On the Joy of Reading

I’ve always been an avid reader.

In first grade, I took the Harry Potter books into my own hands and for as long as I was in school, I read ahead in class books. Reading has always been a source of joy and escape for me,. It’s also (to be frank) a hyperfixation.

Give me an interesting book and you won’t see me for the rest of the day. Undistracted, I can easily get through 300 – 400 pages in less time than it takes me to finish a work day. But give me a book that doesn’t capture my attention, and it will take me days, weeks, even months to get through- if I can even make it to the end.

Such an intense focus on reading means that the daily distractions of adult life aren’t conducive to how I like to read. I used to hide in my bedroom, tucked into the corner near the AC vent so I could read undisturbed, and rarely do I find such a chunk of hours these days. It’s because of this that I drifted out of the habit of reading when I graduated high school and went to college. It’s not to say that I stopped reading entirely, but I lost much of the joy I had once found in it.

I’ve read a handful of books each year since then, but last year I was determined to regain my reading crown. I set the ambitious reading goal of 100 books and was determined to hit it.

And hit it I did, reading 102 books in 2021. I read across genres, lengths, authors, and topics. I read fiction, non-fiction, essays, short stories and poetry collections. I read business books and spiritual books, how-to’s and fantasy. And time and time again I ran into the same issue; if a book did not capture me in the first 30 pages, I simply could not muster the energy to get through it.

Any reader knows how hard it is to admit you don’t like a book, especially one you looked forward to reading. But to hit my goal I had to be ruthless, and so I was. If I didn’t like it, I stopped reading it.

My 2022 reading goal is slightly lower, owing to a heavier work load both professionally and personally. I want to read 75 books this year, a number that should comparatively be much easier than last year.

But several weeks ago, I hit a wall. I lost all interest in reading anything, and didn’t touch a book or my library card. I just couldn’t muster the mental energy to crack open a spine and absorb information, fictional or not.

I expressed this fatigue to my partner, who suggested I seek out a book of short stories. Having nothing in mind, I shrugged off his suggestion and put it out of my mind. Imagine my surprise then, when just a few days later a book jumped off the shelf at me at the library as I passed through the stacks towards my favorite working carrell.

It was a book of short stories (always of interest to me) written by a woman (my preferred author gender) in the early 20th century (always fascinating). So I grabbed it off the shelf and checked it out after I was done working for the day.

The book was “The Yellow Wallpaper and Selected Writings”, a collection of short stories and snippets from the autobiography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Rarely has a book enthused me so. The titual story, The Yellow Wallpaper, is perhaps Gilman’s best known work, a story of woman who is prescribed a tortuous isolation to deal with post-partum depression. And this story gripped me, but it was far from my favorite in the book.

Gilman was a 19th and 20th century feminist, a woman who ardently believed in the equal capability of women and who herself suffered such an untreated case of pre- and post-partum depression that she never recovered. Still, Gilman is clear and articulate in her writing, both fictional and bibliographical. Her stories are filled with woman who find personal fulfillment and independence in a time where both were seen as “unwomanly.” She explores the concept of familiar duty, lack of educational resources, and isolation suffered by housewives at the time.

In the excerpts from her autobiography, Gilman is logical, frank, and exacting as she examines her own behavior and the conditions under which she was raised and married. She champions the importance of both education and physical movement for women and laments the loss of her working and critical capability at the hands of her depression.

I am behind in my reading goal this year, only 40% of the way towards my goal of 75 books. (That’s 30 books read, if those fractions are beyond you as they are me.) And it does bother me slightly, but my goal is not carved in stone. I do not wish to read simply to meet a goal, but to enjoy what I’m absorbing. I now have a stack of five books to get through, which should hopefully put me back on track. But even if it doesn’t, I am glad to have remembered how energizing it is to read something truly remarkable.

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