The Power of Pleasure Reading

I recently re-discovered pleasure reading, by which I mean reading books that I didn’t have to read for my job. Until eight months ago, I was a book editor at a major publishing house, and I edited and published around a dozen books a year, which meant reading those books in manuscript form anywhere from three to five . . . or six . . . or maybe seven times before they went to press. (Many of those were pleasurable reads, but they still counted as “work.”)

I also spent nights and weekends reading manuscripts sent to me by literary agents, many of which I didn’t wind up publishing, but finished all the same. Which meant that my reading life consisted almost exclusively, for years, of work-related books. A dream job for a college English major and lifelong book lover? Sure, in lots of ways it was.

It allowed me early access to some terrific books over the last decade. A bonus of working for his publisher meant I got to meet John Irving and read his 2012 novel In One Person long before it hit the shelves—definitely a highlight of my career. IN One Person by John IrvingI read The Language of Flowers and The Night Circus and Station Eleven before they were “real” books. But there were so many more on my real and theoretical TBR pile that I just never got to, and there were days when I truly despaired—I mean really, like, cried—over my inability to carve out time to read a book I simply wanted to read for no other reason than it sounded good.

So when I quit the corporate life last summer, one of the first things I did was giddily begin to read again for pleasure (yes, ironically, the activity that led me down this career path in the first place); a mix of old and new books, ones I’d had my eye on for years and ones I’d see people buzzing about in real time and go download immediately to get my fix. My Kindle shelf is the equivalent of a pill-popper’s medicine cabinet.

I read Primates of Park Avenue and Redefining Realness. I read both of Jenny Lawson’s memoirs. perfect daysI read Perfect Days and Endless Love and The Winter Girl. I read American Housewife (LOVED, BTW). I started a few others but put them down because life is too short to finish books you don’t like. I read The Invaders, and I bought my friend Sara Benincasa’s D.C. Trip, which is awaiting my next long flight. DC TRIP by Sara Benincasa

But over these last few months it was Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies that I’ve become an evangelist for. It really drove home how much I’d missed my pleasure reading, and how important it is to me to have it back. I remember turning the last page of that book and just feeling so lucky that I’d chosen it, that I’d sought it out and made the time for it, and that I’d been rewarded so richly in my pursuit. The language, the story, the characters—they all made me feel like a kid in a candy store—or in my case, a book store. The same kid who faithfully showed up at Book Land in Wells, Maine each week to spend my allowance money on the complete Jane Austen or the next Sue Grafton, whatever caught my eye at the time.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I’m happier, healthier, and calmer now that I work for myself instead of in a corporate environment. Off with those restrictive pants and on to wine with lunch and being the master of my own schedule! But as well as the freelance life has treated me, I have to believe that the dramatic surge in my time spent reading for pleasure has contributed just as much, if not more, to my overall well-being. As it turns out, at thirty-seven years old and turning a new chapter in my life, I’m still the same kid who lost—and then found—herself over and over and over again in the pages of a book.

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