I don’t actually think book bloggers are liars. I’ve floated around the #CanLit blogging scene for enough years to know that anyone who is passionate enough to spend their spare time writing about books for little or no financial reward is usually a lovely person who simply loves the written word. But I can’t help but think some bloggers exaggerate the truth, especially the ones who post multiple perfectly staged photos a week of new releases with unbroken spines intentionally strewn beside a monogrammed mug and a perfectly manicured garden. “Just reading in the garden,” the photo caption probably says, while my cynical mind thinks: Surely nobody has time to read multiple books a week and still keep up on the weeding.
For the better part of a decade, I’ve shared my reading experiences with others through magazine book reviews, my book blog, and on social media. In an increasingly connected world, sharing one’s experiences as a reader and writer is common, but for me, it comes tethered with guilt. I can never read fast enough to keep up with the looming To Be Read (TBR) pile that fills my home. As a reviewer, I’m passed many books. Some of them are brilliant, some of them not so much. Many of them sit on my bookshelf, my desk, and in the bottom of my bag, begging to be read.
My reader’s guilt doesn’t end with my pile of review copies. I bring books home from the library where they sit on my bookshelf for weeks until the fines begin to build. I feel guilty for not reading them and guilty for keeping them from someone who will.
My shelves are even lined with a collection of books that I won’t read because they’ve been signed by Farley Mowat or Lawrence Hill or, most recently, Judy Blume. I have books from my childhood that are nearly spineless from having been read so many times, but I fear that one more read would surely seal their fate. Surely a book that isn’t read isn’t fulfilling it’s bookish destiny. There’s guilt in that, too.
Sometimes I look at my bookshelf and remind myself that I’m going to die before I read every book I own. I’ve never read War and Peace or anything by a Bronte, and I’ll probably die before I do. It’s morbid, but true.
There’s one thing I don’t feel guilty about when it comes to reading, and that’s not finishing books. Life’s too short to read bad books, and I can’t be precious about reaching the last page of a book I’m not enjoying. I’ve also stopped doing reading pledges. One year, in a quest to finish Goodread’s 50 Book Pledge I read only books under 200 pages. Life’s also too short to have your reading habits dictated by a quota.
When I get those short unbridled moments of reading for pleasure, my mind reels. I should be editing, writing, sleeping, unpacking the box that’s sat in my office for a year. We readers aren’t the only ones bridled with guilt. A Google search of writer’s guild draws 433,000 hits, but a search of writer’s guilt has more than 100,000 more.
I recently hate-read Marie Kondo’s hugely successful book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in which she writes “Do you feel joy when surrounded by piles of unread books that don’t touch my heart?” and the truth is, I do. I may never read each unread book on my shelf, but I’m willing to try.
A few weeks ago, I met Judy Blume. I say that as though we met over coffee and scones in what I imagine is her book-lined study in New York City. In reality, I was one of nearly a thousand people to line up for a chance to share eight-to-ten seconds with Ms. Blume as she signed copies of her latest book, In the Unlikely Event, in Toronto. But being in the same room with one of my childhood literary heroes reminded me of a lot of things. Hearing her talk about characters that were born in her head, but lived full lives in my own childhood brain, reminded me of reading as a child. More importantly, it reminded me of reading without deadlines. It reminded me of reading without guilt.
The greatest gift we can give ourselves as readers is to read for pleasure. To give ourselves the permission to be selfish and intentional in our reading choices. To create a small impermeable space to recapture the joy of reading.