For most of my life, I considered reading a necessity, something that was essential for a life of learning and balance. While most of this was probably attributed to being in school and having at least some required reading on my plate, there was also the underlying belief that reading was more than just a hobby or a leisure activity but was in fact something I was mandated to do, even if it wasn’t for an assignment.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to read. From tearing through the Harry Potter series as a kid to recently finding Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink, I’ve been lucky enough to have a good, comfortable relationship with reading for most of my life. Add to that my job as a librarian, which does ensure that I have at least some “required reading,” and I have the foundation for incorporating regular reading into my life. Reading was something I viewed in the same category as working out or eating healthy: enjoyable, but also ultimately required for a good life. I prided myself on the books I read and strove to check titles off my TBR list, setting goals for myself per month and per year to ensure that I was accountable.
In her book, Philpott discusses her tendency to seek validation and assurance that she’s doing a good job, a habit I now recognize in myself after working my way through her wonderful book of essays. At the time I read her book, I was deep into a new school year at work as well as taking a full load at graduate school and planning my wedding. I certainly had plenty of things to do with my time, and reading had gotten shoved aside for what I thought were more important tasks. Being a student and librarian meant that, thankfully, reading would never vanish fully from my life, since it’s such an integral part of my work. However, it also meant that I felt guilty for any books I read where I couldn’t immediately see the purpose of doing so.
Reading Philpott’s reflections on happiness, productivity, and perfectionism taught me some fundamental things about myself, but most of all it was her writing about how we can “miss” past or possible versions of ourselves that stuck with me.
Reading had been so core to who I was for so long that I took for granted the ways in which it forced me to slow down and self-reflect. Somewhere along the way of following too many Bookstagrams and putting too many holds in at the library, I realized I had not only lost what made reading essential to me, but had lost touch with myself as well. It sounds overly dramatic, and it probably is, but when you go through life thinking that you enjoy something and are good at it, it can be hard to find yourself feeling disconnected from what once brought you joy.
Throughout my life, reading has given me a way to imagine, empathize, and journey to another place. When I let it move from that to an obligation, I lost some of the relaxing and transformative aspects that had made reading so important to me in the first place. What Philpott’s writing started me on the path to seeing was that it’s possible to miss yourself and to feel separated from something you once enjoyed without even realizing what’s missing.
Giving myself permission to read in unscripted ways opened up the possibility of finding joy in books again and helped me reconnect with a part of myself I thought I had lost. Reading once again became an avenue for exploration and relaxation and I’m happy to say that I’m back to recognizing my reading self once again.