A Reader, or Not a Reader? Guilty Feelings from a Self-Proclaimed Book Geek

I have read sixteen new books this year (twenty if you include the four Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels in colour). And we’re at the end of July. More than half the year gone, and I haven’t even hit twenty books. I feel like I need to hand in my readers’ licence, my title as a reader and book nerd.

There were such grand dreams for 2016. In 2013, the year I was busy doing fieldwork for my PhD, I read 93 new books. Each year since, that number has dwindled, and I was sure that 2016 would be different. I would finish my PhD, take a few months off to remember what it was like to be a person without a thesis, and in that time I would get back into reading. I even bought books for the occasion, a pile of books that were reserved for the ‘post-PhD read’.

Those books? Still unread. And I submitted my thesis in April.

It turns out that establishing new reading routines can be hard. In 2013, a lot of my books were read on trains, or waiting for buses, or in libraries as I waited for interview participants to show up. I was crazy busy, but that lifestyle was also conducive to regular, everyday reading.

This year, I moved from Australia to the US, to a city with essentially no public transport, and married a man whose bedtime ritual is the complete opposite of mine and includes no bedtime reading at all. It took two months to even get a bedside table and lamp.

I suspected my usual moments of daily reading (like on the train or in bed at night) might diminish or disappear, but I had hoped that there would be new reading rituals established, and so far this hasn’t been the case.

Don’t get me wrong, I *have* had some wonderful reading moments this year. There was one day where I chose not to go outside at all because I was reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, a book that reminded what it was like to have that feverish need to *keep reading*. I thought after finishing that book that hey, cool, I remember what it’s like to be that invested in a book! Let’s do it again! Or that other time when I was in Pittsburgh, and sacrificed a morning of touristing so I could go to a Starbucks and finish reading The Martian. I received Barnes and Noble gift cards for my birthday, and just spent them on two books I am super crazy looking forward reading.

Books still get me excited, and bookshops and libraries remain some of the most comforting and delightful places in the world, but sometimes that feels like it’s not enough. I see all the books mentioned in marketing emails from publishers, on Twitter, on Book Riot. The list of books I want to read grows ever longer, but then I get sucked into the rigmarole of everyday life.

There have been bureaucratic nightmares with US immigration, establishing a new routine and life in a different country (with a husband), submitting a PhD, the paperwork involved in buying a house, and planning a reception back in Sydney for later in August. All of these things have been a tad more overwhelming than I initially realised, and all of my plans of being a reader again kind of fell apart. Right now, it feels like I only have the mental energy left for fictional universes with which I am already familiar, which is why my bedtime reading this week is one of the Alex Cooper novels by Linda Fairstein. It’s not a novel I’ve read before, but I know the world.

So: A reader? Not a reader? Am I still a reader if I don’t read anywhere near as much as I want to be or think that I should be? I hope so. Maybe my resolution for the second half of the year is to finally read those books I bought (some almost a year ago) for my ‘post-PhD’ reading marathon.

What about you? What experiences have you had with reading slumps, or needing to establish new reading routines? What makes you identify as a reader?

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