Confessions of a Former Slow Reader
Hi, my name is Emily, and I used to be a slow reader. I’ve been writing for Book Riot since 2017, and one of the first things I ever wrote here was in August 2017: “Confessions of a Slow Reader.” At the time, it was nearing the end of the year, and I had only read 33 books, still fairly far away from my end-of-year goal of 50 books. In fact, in 2017, my goal every year was to read 50 books, and at the time I had never once made my goal.
Well, a lot has changed since 2017. Not just for me, but for everyone. One of the biggest changes for me has been the way I read and therefore how much I read. Last year, in 2021, I read 100 books. Now, I know that 100 books is still a small amount of books to some people, but for me, it’s a number I never thought I would have the capacity to reach in a year back in 2017. Looking back at what I wrote then, I want to tell that person that it’s totally okay to be a slow reader. After all, I had a lot going on back then that took up my time outside of reading.
Throughout life, we will all go through major changes that will affect how much we can and can’t read in a week, a month, or a year. Everyone’s reading journey is personal, and I think it’s important that we give ourselves grace, especially because sometimes the world around us won’t. But if you’re curious, here are some things that have changed for me in the past five years. The reader I am in 2022 is wholly different from the reader I was in 2017, and here’s why.
1. My Brother Died
I try to be very open about this, because losing my brother has 100% changed who I am as a person, and therefore as a reader. How could it not?
In 2017, when I wrote “Confessions of a Slow Reader,” my brother was sick with leukemia. At that point, he had been battling leukemia on and off for nearly five years, and in November 2017, shortly after Thanksgiving, my brother Adam Martin died in a hospital bed while I was holding his hand.
Watching my brother go through this affected me deeply. I wrote in 2017 that I was medicated for anxiety, and my brother’s illness was a big part of this. I had trouble focusing on a lot of things because I was always worried, always wondering what bad news I would get the next time I got a phone call.
Of course, my anxiety didn’t magically go away now that Adam’s gone. I’m still anxious, and now I feel like on top of that, I’m in a permanent state of grief. But one of the things that I’ve found helps me cope with that grief in a healthy way? Reading. I’ve especially found comfort in books where characters are exploring similar experiences and emotions to the ones I’m feeling. For instance, I read Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi in 2021, and I cried over nearly every page. But I also never wanted to put it down.
2. I’m Not in Grad School Anymore
If you went through the grad school experience, then you know. If not, then I cannot stress this enough: grad school is a soul-crushing, time-sucking experience in which every single moment when you’re not doing work, you feel guilty for not doing work. Now, back in 2017 when hustle culture was thriving, maybe that was okay. But today in 2022? Yeah, we’re not doing that anymore.
I feel like as a culture we’re officially embracing rest and relaxation as an important part of life. A necessity. That means more time for reading. And thank goodness I’m not in grad school anymore, because I can be a part of that movement. Back in 2017, when I wrote “Confessions of a Slow Reader,” I wrote that every time I sat down to read, I felt guilty about all of the things I could be doing instead. That was 100% grad school and hustle culture talking to me. And I’m trying to silence those voices now.
Quick disclaimer: I know that grad school is a rewarding and worthwhile experience in many ways. But the sad truth is work culture can be toxic and create this voice in your head that tells you you should be working all the time. That’s the part of grad school that I look back on without any fondness. And if you are in a work culture that’s also making you feel that way, QUIT YOUR JOB! Or at the very least, just say no to work sometimes. Read instead.
3. Audiobooks, Audiobooks, Audiobooks
Just because I’m making time for rest and relaxation as much as possible doesn’t mean I’ve completely given up on getting things done. Old habits die hard, and I still keep busy I’d say about 98% of the time. So how do I read when I’m running around doing 500 other things? Audiobooks. In 2022, half of my reading is all audiobooks.
And you want to know another secret from those of us who read quickly? I speed up my audiobooks to 2x speed. “Now, Emily,” you might be saying. “How are you still enjoying an audiobook when you’re listening to it that fast?” Well, let me counter by arguing that if you were reading a book on the page, you’d probably read it much faster than the audiobook narrator is reading it to you. So by speeding it up to 2x speed, I’m reading it at about the pace I would be reading if I was reading a hard copy of the book. I also slowly ramp up to 2x so that it doesn’t feel jarringly fast. So we’ll start at, like, 1.25. Then after a while bump up to 1.5. You get the idea.
If the idea of speeding up audiobooks is still appalling to you, then don’t do it. But now I’ve done it for so long that normal reading speeds sound sluggishly slow to me. I can’t turn back.
4. Oh Yeah, the Pandemic
I guess I can’t really talk about changes between 2017 to 2022 without acknowledging one of the most obvious differences: the pandemic. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, I finally made it to 50 books a year in all three of those years. But then suddenly in 2020, I read 54 books. Then in 2021, I read 100 books. What changed the most in those years? Welp, I was home a lot.
A lot of people’s reading habits have changed because of the pandemic. Some of us are reading more, some of us are reading less. But because the pandemic meant major lifestyle changes for most of us, of course our reading changed as well.
My reading life has changed for all sorts of reasons over the past five years. I look back at who I was in 2017, and I’m sad that I had so much shame about my reading and my low yearly book count back then. That person was going through a lot and had to prioritize other things. And I don’t think I’m a better person now than I was then because I’m reading more.
And this goes for you too. If you’re reading more now than you were five years ago, great! If not, that’s okay too. For us readers, the amount of time and energy we can dedicate to reading will likely ebb and flow throughout our lifetimes. Let’s just try to enjoy the time we do have for reading, and let’s stop apologizing for not reading more. If you want to try to read more, go for it! If you don’t meet your goals, give yourself grace.
The only person judging us is ourselves.