A Personal Policy Brief on the State of my Reading

Background

Selfie with unread books
  • Since I could decipher the little swiggles on the page as words, I have identified as a reader.
  • Reading was my thing, books my happy place and my comfort object, the thing I never left home without. I never felt too upset if I had to wait in line because I had a book in my purse. Long commute? No problem—I’ve got a book.
  • Even after having children, when everything shifted and my time didn’t belong to me anymore, I managed to keep reading. I read a lot of Harry Potter and the Ikea catalogue, but at least it was reading.
  • As a librarian, I would read at least a couple of books a week, just to make sure I knew what was out there and provide the best reader’s advisory (great excuse, right?).
  • One of the pillars of my life that toppled during the divorce earthquake was my reading habit (as mentioned before in this post). It has never fully recovered.
  • I used to mainline novels like they were crack cocaine, then suddenly cold turkey. I could not concentrate on the stories. Hell, I could hardly watch TV. My mind kept drifting and I kept losing the plot.
  • The only thing I could read was  self-help books in a desperate attempt to try to figure out what the hell went wrong with my marriage, with my life, with me.
  • Now, six years after the J Bomb as I like to call it, I feel like I am missing an integral part of me—the devourer of books, the insatiable story guzzler. I want story arcs and great ideas back. I want my head to be filled with words strung together like pearl necklaces and metaphors that force me to understand this tragicomedy of the human condition better.
  • In brief, I am healing and ready to reclaim the reader part of me.

Current State

Lack of ReadingTime

There are several factors that influence my minimal reading habits. I am happy to say, trauma-induced concentration issues are no longer one of them.

  • I only read for a few minutes a night when I go to bed then promptly fall asleep. Whereas reading was something I would do whenever I could, I now read only in the last minutes of my day.
  • Incidental reading has been phased out of my life. I used to read on my commute. I no longer have a commute. I used to read during my lunch break. Working from home, I prefer to walk the dog during my break than sit down and read. I used to read when waiting for friends in restaurants or pubs. That doesn’t happen anymore. I used to read when waiting for the kids to finish their activities. Now there are no activities and no children.  
  • The fact that TV has gotten so damn good is a challenge, as well as the desire to sit at the end of the day with my daughters and/or significant other and experience the same story. TV allows us to do that in real time. Lately though, I tend to watch an hour or two of a show I have already watched when I am alone. This definitely cuts down on any evening reading time I have.

Excessive Book Collecting

  • When I moved, I got rid of 90% of the books I had collected over the years. I started my life here in Victoria with my poetry collection, my women’s biography collection (many of which I still have not read) and special books (gifts from friends, first editions, books friends wrote). In short, a manageable collection.
  • However, I recently discovered the joys of the Free libraries on my walks with my dog and cannot stop myself from grabbing any book that looks remotely interesting.
  • I have even taken to scouring the free libraries for my friends and family in order to practice some unbidden reader’s advisory on them. “Oh, my mom would enjoy this book. This would be perfect for my sister!”
  • I can’t help myself. It is a disease.
  • I am also part of two book clubs—one is an Indigenous book club at work which requires I buy a new book once a month. The other is a haphazard one which gets together at random times to discuss a book mutually agreed upon at our last cocktail hour. This also requires some purchasing.
  • I have also been gathering a list of books that I want to read based on recommendations made in the myriad of podcasts I listen to. This list I give to family and friends for major occasions and they oblige me by gifting them to me.
  • Finally, I have a friend who also has an excessive free library habit and who, though I do not see him often, when I do see him brings me tantalizing offerings from his pilferings. In his defense, they are actual books he has read and thinks I would like. Still, they are accumulating on my shelf.

Discussion

January book quote filled! (cheated a bit by using books I had partially read…)
  • Though my reading habits have been healing at the same rate as me—that is, slowly—they have not kept pace with the speed with which I collect books.
  • This means that a growing number of books on my shelf I have not read.
  • As of January 01, 2021 there were 107 unread books in my collection, taking up four out of five shelves on one book shelf. As of February 05, 2021, there are 5 more (damn free libraries!)
  • Shelf space is limited. Soon I will run out of room.
  • These unread books are making me feel like a literary poseur.
  • I want the books I keep to be books that I have read and enjoyed and can recommend to others.
  • I need to read the books on my shelf before I continue to collect more. And when I read them, decide then whether they are worth keeping.
  • Increasing the number of books I read in a month would support my return to devourer of books status, decrease the literary poseur feeling and allow me to make an educated cull of my book shelf and get rid of the “Meh” books.

Options for New Year’s Reading Resolution

Option 1: Status Quo—Make no special attempt to read unread books or to stop collecting books.

Pros

  • Does not require any change in behaviour from me.
  • Books will eventually get read or got rid of, even if this is when I move or die.

Cons

  • Does not address the literary poseur-ness
  • I am still not reading at pre-divorce rates
  • This may lead to books eventually taking over my home and my corpse eventually being found wedged between two stacks of vaguely interesting free library findings.

Option 2: Two-year plan—Read 60 books this year (~5/month) and establish firm criteria for Free Library Grabs and book purchases.

Pros

  • All books on my shelf will eventually be read.
  • The timeline is realistic as it considers the limited reading time available to me  in my day.
  • Will slowly bring my reading up to pre-divorce rates.
  • Will decrease my sense of being a reading impostor.
  • Will expose me to a bunch of interesting ideas and stories waiting for me on the shelf.
  • Will decrease my book purchasing and book collecting slightly.
  • Will decrease excessive TV watching.
  • Allows me to still participate in my book clubs and to converse with friends who gave me the books to read.

Cons

  • Will require a change in behaviour, especially around the night time habit of TV watching.
  • Will also require some restraint in terms of free library collecting and book purchasing.
  • Will still be accumulating books while still not having read all the books on my shelf.
  • Some of the books are bigger and denser than others and I might not meet my goal every month.

Option 3: One-year plan—Read all of the unread books this year and do not even look at the free Libraries or purchase any books.

Pros

  • Will have read all the books on my shelf by the end of the year which will mean I can get rid of the books I don’t love in an evidence-based manner.
  • My head will be so filled with wonderful stuff I am not be able to hold regular conversations with people. Wait is this a pro or a con?
  • My shelves will not be in danger of overflowing.

Cons

  • To read all the unread books on my shelf in one year, I would have to read around 9 books per month. If you add the book club books, this is 11 books a month.
  • No TV watching. At all.
  • This would require quitting my job and only reading. Bills will go unpaid. Loved ones will feel neglected. My house will be repossessed.
  • I am not sure I have the will power to not look at the free libraries.
  • Will have to quit book clubs for a year.

Recommendation: Option 2: Two-year plan—Read 60 books this year (~5/month) and curb the visits to the Free library and book purchases.

Follow my progress on Goodreads!

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