Our Reading Lives

Is It Possible To Be Too Bookish?

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This contemplation on being too bookish was originally published as an exclusive for Book Riot Insiders. Sign up for a free two-week trial and join the club!

Like many reading this, I’ve always been a reader — and I’ve always identified as a reader. I have an extremely distinct memory of a grade school “friend” sitting me down to tell me that I read too much. I was a founding member of the Poets Guild in my high school (oh, the bad poetry! None of which has survived, so don’t even ask), and applied to be on my university’s literary magazine as soon I learned it existed (and submitted more bad poetry, let us never speak of this again). I created a hand-written catalogue of all the books I owned as a teenager, and fought regularly with my mother about how many I should be allowed to have at any given time. I thought nothing of spending an entire day — let alone weekend — reading, and my parents knew that all I wanted for gifts was gift cards to our local bookstore.

I got my first post-college job at a Borders by including in my application that I read 100 books a year, which I knew because I kept notebooks with mini-reviews of every book I read. (If only past-me could have seen the spreadsheets I keep now!) I worked in various bookstores around the country from 2004 to 2015, then got hired at Book Riot, and through it all, I was living my best bookish life. I basically got paid to read! Except not — I got paid to do all the other stuff (stock shelves, clean bathrooms, host events, write posts, run email newsletters) but not for reading time. But who cares, because I’d be reading anyway, right? Right.

But a couple of years ago, there came a moment when I realized that I didn’t know who I was and what I liked outside of books. My entire career and personal life were wrapped up in publishing and books, and it was too much. An embarrassment of riches, absolutely, but a problem nonetheless, and one common to people with “passion” jobs. I felt burnt out, and a little lost. I liked things other than books, surely? Except what? I started looking around.

I had begun running when I moved to New York in 2010 because of a friend who gave me Born To Run (SURPRISE, a book made me do it), and I had kept it up sporadically. So I signed up to run a 5K, and then to volunteer for a marathon. I found that several of my friends were runners, and started talking more about that. I met some people who had nothing to do with publishing and liked books just fine, but were more interested in talking about their favorite places to run — and it was a relief.

a photo from the Philly 10K of a smiling Jenn in running gear, just crossing the finish line; photo credit Jenn Northington

I also learned to cross-stitch when a publishing friend hosted an Easter crafting brunch, so we could — SURPRISE — cross-stitch quotes from books. I started looking around more at craft supplies, gave myself more projects to do. Lots of them were book-related, sure, but it was still time I wasn’t reading, and it gave me new things to get excited about and new ways to spend time. My brain started to relax; cross-stitching is essentially stabbing a piece of cloth with a needle repeatedly according to a pre-determined pattern, and it turns out that that soothes an otherwise hard-to-reach part of said brain.

a photo of a small cross stitch that says "IDK SOMETIMES I LIKE EPIC POETRY, WHATEVER MOM"; photo credit Jenn Northington

I grew up camping, and while there were limited opportunities for that in my broke, urban, no-car-having life, there were parks all around me, and there are also such things as houseplants. So gardening became another hobby, even if it was just making sure I didn’t kill yet another aloe plant immediately. And when I moved away from New York, I found myself a local nonprofit to garden for (cemetery gardening, y’all — it’s a thing!) and met new people, people who were not in the book industry at all. We talked gardening first — and then, surprise!, it often turned out that they loved books too. Recommending books to my gardening friends was fundamentally different than talking books with my book friends, in ways that are hard to identify but easy to feel.

jenn bent over a small cradle grave filled with dirt and bright green foliage; she's weeding and wearing a straw hat, t-shirt, and shorts. photo credit Jenn Northington

It was a relief to find out that I did, in fact, have a personality beyond being A Reader; and I’ve also found (you probably saw this coming) that my non-book hobbies not only dovetail with, but bring me back to books in new and lovely ways. The number of people who sent me links to a recent beekeeping memoir (did I mention, beekeeping is my latest hobby addition? Bees are awesome) makes me feel so seen. There’s a book for every hobby I have (this seems like a good time to mention that Book Riot has a literary cross-stitch book, Lit Stitch), and books will help me find hobbies I don’t even know I need in my life.

But most importantly to me, the time I spend away from books makes me a different reader. I come to them with more brain-space for them, because my hobbies clear out clutter that reading can’t. My hobbies engage me with the world around me, and they give me new contexts and experiences to bring to my reading. Books inspire me, they make me a better citizen and person, and fill a space nothing else can or will ever fill. I take them with me into all my other pursuits — now that I have other pursuits. It’s a beautifully symbiotic relationship. I’ll always be bookish, and everyone knows that’s a huge part of me. I still read over 100 books a year. But now, I know who I am when I’m not reading, and that’s a gift.

Need some new hobby inspiration? Learn how to draw with manga books, maybe pick up a new craft, or get even more bookish with your free time.