This article originally appeared on moreloveletters.com 20 July 2021.
Photo © Heidi B. Hodges
There are as many reasons to read as there are books in the world. Bestseller pushes, book club picks, marketing displays, and magazine blurbs all try to get us to read (or simply buy) certain books. Reading the hottest books and discussing them online or in groups has its perks and enjoyments, but what books do you want to read?
Japanese author Haruki Murakami once said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
It’s important to pursue some reading as pure self-indulgence. I’m not talking about reading the self-help genre as a means of self-care. I mean reading anything, anything, just for the sake that it interests you. All genres are welcome and none are trash. Forget the phrase “guilty pleasure” when it comes to reading — if you enjoy it, enjoy it guilt-free. A book doesn’t have to be high-brow literature or ripe for discussion to have value.
Reading time may be the only alone time we get. As a parent of three young children, I’m often not physically alone even when I read, but when I focus on stories and ideas and questions posed in written narratives, the real world fades and I can make new connections, form new opinions. When we spend time with our thoughts, we are building and nurturing ourselves, becoming the people we decide to be.
As children, we’re encouraged to explore and play because it helps us grow, but we do it because it’s fun. We may lose our sense of play as we age because we gain responsibilities and lose time or it’s educated out of us. Books and reading lend us scenarios and mental space where we can play as adults.
Leisure reading should not be a chore; we should do it because it’s fun. Books also have a distinctive intimacy that allows us to grow both intellectually and emotionally. And as we grow, we often heal.
It is easy to get caught up in what we think we should read. But do you actually want to read that proclaimed “must-read,” that “classic for all,” or all those books crowned with various celebrities’ sticker-of-approval? We can be overly concerned with being productive, checking things off lists, putting others first, and having something to say about the current culture that we ignore our own needs. Our collection of reading experiences becomes a part of who we are. Let’s not suffer through them.
More often than not, really great books don’t get any buzz. Going viral or trending are rare occurrences and not always an indicator of quality. It also disregards that what you need or want from a book right now may differ from what the masses want. There are so many books out there, new and old, limiting our scope to what’s buzzing would be cutting ourselves (and hundreds of lesser-known authors) short.
So what books do you want to read? Why do you want to read them? Surprise! It doesn’t matter why. Numerous studies have shown how beneficial reading is — that is, the act of reading itself, not what we read. Follow your interests. While enjoyable, it is also a beneficial way to learn because it doesn’t feel like learning. Satisfying our own curiosity just feels good.
It’s absolutely fine to read buzzing books to take part in larger conversations, but we must remember to take time to feed our souls with books too, for sheer pleasure.
Some tips for pure pleasure reading:
- Don’t keep a list of books to read because that list can easily become a mountain, a constant nagging in the back of your mind “I need to read those books because I’ve been intending to” instead of a book that interests you right now.
- Do abandon books you hate. You won’t get a prize for sticking with a book you’re struggling with. Whether the language is obtuse, the characters bug you, the story is boring, whatever. When a book really grabs you, you’ll know it. You’ll feel it. Libraries are great for enduring fickleness while keeping your pockets full.
- Don’t overthink it. Remember when I said no books are trash? I meant it. Read what you want, when you want. When in doubt, reread a book you’ve read a hundred times before if it makes you feel good.
- Do explore niches. Very specific topics may be harder to find, but still worth pursuing. (Anybody got a book about a modern-day female Indiana Jones-like adventurer for me?) Although, don’t drive yourself crazy looking. Enjoy the journey and where it may lead you. Sometimes a book you’re only mildly interested in will surprise you.
How to find something that grabs your interest? Search online with a keyword and “books,” and you’ll likely find helpful posts from book bloggers.
Use The Story Graph (thestorygraph.com) to filter books based on moods, pace, and page count. Ask a librarian, bookseller, or a friend. Browse library or bookstore shelves, especially the back stacks, away from buzzing book displays.
Discovering a book you’ve never heard of before can be part of the fun. But if that buzzing book sounds exactly like your cup of tea, go for it.