A few weeks ago, I was watching one of my favorite romantic comedy films for the one-billionth time, He’s Just Not That Into You. Although I have indeed watched this movie an unhealthy amount of times, this time around something struck me. During one particular scene where a character played by Drew Barrymore is walking around a pharmacy, she remarks to her friend (played by Scarlett Johansson), “People don’t meet each other organically anymore.”
She’s referring to the rise of online dating which, back in 2009 when this movie came out, was starting to render in-person communication and contact—at least in terms of romantic relationships—more and more obsolete. Barrymore’s character goes on to say that she misses the days when people had one phone number and one answering machine, and that answering machine housed one cassette tape that either had a message from that guy or it didn’t. And while I can’t say I relate to this struggle when it comes to dating, I can certainly say I relate to it in terms of reading books in the digital age.
Once I started thinking about it, I realized that I don’t really discover books “organically” anymore—nine times out of ten, I will have discovered a book on Goodreads, decide that life is not worth living until I get my hands on this book I just discovered, and wash, rinse, and repeat for the remainder of time. And while I really do love Goodreads and cannot understate its value in terms of discovering books I might never have otherwise come across, it also tends to overwhelm me: I start to add unrealistic numbers of books to my to-read list and I start equating my personal sense of worth and productivity to the amount of books I track on a social media app. I have learned how to tone down that noise by turning off Goodreads and reading what I want, but I’ve also realized that, most of the time, I don’t even know what I want to read without my app to tell me—and back down the rabbit hole I fall.
I often forget that, for some people, reading is merely a leisure activity or a hobby. It’s just something to do for fun when they have time, and when they don’t have time, they just don’t read. Not only is this way of life completely foreign to me, it’s also just not who I am: reading has always been a lifeline for me. If I couldn’t satisfy my never-ending thirst for knowledge or tone down my anxiety by reading books, I don’t know how I could go on living. In other words, I don’t know how to live without books, which on the one hand reminds me of my passion and my sense of self. But on the other, not knowing how to live without books is just as much a curse as it is a blessing. What if you merely just don’t know what to read? What if you really need a book to help you make sense of yourself right now, but you just can’t find it? What if you run out of books? (Every bookworm knows they’ll never run out of books to read, but that still doesn’t eliminate the anxiety of thinking it might happen.)
Author Cecelia Ahern once said that she believes in the magic of books. “I believe that during certain periods in our lives we are drawn to particular books—whether it’s strolling down the aisles of a bookshop with no idea whatsoever of what it is that we want to read and suddenly finding the most perfect, most wonderfully suitable book staring us right in the face. Unblinking. Or a chance meeting with a stranger or friend who recommends a book we would never ordinarily reach for. Books have the ability to find their own way into our lives.”
I try to remind myself of this magic when I start feeling overwhelmed by my reading life, because I can personally confirm that it exists. I know that sometimes, when we are feeling the lowest of lows, when we think that everything is so bad that it will never be good again, a certain book can make its own way into your life and subtly remind you—slowly but surely—that there is hope. Everything will work itself out. A hand, by way of a book, can reach out and touch yours when you need it most. But these are the kinds of books that we can’t always find ourselves—we have to let them find us. It sounds ridiculously cheesy and cliché and sometimes I get so restless I don’t want to believe it myself, but it’s true. It happens. Books do have the ability of finding their own way into our lives, as long as we remain open enough for them to find us.
Lately, after coming in and out of several reading slumps, I’ve been trying to remind myself to remain open to the possibility that the perfect book will make its own way into my life when I need it most. And sometimes that book won’t make its way to me through Goodreads, which I obsessively scroll through every time I get anxious and convince myself that I need to find my next great read that will save my life. Sometimes we have to open ourselves up to letting those books find us organically.
Last week I was at the library, where I had my Goodreads app open as usual, trying to find a list of books I had already meticulously researched at home. But then, out of nowhere, I lost data reception on my phone and couldn’t access my app. I cursed the library, then my phone, and then unsuccessfully tried to connect to their wifi. Now I was suddenly lost—all dressed up and nowhere to go. And that’s when it happened. I just happened to glance up from where I was standing and see a book I’d never heard of before, a book that sounded super interesting and like something I should have already heard of but hadn’t.
Then, the next day, I was at the pharmacy—just like Drew Barrymore—to pick something up when, out of the blue, I found a new book in the magazine section that I had just talked myself out of buying online. So I decided to trust the signs: the one asking me, for the love of God, turn off Goodreads and just let books make their way to you organically sometimes.
We might not always meet each other organically anymore like Drew Barrymore says. But we can at least do our own part to look up, trust the uncertainty, and let life happen.