Since 2016 I’ve been challenging myself to read more, propelled by the well-known Goodreads challenge. I honestly don’t think I could go back to a life in which I don’t take note of every single book I read, because it is so fun to look back at it and consider which books I’m picking up, as well as what are my favourites and least favourites.
For a couple of years now, my yearly reading goal has been fixed on 50 books. I know that this is a high goal for some, and a very small one for others, but it is the number I feel comfortable with.
Between digital, audio, and print, if I read 50 books a year I’m more than happy, and since I usually read more than that, I know I don’t have to stress about the challenge. In fact, I have written about my experience reading 100 books in a year, and how I concluded that just wasn’t for me.
A couple of months ago, in a chain of events I can no longer recall with precision, my boyfriend lent me his game console and put in my hands Unpacking.
Unpacking is a video game where you do exactly what the title says: through unpacking boxes, you get to discover a person’s life across the years, including their first childhood room, the first room they move to outside of their parents’ house, and so on. Each time they move, you move with them. The items you need to unpack tell a story: new experiences, love found, heartbreak, moving on.
I love organising things, and the game is fun because it is story based, but all you really have to do is to find a space for that person’s things in the room you are given, so it ends up being a very relaxing experience. The only downside of the game is that it ends too soon but, to be honest, there could have been a thousand boxes to unpack and several stories to follow, and I’d still be wanting more.
After I was done with Unpacking, and because I loved it so much, I found myself looking for the same rush I felt while playing it, which led to eventually buying my own game console.
Of course, after a couple of months of discovering new games, I realised that my reading was being affected by this new hobby. I was having fun, I was finding games that relayed very heavily on storytelling and, unlike what happens when I read in the evening, the games did not make me sleepy, so I was playing them in the same fraction of time I would previously allot to reading.
I took a minute to consider all my other hobbies: embroidery, sewing, paper-making. Every single hobby I have had has allowed me to keep reading. I have picked up hobbies before based on how easy it is to listen to audiobooks while I do them. But as I became invested in video games and my reading started to suffer, I wondered why I was suddenly feeling guilty, but also why playing games seemed to come so easy to me while reading was sometimes becoming something that I had to almost force myself to do.
Book Riot editor Danika has written about this experience before, and from what I see on Bookstagram, I know that reading, while being something most readers truly enjoy (that’s why most of us consider ourselves readers, after all) isn’t something that always comes easily.
When I started wondering if I should set a time for reading and a time for playing, I questioned why I was being strict on how to fill up my free time. After all, it is my free time, and I don’t want to fill it in with house chores or tasks. It’s time I take to enjoy stuff and have fun. It is as valid to spend it immersed in a book, as it is to relax while playing a game.
And yet, this way of looking at things does not come easy. There is a sort of snobbism and elitism associated with reading, which can lead to believing reading is the master hobby. Because reading definitely helps us develop in several ways (our writing and reading skills, imagination, but also emotionally), there is this tendency to see books as the be-all-end-all, more important than other forms of entertainment, more worthy of our time. But if I’m looking for a way to relax at the end of a long day of work, why should I choose something that may require more brainpower over something that may actually allow me to be in a no-thinking-just-vibes bubble for a minute?
When you are actively keeping track of how much you read, sometimes it can feel like a failure to see your reading numbers decrease. Especially when you keep a social presence among bookish circles, and you realise you don’t have as much content to share.
But this is a reminder that reading for fun is supposed to be fun. And stay fun. In the same way that there is no shame in devouring books, if that’s what rocks your boat, there is no shame or failure in sharing the time you usually save for reading with new hobbies.
Indeed, maybe it is a challenge: do you dare come to terms with reading less? Maybe it will surprise you in how you experience and enjoy reading when it is something you just feel like doing, rather than something you may feel you need to do for whatever reason — like fulfilling a challenge or reaching a goal.
Playing Unpacking has taught me a couple of things: that change can be good and change is inevitable. Life is a constant process of learning.
Just like I unpacked each item in the game and took my time to find a perfect place for it, I have learned to unpack my own prejudices, my relationship with books, reading, and how I decide to spend my free time (whether that is with a book in my hands, my console, or anything else): appreciating each moment for what it is.
Want to learn how to read less and enjoy your books more? Here is a post for you! Also relevant to this topic is Why I’m Not Impressed About How Many Books You’ve Read.