Our Reading Lives

My Reading Life Indicates How Stressed I Am

Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

2016 didn’t invent stress. But it did add a whole new layer of stress for me that has increased until exploding into something indefinable during the pandemic. For the first time in my reading life, a thing that had always been an escape for me was suddenly not. I didn’t lose my love for reading, but my relationship with it changed. It absolutely 100% felt like “it’s me and not you,” but it really wasn’t me — it was the overwhelming stress of everything from the pandemic to the constant, unhinged hate. While I finally found my footing again with reading this year, I’ve realized that certain things in my reading life are now indicators for how stressed I am, often as my first flag.

I Can’t Pick A Book

It is the simplest thing to do, and yet I can not. It’s worse than endless streaming scrolling because, in the same way that I open the fridge and can’t find anything to eat, that’s just boredom. This isn’t boredom. This is me wanting desperately to sit down and read a book but not being able to just pick one. I’ll want to read five at the same time and get stuck with indecision as if the choice I make will matter in any way and it has to be the right choice. So I end up not reading anything after staring at my TBR for an hour, or I’ll text a friend my choices and ask them to pick. Half the time I’ll read whatever is chosen but the other half I’ll just stare at their pick, unable to just start the book. And then I’ll see how much time passed where I didn’t do anything and I’ll get frustrated. And then I’ll get frustrated that I’m frustrated.

I Can’t Focus On A Book

I swear I just read a whole page but have no idea who Mark is? It sounds like he’s already been introduced so I should know the answer. Maybe I need to go back a couple of sentences. Nope, try a few paragraphs. Maybe pages? Ah, Mark is an unimportant neighbor who I just wasted time going back to look up. Should I just keep reading and hope all the bits come together at some point or start from the beginning again? Maybe I’ll grab another book…

Having A Narrator In My Ear Makes Me Anxious

I love audiobooks. A well-done audiobook is almost always my first format choice, as it feels like an added immersive level to the book. Yet, when I’m really stressed, instead of the narrator being a friend I’m carrying around reading me a story, they start to feel like a pest whose mouth I’d like to zip shut and demand they play the silent game. Unless I truly hate a narrator’s narration, the only time an audiobook annoys me is when I’m stressed or anxious, and rather than feeling like this great experience, it feels like an intrusion. It’s best to press pause and come back another time. Maybe after some yoga.

I Organize My Reading Rather Than Reading

Maybe the reason I haven’t been able to pick a book is because I need to organize the stack of books on the floor next to my bed. Hmm, my galley shelf could use some reorganizing. I should add the new ones and remove any that have been there so long that I should stop pretending I’m going to read them. Oh, I know: I need to make a list of the books I really want to read and then it’ll be easier to pick my next read. Now I just need to decide whether to make the list on paper, on an iPhone note, or Excel sheet…

I Am Irritated By A Book I Should Be Loving

“It’s not you. It’s me” is a thing I’ve told a book. Yes, I talk to my books in my head like a normal person and no, that is not an indication of stress, it’s just me. In the pandemic — or, actually, since 2016 — I have mastered knowing whether a book is just not for me or whether I, at this very moment, am not for the book. If it’s the latter I know I’m stressed. It’s the only explanation for why I’m in a bad mood while reading a book that I should be dying of laughter while reading. It’s the explanation for why I am super annoyed by a character making a very trivial decision that I would normally not even register past the second it took me to read it. I may even irrationally hate a cover enough to keep me from thinking the book is worth reading. Basically, I will judge that book like it’s on a reality show screaming incoherently at other contestants for no reasons.

I’m Reading Twenty Books At Once

Instead of finishing a book I pick up a new book. I will have multiple books all bookmarked around the 75% mark, which is where, rather than inhale the end, I will suddenly just calmly set it aside and start a brand new book. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat, until I have at least five books at the 75% read mark and then hit the wall of not knowing what book to start next.

I should probably end this with what I do to power through reading anyways, but to be honest, I haven’t been doing that. Instead I’ve realized that it’s okay to have a hard time trying to read because I’m having a hard time with something else. It’s okay to not be okay when things aren’t okay. The books aren’t going anywhere. They are wonderful companions like that.