Realistically, my reading has changed a lot over the last five years. In 2015, I read 35 books. In 2016, I read 64 books, which is pretty close to the 82 in 2017. And then, in 2018, I really started to kick it into high gear with 123 followed by the insanity that was 2019 at 173 books, what. I’m at # books this year, as of this post, and given that I’m not writing for the rest of the month, I expect that number to continue to grow.
But something very specific happened in 2020, and though it’s probably due largely in part to the pandemic, I’m so happy about it.
I’ve talked about my history as a reader in full before, but the tl;dr of it is that I didn’t actually read that much, as is evident, before the last few years. In high school, I mostly reread the same books over and over again with a few added in here or there. High school is a hard time to read for those of us hoping to major in English in college, too, because we’ve got advanced classes on top of literature electives, and it’s a lot of assigned reading. And so, high school was mostly about older classics that I didn’t enjoy and newer ones that I was alright with. In college, I double majored in English and Creative Writing, so I was even busier. Not only that, but I took every writing class that they offered, as well as stacked my electives with old European lit classes. Again, a lot of assigned reading.
If I think back to college, I can remember rereading the same old books, reading Maggie Stiefvater whenever a new one came out, and writing & reading fanfiction. And that’s about it. When I graduated high school, I really, truly believed that I wasn’t allowed to read young adult, too, so I was mostly buying adult literary novels that I didn’t want to read, but thought that I was supposed to. I mean, I didn’t even go in the adult fantasy section, that’s how bad it was, how much the world had convinced me that being out of the young adult age range meant that I was no longer allowed to read it.
Two years after graduating college, though, I finally said screw it and returned to the YA section. It was the first time in literal years that I’d been there, and I still remember those four hours fondly.
I absolutely devoured those books, too. 2017 was a really good reading year for me. I read some of my favorite books that year, I started writing some of my favorite novels because of those books I was reading, and my literary life just kind of took off. I was consuming books as fast as possible, writing in insane amounts, and I was so damn happy.
And then, something started to happen. Well, it’s not that dramatic, it was just that I started blogging in earnest and actually tracking my reading. I started setting goals for myself, a number of books that I wanted to actually try for in the year. Before long, I was setting monthly TBRs, I was keeping a list of purchases, and I was building a very strict structure around my reading. I told myself that I had to read in order of when a book had been bought, that I should be focusing on finishing up my 2017 buys in 2018 so that I didn’t have any leftover. I felt guilty when I would look back at my list of bought books and realize I still had some outstanding from early in 2017. I started to tailor my monthly TBRs specifically to older books, and then, I started to fall behind on new releases. I’d preordered these books, but I was waiting months and months to read them? That didn’t sit right with me.
I want to put so much of this in quotation marks because there’s actually no such thing as “falling behind” on new releases. There’s no such thing as “outstanding” books to read. Having a “backlist”? A fun challenge to conquer, sure, but not actually a thing. You are not bound to rules while reading, and though it’s taken me years to come to this realization, I need to say it again.
You are not bound to rules while reading.
I stressed out so much in 2019 over the books that I wasn’t reading. It got to the point where I would force myself to start books just because I knew that I “needed” to read them to “catch up”, and though I usually enjoyed those books, they weren’t what I was in the mood for at the time, and it made reading them a chore until I finally got into them. I’d read three or four books at a time so I could switch between different reads so I wouldn’t get bored with what I was reading. And that? Getting bored with what I was reading? Y’all, that shouldn’t happen. You shouldn’t be stressed or bored while you’re reading, and if you are, let’s bring it back.
Reading is fun. I can so clearly take myself back to being a child and excitedly snuggling under my blankets while I waited for my dad to start reading. I can remember finally being old enough to read on my own and sitting up well into the early morning hours with a light clipped to my book, getting a horrible night of sleep because I was too excited to not keep reading. Heck, I still do that now sometimes. It’s so easy to remember why I started reading, but it’s also so easy to forget that and just lose myself in the stress of these weird rules that we set around reading as we get older.
You have to read this book because you bought it a year ago, I was saying to myself. You’re not reading enough contemporaries, go buy some more, but then remember to also read enough fantasy, I was saying as I walked into a bookstore. You didn’t meet your monthly TBR, so you’re going to have to add it onto next month in addition to the other five you’ve set, but don’t forget about that growing list of new releases, too, I was saying as I wrote out my monthly wrap-ups. I had so many damn rules around reading, and I still don’t really understand why, though I’ve got some guesses.
It got to the point where I was starting to dread looking at my list of purchased books, where I didn’t even want to set monthly TBRs, where I had so many books teetering on my TBR stack that should have just been safely stowed in my shelves, but that I was forcing myself to read because I was “supposed to”.
And then 2020 happened, and after the first few months of the worst stress I have ever experienced at the beginning of the pandemic, I took a long look at my reading habits and decided enough was enough.
I haven’t looked at my list of purchased books since before the summer maybe? Well, this makes sense, I stopped really caring around Pride. There were a few instances over the course of the summer months where I thought I should continue to focus on pre-2020 purchases, but that was really just anything in the last three years rather than the must read all the 2019 ones so I’m caught up vibe. I knew that I was going to read only queer books for Pride, though, and a lot of those were books I bought in May to prepare for the best month of the year, and after that? I just didn’t want to keep setting rules.
Obviously, I still have monthly TBRs. They work for me. If I don’t have a set of books that I’m hoping to read, I’ll just kind of flounder around and stare at my shelves uncertainly before picking too many books and then not being able to decide which one to read out of those too many. I like having five books that I’m “supposed to” read during the month, but they’re less of a supposed to because I’m trying to catch up, but rather just that I’m interested in, and hey, might as well “assign” them, right?
But the second that I stopped looking at my purchased list, that I stopped saying I had to read books from pre-2020, things started to change. All of a sudden, the books that I’d preordered, that I was “falling behind” on, I was starting to read as soon as they released. When I wasn’t stressed about staying ahead, or thinking about when I had to read something by, I started to fall back into that 2017 mindset where I just consumed at alarming rates.
This year has been a lesson in a lot of things. My writing has changed in pretty huge ways (I talked about it a few days ago!), and my reading has taken a huge journey from fun to stress to whatever the hell works. Because reading is supposed to be fun! That’s the whole reason we do it. And I could probably find literally 100 posts about this same thing because I’ve watched so many other bloggers cry about why reading is stressful, and really, why do we do this to ourselves? How did I go from staying up all night out of pure excitement to assigning myself books? Why have I reverted to high school literature classes? WHAT IS HAPPENING?
2020 is a Year, we all know that, but it’s also been a year of change for me, and I’m really grateful for it. I’m not stressed about my reading anymore. I don’t care when I bought a book. I don’t care if it’s been preordered. If I don’t feel like reading it right now, I’m not going to. I don’t care if I bought it yesterday, if I want to start it today, I’m going to, damn it. I’m still going to set monthly TBRs because I do really enjoy them, and they do take away the stress of deciding each time I finish a book what I’m going to start next, but I’m not going to pile them with books that I’m “supposed to” be reading, just ones that I want to.
And that, hopefully, is something I’m going to carry on into the new year.