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As a longtime high school English teacher I often struggled to keep my own reading interests alive. I think I went through a drought of about a decade once, where all I did was reread the novels I was assigning to my students. Pandemic had the opposite effect on me: I read and read and read. I read almost 40 books between the shutdown and the end of 2020 and maintained that pace afterward. There was a theme in those books: a lot of running books, a lot of books about racism, and a lot of books about survival such as Endurance by Alfred Lansing. I needed to understand the world I was living in. Since my divorce in 2021 I have read a lot of books about women’s rights, and about solitude, and about nature; you can guess, based on those, how I’ve been spending my time. “Proving” that reading is important? I have a former student who was a wonderful reader and thinker. She had a terrible home situation and all of us teachers hoped and dreamed that she was going to “make it out.” But two nights before graduation she committed a terrible crime and is now in the state women’s prison for 20+ years. I’ve started writing to her and learned I can order books for her. So I think we will read some books together and talk about them via pen and paper, very much like...and not at all like...the old days.
Books were first how I learned English. Being able to read was one of the first things I remember being praised for. I was a Vietnamese immigrant at a Catholic school in Florida, where the disgruntled nun who was teaching me, disapproved of everything about me (poor, not Catholic, not white), but was amazed that I could read better than the other kids. Books are how I learned how to be in the world. I was painfully shy and introverted, so I read books to try to figure out how to make friends. I tried on being as willful and precocious as Anne and Anne of Green Gables. When I couldn't figure out how to explain myself, I handed my friends books that might help them understand me better. I wasn't terribly original: I made a middle school boyfriend read The Bell Jar because I told him that "Sylvia Plath just really gets me." I'm still sort of the same way. I'll read a book that will make me feel some kind of way, or it will perfectly reflect how I am already feeling, and it just seems so much more efficient to show that book as my mirror than to have an actual conversation. If you are my friend now, you know any gift from me will be a book. I will have thought about it for a long time, or I will have set it aside for you for weeks or months, because I want you to read something that makes you feel seen, that shows you I see you. Right now, the book Flying Solo by Linda Holmes had made a lot of rounds between my friends because I keep gifting it; it is perfect for people who are a bit odd and also deeply kind, and who love a deep dive into something completely random like duck decoys (and I can't think of a way to better describe my dearest friends). Books just keep getting better. I didn't have a lot of books growing up that reflected what it meant to be Vietnamese American. Now there are books like Tastes Like War and Stay True that remind me so much of my own family stories. And even the silliness of Crazy Rich Asians allows me celebrate over-the-top Asian success. In the end, books are words, right? Some of them contain the right words. I keep reading because the best books contain the right words for the exact moment I am in. I can still be a bit quiet in person, so I'll let the books do the talking.
I completely lost my ability to finish a book during the first year of the pandemic. As a lifelong (obsessive) reader I felt both grief and a little shame for having lost such a fundamental part of my personhood. In order to fill the hole, I turned to audiobooks. I listened to SO many audiobooks-- many of which were books I never would have bought or borrowed from the library. Some I listened to carefully and attentively, others I used to quiet the noise in my head. Then I started borrowing books in large quantities from my neighborhood "Little Free Libraries." Every day I walked different routes picking out books. I'd start one and see if I was hooked in the first 25 pages. If not, it was returned. This jump started my reading again. It was low pressure and low stakes and that worked for me. Now I am abroad and reading using a Kindle (my first). I borrow a bunch of books from the library at once, choosing a wide range that might work for my given mood or attention level. If a book doesn't pull me in, I return it and move to the next. I never used to read this way. I committed to books and finished them. Now I am a fickle reader and that's ok.
I started reading - obsessively (and I don't use the description lightly) - when my daughter was about 18 months old. We live in a rural town, and the only free thing to do with a toddler on a Saturday morning was go to the library and let her play with the toy train set. I started checking out books. At first, I started reading books because I wanted to follow all the parenting "expert" advice to be a role model and get off my phone when I was with my kid. But watching a young kid all day is so, so boring. Reading became my escape. Now, almost six years later, I am always reading a book - to the point that my husband complains that I read too much.
My employer required me to come back to the office and won't allow hybrid or work from home. And sitting at my desk, staring at a computer all day is so, so mind-numbing. I used to help pass the time by reading Twitter to "look busy." But I quit Twitter the day of the Capitol insurrection. I just couldn't stomach it anymore. So I bought a Kindle, and now I read on the sly during my slow times at work. It's like my little act of rebellion against The Man for wasting my time working in an uncomfortable office.
I read almost 100 books this year, mostly romantic comedies. I read to feel good, so I don't read a lot of horror or suspense. I do try to read contemporary literature and nonfiction, even if it's sometimes a slog to get through, because I think it's good to study other writers, learn new cultures and pick up a few life lessons.
I’ve got a 3 month old baby right now. After she was born, reading naturally took a backseat, but now that I’ve figured out baby wearing and we have a little bit more of a routine, I’ve prioritized reading as much as I can prioritize it. If my baby is napping on me in the carrier, rather than scroll my phone, I try to read. It’s helped me maintain my identity outside of newly becoming Mother and it’s really important to me.
