I grew up in a house with books. A house where my mother and sister’s library was pretty much open source. I was proud of how many books I read in a month. To many others, I used to say it didn’t matter how much I read, as long as I was reading at least one book, but who am I kidding? I loved demolishing my TBR pile way before I intended to. I went through phases: literary fiction, fantasy, poetry, non-fiction. And everything was amazing. Until it wasn’t.
As time passed, I stopped reading as much. I moved to different, bigger cities where there was ‘more’ to do. Reading then wasn’t as effortless an activity as it used to be. Heck, I even wrote a Medium post about it. It became exhausting and I became complacent with the feeling of having a book in my bag rather than actually reading it.
I used to still spend hours browsing a bookshop, talking about what other readers were reading, discussing book covers and editions, scrolling through bookstagram accounts and feeling honest, real pain to be missing out on so many books. But here’s what I realised in the process: not reading books doesn’t instantly make you someone who’s not passionate about books and reading. That’s only step 1 to recognising how things have changed, but how you might still get back.
Today, as I work as a social media editor at Youth Ki Awaaz and not much has changed with my reading habits. There’s a lot of work to be done and I don’t find a lot of willingness to read (I won’t blame it on the time alone). For months, I have flopped on my bed at night only to look at my books and say, “Not tonight.”
In fact, I also reached a stage where I started feeling guilty whenever I looked at them. They were like broken promises staring at me every night from my table, and I felt worse each day. I tried everything — reading 10 pages a day, reading smaller books, reading once every two days, reading in the metro. And nothing worked. Because forced things don’t.
And then one day, I took a step back and said, “Leave it for a while.” Leave it all. It was then that I started looking at my day without the forced need of reading a book.
And here’s how it sort of looked like: My day begins with checking what pieces a lot of people are engaging with on the platform. Then, on the metro, I check analytics and take a look at Medium’s daily emailer and the Medium app, to see which articles catch my interest. It is usually a rewarding experience and I end up learning something new.
At work, I read the stories being published on the platform, I read Facebook messages, I go through some drafts of what’s being published, I read stuff on other websites and my colleagues share amazing stories that we discuss. I go through my own Facebook and Twitter profiles and see if there’s anything interesting people have linked to that I can read (Needless to say, there’s always something). On my way back, I am reading similar stuff on the metro or in a cab and make notes sometimes. So here’s what I have realised — I do read, I just don’t read enough physical copies of books.
Many of us go through a phase like this, where what’s usually in front of us takes a lot of mind space. It just takes time to recognise it, and it sure is difficult. But today, I am slowly trying to let go of the guilt. The guilt of reading a Buffer blog post over the literary fiction on my table. The guilt of having a TBR pile of 7 books languishing in solitude, while I spend hours on my phone. And once I started facing the guilt, I realised that the reader inside me lives, but has taken another form. It doesn’t mean I will never read a book again. It doesn’t mean you will never read a book again. It just means that right now, you don’t have space for it, but you have it in you to go back to it once you find the space.
This year, in 8 months, I have read 5 books. That’s not even a book a month, but I refuse to believe that this will always be the way it is. Reading is a joyous activity, but if it feels exhausting today, try and take a step back. It really helps. But before anything else, fellow struggling reader — it is time to let go of the guilt.
This post was originally published in 2016, on The Reader.