On the Importance of Reading Rituals

I love packing my bags for Thanksgiving. No really. I do. Not because I take some perverse pleasure from a perfectly folded sweater or derive a dark joy from competing with my husband to see who can make the most efficient use of suitcase space (who doesn’t?) but because Thanksgiving marks the beginning of my favorite part of the year.


Yeah, yeah,” you’re thinking. “Everybody loves this time of year.” And you could very well be right. Bells ring, lights twinkle, pies cool, families gather. It’s a beautiful season, and one filled with ritual and tradition. But my favorite holiday ritual has nothing to do with angels getting wings, lights twinkling, carb loading, or even my mother-in-law’s famous bourbon slush. My favorite holiday ritual is all about….wait for it…..books. Please try to contain your audible gasp.

Some folks reread A Christmas Carol every year. Others snuggle by the fire for a recitation of The Night Before Christmas or meet around the table for the story of Hanukkah. One friend of mine got into the habit of reading the entire Lord of the Rings series every holiday season to coincide with the film releases and has kept it up for ten years. No doubt, some readers have rituals that don’t even involve holidays. Maybe you pick up something light and fluffy for the beach every year or do just the opposite and tackle a chunkster you wouldn’t have time for if not for vacation. Maybe it was Goodnight Moonfor years well beyond age appropriateness. I imagine readers’ treasured rituals are as varied as readers themselves.My big reading ritual? It’s the backlist binge, or, as I like to think of it, the “I’m-reading-what-I-want-and-you-can’t-stop-me” binge. If I could find a GIF of Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone jumping up and down declaring “I’m living alone!” this is where it would go.

So, why the backlist binge? In the 4.5 years I’ve been working in books, my reading habits have transformed from entirely spontaneous to more planned than I would like to admit. There are calendars and spreadsheets, pub dates and deadlines to consider, and while I love reading frontlist (new releases) and reviewing, I do miss some of the whimsy. A lady needs a little whimsy in her reading life, you know? So every year, I put in late nights and early mornings in November to make sure all my deadlines are met before Thanksgiving, then I get down to the very serious business of excavating Mount TBR.

I head off for family HQ in the midwest with at least twice as many books as I can actually read during the four- or five-day trip (and yes, I know this is why we have e-readers, but there’s something fun about packing a stack of books that I just can’t shake.), then I stake out my spot on the couch, put my note-taking pens aside, and get my anti-social on. At first it feels weird, reading without any motive beyond pure enjoyment. (And damn, it feels weird to write that sentence and realize it’s true.) I enjoy most of what I read for work, but nothing compares to the feeling of picking up a book and knowing that all I have to do is READ IT.

The backlist binge has become a highlight of my year. I start looking forward to it in, like, May. I saunter past the shelves of unread books lining my house just to tease myself and think about the possibilities. The backlist binge is the light at the end of my tunnel and the carrot at the end of my stick. It reconnects me with authors I love and allows me to discover new ones. It allows me to settle fully into the relaxation of a family holiday. Most important, it anchors me to my values and reminds me why I do what I do. It’s basically the best thing ever.

But I’m willing to bet you also have a reading ritual you feel this way about, one you anticipate gleefully and happy-dance all over when it arrives. And I’d love nothing more than to borrow your ideas and get myself some new reading rituals. So, what are the grand traditions of your reading life?

Rebecca Joines Schinsky writes about books, the publishing industry, and the reading life at  The Book Lady’s Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @bookladysblog.

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