I was the kid who read everything, even multiple times. But at some point I stopped reading for probably ten years or maybe more. I had little kids and unmedicated depression and anxiety, and I spent a lot of time on early 2000s moms’ forums.
I read a book here and there, mostly for work, and I did read the whole Harry Potter series when my daughter read it.
But then I moved 700 miles away, my job that I moved for was awful, and one of my best friends died suddenly. Two things got me through: the whole series of Veronica Mars, which I had never seen, and murder mystery novels. Specifically, the In Death series that has like 55 books in it so far.
I started reading other stuff too, and enjoying it like when I was a kid. It stuck.
My point with this Ted Talk is that as AHP said, reading should be FUN. There are no rules about it and sometimes it goes away for a while, and if we’re lucky, we find it again out of survival or desperation or whatever.
The time I really lost reading was when I was writing my own book. I didn’t even realize it until after the proofreading stage when it was finally out of my hands. I read an inordinate amount for research. (Last year was the first time I ever kept count--I’ll probably never do it again, was just curious--and I read 86 books; I didn’t keep track of articles and essays and podcasts but it was also a lot.) When I was finally done with the process, I picked up a nighttime read, a YA fantasy, for the first time in two years, and immediately got engrossed. I’ve been hooked on books my whole life and still literally thought, “I forgot I actually like reading!”
There are a lot of questions in this post that could probably use a newsletter from each respondent! Short answer--regular breaks from the internet entirely have become something I really rely on. Even if it’s not a reading vacation, if it’s something like camping, it makes me aware of how the combination of online and on devices keeps my brain in a bit of a fever. Being offline and away from devices is grounding in a very essential way. The more I do it, the more I think it’s important for everyone to have access to something that helps them reset and get in touch with their own selves and with the physical world around us, especially the non-human one.
Having recently had to start going back to in-person work in the office a few days a week, carrying a book to read on my commute has been one of the "treat rituals" I've set up to make it celebratory and fun. I make it dedicated reading time, with no podcasts or music, and there is enough of a station-to-station chunk of time that I can make a little dent in my book on each leg of the journey. I also love making a little pencil mark next to things that leap out as I read, and sharing those with my husband as part of my "stories from my day" when I get home at night.
I was a voracious reader as a child, reading and re-reading books. It's funny, looking back I have vivid memories of reading in the car, while my brother played soccer, at the kitchen table, etc, but I don't remember carrying books anywhere- they seem to just appear out of nowhere. I stopped reading for fun in college and after law school could barely fathom the idea of doing any more reading in my spare time after all the hours spend reading opinions. As a law firm associate, I longed to get back into it, but could never find the mental space to get immersed in fiction again. Tying into some of AHP's other frequent themes, my job and society in general generated enormous pressure for me to be efficient and productive at all times and novels just didn't seem worth the time. I did read some narrative non-fiction during this period, which I justified to myself as educational. I also struggled internally with the shift to e-books. During the second year of the pandemic and with a small child I finally started reading novels again on my iphone kindle-app no-less because it was something I could do while my son insisted I stay within 5 feet of him at all times. It took time, but now I feel like I'm addicted to reading again and I LOVE IT. It's such a joy to lose myself in a story again. Truly one of the few things I do for fun right now. And I have this group to thank for the terrific book recs and the Libby app for making it easy to move from one book to the next.
I'm in the throes of finals as a middle-aged MA English student. My kids need everything, my students need everything, my eldest child is in Ireland right now, pouting, and I just feel like reading actual books seems like an impossible luxury. HOWEVER. I love this newsletter because so much of my identity is not just wrapped in being A Reader, but so much of how I understand the world comes from things I have read. This question you have posed this week really resonates. I was so unable to read anything for a while (also a person who lost the ability to sustain any real reading during the pandemic), but I figured out finally that reading on my phone allowed me to begin making my way back to the kind of reader I was before. I usually just go for sort of popcorn-y, escapist reading on there, and it's great. I don't feel like weird guilt that comes with endless social media doom-scrolling, but it also does not completely take over my mind the way reading physical copies of books has always done for me. I dislike being interrupted while I'm reading, and if someone in my household sees me curled up with a book, and they bother me for something that can wait, or that they can do themselves or whatever, it bugs me and then I feel guilty for being irritable, which makes reading a book into some other kind of weird decadent thing that I shouldn't be doing. But reading on the phone? Psshhh, that's not the case at all. Go ahead, ask me the thing that you can do for yourself. I'm just sitting here with my phone anyway. I guess all this is to say, somehow, I've acquired a lot of guilt about reading, which feels terrible to consider. Now that I've thought about it, though, it's clear that it will continue to be something that is in my mind and I'll be able to sort through it. Also, I'm not going to ask for Hua Hsu's book for Christmas, I'm just going to order it right now. I love all his other writing and I've been looking forward to this book for quite a while.
