I haven’t read a book in 5 years. That is, until the week leading up to Christmas. The book I read was The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (I highly recommend it!). It was delightful and I devoured it in a couple of days. I would have read it in a day but I had to force myself to slow down. To this day I am still reeling from the whiplash of the whole event…
See, I used to eat books for breakfast (metaphorically). Starting in third grade and all through grade school I was an avid reader. Reading very much defined me.
Teachers and peers would tease me about always having a different book each day at school.
“Did you even finish the last one?” they would scoff.
“Oh yes!” I would respond enthusiastically.
They would raise an eyebrow, or shake their heads, or roll their eyes in disbelief and most likely walk away as I eyed the book in my hands longingly wishing I could continue reading, rather than socializing.
My relationship with books started out rocky. Kindergarten through 2nd grade, math was actually my best subject (which is a shocker if you know me now) and I really struggled with reading. But in second grade my school pulled me out of math class once a week to catch me up with reading and by 3rd grade I discovered The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (a children’s mystery series with four orphaned children living out of a boxcar, solving mysteries). Once I found a book I loved, I began to love all books. I immediately began reading books cover to cover on a daily basis.
“Why don’t you read a book that is more challenging to you?” an adult would ask.
But they didn’t get it. Rather than reading a book as a competition for my brain, I was reading for enjoyment. And in doing so, I naturally continued to read more difficult books without feeling the weight of expectation and work. As I got older, I struggled to hold on to the enjoyment of reading. Not only was I required to read more books I did not enjoy for school, but when I wasn’t doing homework, at band practice, at theatre practice, or doing the small number of household chores I was required to do, I was socializing with my friends either in person or virtually. The summer before my senior year of high school was the first summer I think I read five or fewer books. Actually, it is possible I did not read a single book that summer. And once I was in college, I never even thought about picking up a book for pleasure. Even when I had the rare free time. After college, I read a few books, but I just couldn’t seem to get a rhythm, so—filled with disappointment—I did not stick with it.
All of this just feels so profound to me now. How could something be my identity for 8 formative years of my life and then suddenly poof! Gone? Not even missed? Until now.
After I read The House in the Cerulean Sea, it was like waking up from a deep sleep. The magic of a different universe, different laws, different ways of being was back in my life.
And then I mourned.
I mourned all of the years I never read a book. All of the worlds I missed. All of the magic I never unleashed.
But I also have not rushed to the library and picked out a new book.
Now, I am afraid that I will pick up the next book and not enjoy it. I am afraid of the disappointment I had the year after college when I tried to read a couple of books.
You know how we often talk about when we were children, we were so adventurous? We would be a lot more willing to try new things, think new thoughts, explore new places, or meet new people? But then as we get older, we get stuck in a rhythm of sameness and only want to try or do or think what we are most comfortable with? I’ve realized I have gotten that way with books. As a kid I was not adventurous in the “climb trees, explore the local town, bike trails, break rules” kind of way. Most of my adventures were in my books. And now I am only willing to have those adventures if I know I am going to enjoy them.
I am not sure what the next course of action is. I am still self-reflecting. The intuitive side of me says to jump both feet in and force myself to be challenged from the beginning with books I may not normally enjoy. The practical side of me, inspired by the image at the beginning of this post, says to just read for enjoyment. Let myself naturally grow without making it feel like more work.
And the other voice in my head, the one that sounds strangely like Paige Getty’s voice, says, “It’s okay to do both. And… it’s okay to stop and take a break for however long. Do what you need.”
I do know that I am going to begin reading again. So, feel free to comment book recommendations below!