If you’re anything like me, you’ve got approximately one-hundred books sitting on your bookshelf, unread. You’ve logged them all on goodreads, you’ve spent hours staring at them, and yet you can’t bring yourself to read them. Why?
The story begins, for me at least, as a child. In my first year at school, my teachers told my parents that I was reading well beyond my level, and this was a trend that continued through school. I’d sit at home on the weekend and devour Ruby Redfort and Diary of a Wimpy Kid until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Carrying stacks of books home from the library, a book glued to my hand wherever I went. However, as I continued to get older, I began to read less and less - ending in this predicament: hundreds of books, and no motivation to read them.
Many blame the loss of the love of reading on the study of books in school. They talk about the drag of Shakespeare plays and iambic pentameter, and how it killed their love of reading. However, I don’t think this is true. Not for me, at least.
This morning, I logged onto Goodreads to log the three books I’m currently working my way through (The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, In The Shadow of Vesuvius by Daisy Dunn, and Living With the Gods by Neil MacGreggor), and I saw: I had no books logged in my 2021 reading challenge. I thought I would read 15 whole books this year (much smaller than my 50 I had estimated in 2017 and 2018), and I had read 0 - a whole none! (Less than 5 I actually managed to read in 2018).
To me, this shows something that has become very clear to me: that the competition of reading has made me, over time, read less. The weight of the task of reading - not finishing your book for the week, not reading your chapter before bed, not making your goodreads goal this year - can make reading a daunting task that we have to do, not something that we truly want to spend our time doing. We end up procrastinating reading the same way that we end up procrastinating taking out the bins, writing that essay, cleaning our rooms.
The solution is simple. Take away the pressure to read. This can be done in multiple steps:
Firstly, read what you truly want to read. What I mean by this is, don’t read Moby Dick because you heard it was a classic, or because you found it on a ‘1000 books everyone MUST READ before you die’ list. Moby Dick may be good, but it may just not be for you - and that’s completely okay. We must remember that all reading is reading, whether it’s considered a classic, or it’s a sappy workplace romance. By this, however, I also mean that if you don’t feel like reading Moby Dick today, but you like reading it, pick up something else! I mean it - read 50 books at once if you please. You’ll read more if you actually enjoy what you read!
Secondly, read when you want to read. You may go through dark periods, but that’s okay. You’ll pick it back up again. However, you never know when the reading spark is going to strike. Bring a book everywhere.
Finally, truly enjoy what you’re reading. Read it slowly, annotate it, doodle in it. Make it your own. You’ll enjoy reading so much more if you actually pay attention to books you want to read, instead of slogging your way through books you couldn’t be less interested in.
Oh, and, P.S. -- don’t log onto goodreads.
Holly Zijderveld (she/her) is currently based in the UK. When she's not writing or running her own lit journal, you can find her watching too many films, playing Bach, and thinking about the way the light hit that one very specific bit of water. You can find her @hollyzijderveld on Instagram and Twitter.