Unhealthy Reading Habits

Today I was feeling overwhelmed and dejected because I have so many books that I want to read, but a lot of books that I’ve picked up recently have been duds/too long and I’ve devoted a lot of time to finishing them out of duty, rather than enjoyment. My average 5 star rating so far this year is 2.7. That’s awful! Meanwhile, I have been looking at Fates and Furies longingly on my bookshelf since Christmas, but for some reason I’ve felt like I have to save it as a “reward” for getting through longer books – like A Brief History of Seven Killings or City on FireIt’s the number one book that I’ve wanted to read for months, and for some reason every time I finish a book I tell myself one more until I read it.

Part of the trouble is my Kindle, which I also got for Christmas, and my 2016 reading resolution of reading one book per week. I’ve gone a little overboard with putting e-books on hold at the library, because I finally feel like every book I’ve ever wanted to read is now instantly at my fingertips for free. So now all of the books that I’ve had on hold for weeks are coming in at the same time, and I have to read them right away and put off the books that I have lined up even longer.

Today I found myself in the predicament of being 10% of the way through Scorch Trials (which I’m not enjoying at all), 67% of the way through I Am Legend, and I’m only two people away from getting Purity, another incredibly long book that I intend to read as a personal assignment, definitely not for pleasure. A large part of me wanted to weep, because my gosh I just want to read Fates and Furies.

SO. I have liberated myself. I am returning Scorch Trials to the library, finishing I Am Legend tonight, and beginning Fates and Furies as soon as possible!

But this whole emotional ordeal led me to think more closely about “unhealthy” reading habits. I’ve listed my top 5 offenses here…I hope I’m not alone!

  1. DNF: My number one unhealthy reading habit is not letting myself not finish a book. I have an insane feeling of failure/guilt if I abandon a book (with the exception of The Corrections, which I abandoned with 70 pages left without regret). If I let a book languish half-read on my nightstand and I know that I secretly intend to never return to it, that feeling of guilt stays with me basically forever, especially if/when someone mentions the book. Not how I know how many pages were left when I decided not to finish The Corrections. That was probably about three years ago. Sometimes I force myself to attempt to read a book 3 times before I can get all the way through. I see a ton of posts on Goodreads about how other readers rarely abandon books and how it pains them to do so. So what is it about DNFing that is so painful to readers? As “A” told me today when I needed her approval/permission to give up on The Scorch Trials out of boredom, there are so many great books out there waiting, and there’s no use in wasting time on books we don’t enjoy. Probably easier said than done, but I’m going to try to use my DNF discretion more often.
  2. Reading because you feel like you have to: My 2016 resolution to read at least 1 book a week/Goodreads challenge of 50 books in 2016 is generally not too difficult for me to keep up with. But there are days when I get home from work and all I really want to do is catch up on the Real Housewives, but I force myself to “read” for at least an hour, which usually ends up being only about 20 minutes because I spend the rest of the time on my phone. Likewise, if I finish a really long book or one I didn’t like, I usually need a few days to take a break from reading and do something else. I have to be better about giving myself a break.
  3. “Earning a book”: Maybe this practice isn’t common, but as l wrote earlier, I always feel like I have to “earn” a book that I really want to read by reading other books first, either out of obligation, or because I bought it a while ago, etc. I think “A” does this sometimes, too. Honestly, this is stupid. Read what you want when you want! Reading for me is completely dictated by my mood, so I get into trouble when I force myself to read something because it’s next in my pile, rather than because I feel like reading it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to break this habit, but I’m going to try to start beginning today (after I finish I Am Legend – ha).
  4. Guilty Reads: “A” thought of this one. Sometimes – especially on the beach in the summer – I just need to read something without thinking too much. This is okay! But it’s also okay to read beach reads and the like any time anywhere. Definitely not something that I practice, because I definitely covertly read Jodi Picoults on the train. 
  5. “Classics”/the canon/Books Everyone Loves: “A” also came up with this one, and it’s a good one. I think a lot of people – myself included – read certain books because everyone is reading them, or it’s a “classic”. Yes, there’s obviously a reason that a ton of people are reading a certain book, but if you don’t like it then you don’t like it. No shame! And no reason to spend a ton of time reading books you don’t enjoy at all out of a feeling of obligation. HOWEVER. That said, I do enjoy reading books that make me work hard (hence my lifelong reading challenge), and I like to learn about different narrative structures, character development, writing styles, etc. in this way.  Now that I’m out of school, I’m really conscious of continuing my education in literature on my own in the best way that I can, and sometimes this results me in reading a book I don’t really like. There’s also something satisfying about accomplishing a huge read or a boring classic even if it wasn’t the best reading experience, because it’s like I DID THAT AND I DON’T HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN. But there’s definitely a line and a limit.

-M

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