Sometimes, we need to make ourselves have fun.
I have a hard time finding time to read recreationally. It’s a common complaint, especially among English majors: “I can’t remember the last time I read something that wasn’t for a class.” It makes sense; of course we don’t want to read in our free time, because we already have to read for school and for work. We need a break every once in a while.
I still can’t help feeling guilty when I opt to lay in bed playing video games. Our society puts a lot of value on the concept of reading, because it seems like the antithesis of technology (which, as we all know, is clearly ruining the minds of today’s youth).
On a more personal level, it feels like I’m betraying myself when I think about how little I’ve read lately. I remember how quickly I used to tear through novels; in middle school, I’d go to the library every week, check out 15 books, and be back a week later for more. Now, I’ve been sitting on the same three library books for the past four months. I miss the act of reading, and getting swept up in a good story, but I’m scared of burning out. I don’t want my grades to suffer because I spent so much time reading something else.
Another part of the problem is that I’ve unconsciously taught myself that reading is a chore now. That’s not to say it’s always a slog; I like doing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom, even if those are chores. But I’m always hesitant to sit down and read (to say nothing of starting something new!) because it feels like a big commitment. If I say I’m going to read for an hour a day, I find myself constantly glancing at the clock to see how much time I have left, even if I’m enjoying myself. It feels like I could be doing something more productive.
I think it’s harder to remember that reading is actually fun; everyone is so busy, between work and school and whatever else we have going on, that we don’t want to spend our free time doing something that doesn’t have an immediate payoff.
So far, the best solution I’ve come up with is to read during meals. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time (because of course I have to eat! This is just something else to do!), and it’s very low-stakes. When I’m done eating, that’s its own stopping point.
Even if it only takes me five minutes to get through a bowl of cereal, that’s still five minutes of reading. It’s slow, for sure, but it takes away the pressure, and it’s so much easier to recognize which books I’m actually enjoying. Sometimes I have no qualms about dropping a bookmark in the middle of a paragraph, because that’s just where I was when I finished my sandwich, but then I’ll catch myself racing to finish a chapter, and I have to remember to slow down, because I’m allowed to keep reading if I want to.
Going through a novel in those tiny increments has its pros and cons, for sure. Sometimes, it’s frustrating to realize how little progress I’ve been making (it’s taken me three years to get through Vanity Fair). But there almost always comes a moment where I hit the critical point, and I don’t want to put the book down. I’ve eased myself back into the joy of reading, for a few hours. It didn’t take more effort, just a lot more time.