and devour a story I found delicious. Reading was never about crushing goals for me. Not at all. In fact between the pages of fiction was where I went when I needed a break from my general focus on productivity and forward momentum.
Now let me be clear, I am the last person to yuck someone’s yum. If setting measurable reading goals and tracking your progress is bringing joy to your life, then I beg you to keep doing it. Keep posting those gorgeous bullet journal entries on Instagram. Share how close you are to completing your reading goal for the year. I will cheer for you from the sidelines with genuine abandon. I will also release myself from the pressure to follow suit.
Getting caught up in mechanizing my reading habits left me feeling burnt out in a way I didn’t expect. With the extra stress of this year, adding another hurdle didn’t feel motivating to me the way it used to. It felt overwhelming.
It took me a while to make the adjustment in my brain (and to be okay with chilling out about it), but I’m happy to say I’m back to my normal reading habits. I have no idea how many books I’ve read this month. I also don’t have star ratings for them, but I certainly am enjoying them. Getting lost in stories is the only thing that matters to me about reading right now and that is genuinely okay.
If something about the lists and goals and book counts is not resonating with you right now, give yourself the freedom to let all of that go. Read a book that brings some light and happiness into your life. Focus on that instead. I mean that’s the reason we all became readers in the first place, right? Because we loved losing ourselves in stories?
You certainly don’t need my permission, but I think now is a great time for all of us to Marie Kondo our reading habits. Let’s keep what sparks joy and get rid of the rest. Let’s count ourselves bookworms even if we aren’t grinding for that final book to round off our monthly wrap up or scrambling to finish our bullet journal. In my personal experience, letting myself be entirely free from the pressure of reading more was actually the secret to reading more voraciously all along.