reading is incredibly meaningful to me. i learned english when i entered public school, and i remember burning hot with embarrassment when my second grade teacher announced to the class that i had read a novella on my own, bunnicula (about a vampiric bunny). i remember staring straight down at my desk while she praised me because the two blonde girls next to me were glaring, but i also felt this molten core of pride. i stopped devouring books like i did as a kid once phones became smarter, but i never stopped reading. i started to have sleeping issues and discovered that they almost always went away when i read before bed. the pandemic actually kicked up my reading habit. i worked for lululemon and they paid us for three plus months when the pandemic first began while
our stores were shut down. i was living my dream life of reading books, cooking food, and walking long walks every day.
i have a goodreads where i track my reading now. i’m on book 46 of 50. usually i make my goal much less and exceed it but i decided to just go for the big number this year. sometimes i find myself reading a shorter book just to catch back up on my pace. however, if i need to finish a book sometimes i’ll give myself the afternoon on a weekend to finish it and it feels indulgent but not BAD. like it’s brain candy. next year my goal is to read better— i’ve always wanted to keep a card system of what i loved about a book, etc, almost like a log for school. i read so many books now i forget the plots. i also can’t read speculative fiction before bed because the combination of being tired/world building is a disaster haha. so i’d like to dedicate more afternoon weekends to those books. i am an actor, but sometimes i dream of being a librarian.
I have one significant tattoo and it is an owl and a stack of books and banner that reads “bibliophile” so yeah reading has always been the most important to me. I used to average about 100 books a year, mixed genres, usually more than one at a time. Pandemic hit - 2020 I read over 250 books. Mostly romance, but I needed all of the escape I could get. And then I went almost an entire year without being able to finish a book. The Great Slump almost broke me, a book would grab me here or there, but mostly it felt like...everything just slid off my brain. It’s coming back. I don’t think I’ll ever read as much as I did in 2020, I don’t think I want or need to. But I have been able to focus on fantasy and mysteries again, books with more plot than trope and higher stakes than a first kiss. It feels really really good, and the only thing that did it was time and acceptance. I didn’t force myself to read or fight with my attention span, the most skittish of kittens these days. I returned to authors I’ve always loved, stopped keeping track entirely to ease off the competitive/comparison stuff, quit scrolling bookstagram and booktok for the newest shiny and just let myself get lost in a story again. I’ve never taken reading for granted, but I do appreciate it in a deeper way now.
Reading and privacy are somehow connected for me. I notice that my favorite memories of childhood reading were when I could wake up before everyone else and read quietly while the house was silent.
As a preteen I mostly read fanfiction and manga. In high school I reclaimed my book reader-identity: I loved most of the books I read in school and went on to double major in English and journalism. My favorite kind of learning was always just reading in a book and taking notes in the margins, so I took a lot of joy from that practice. (Never went to grad school, so maybe that's why it's still golden in my memory!)
I didn't have a big "rut," but I did notice my relationship to reading changed in college. Goodreads really fucked me up. I kept a shelf-per-year and noticed I was always trying to outdo myself. This was encouraging me to leave books I really wanted to read aside, in favor of shorter ones that could pump up the numbers. Agh!
The first thing I did was stop rating books. The more I thought about it the more insane the idea of rating a book seemed: as if the point of a book is to meet-or-exceed expectations; as if we could do the same for books as we do with hotels and restaurants. But that still didn't really cut it. So I had to quit Goodreads for good. Now I just keep a list on my phone of "books and essays read" for a given year--no counting, just titles. I include long essays because I like to read big books of theoretical essays, but they literally take years to finish! Quitting Goodreads has gotten rid of all that optimization-feeling.
It has the other benefit of making my reading life feel more private to me again, which was more important than I thought!
Yes! I am reconnecting with books for the first time in a long time. I am coming out of having a small dependent child (who is now 7) shortly after medical school and residency.
The only way it happens now is that she is reading more on her own and her only “homework” is 300 minutes of reading a month. So we go to the library together and then have Family Reading Time. I also have 90% quit social media. Amazing the shift in my brain when I spend the time reading a book rather than news and doom scrolling.
Reading is Life! Like many other posters, I’ve been a lifelong voracious reader. My mom taught me to read before I entered kindergarten, and there hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t had my nose in book. In high school I was in the dance/drill team and we performed at the football halftime. I would bring my book and read it in the stands while others cheered on the game. I could find a way to read anywhere.
Post-2016 my reading habit became a bit subsumed by a news addiction. By 2020, I was full-on doom-scrolling. This was taking up a lot time and making me feel constant angst. Over time, I was able to quit cold turkey those habits, and I replaced them with reading. I doubled the number of books I read in a year. I joined an incredible online book club in August 2020 that has fortified my reading life and brought me new friendships. Reading was my social life during the two-year pandemic.
This year, one of my goals was to create an intimate in-person reading community. I started a literary salon (“Ladies Who Lit”), and we meet every other month at my house for a delicious lunch and book swap. On the off month, we’ve been getting together in the community for an activity. Yesterday was our salon event and it was delightful in every way. Each person went home with at least 4 books, and we had a Secret Santa gift exchange.
Reading has been a great gift in my life. It’s always been by my side, and is now how I build community.