Our Reading Lives

Raising My Standards In Books Scared Me Off Reading

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Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

Recently, I wrote about quitting 3-star reads. I’ve long ago stopped reading 1- or 2-star books, DNFing if I feel like I’m disliking the story, but I wanted to go a step beyond that. I was tired of slogging through books because, well, there’s nothing wrong with the story. It’s fine! There are even parts that I like! I’m just not loving it. I realized that pushing through books I’m not engrossed in slowed down my reading, so I pledged to start DNFing any books that I wasn’t actively loving. Life’s too short to for books I’m not passionate about!

In the weeks since writing that post, I…have not read a single book. I DNFed both the book I was reading and the audiobook I was listening to. They were both fine, but I didn’t love them. I surveyed my TBR stacks with trepidation. Usually, while reading for the All the Books podcast, for instance, I’d pick out some books that came out that week that looked interesting, and I’d read those selections — unless I was disliking the book, then I’d look for alternatives.

With this new approach to reading, I began to worry: what if I started reading these selections and none of them grabbed me? How many alternatives would I have to find? How far should I read into a book before making the call? What if I just keep trying books and rejecting them, not landing on a book that immediately pulls me in?

Each spine in those teetering stacks balanced on my dresser (the “immediate” TBR that overflows from my shelves) began to feel like a project, a daunting task. Starting a book was a test: would I be able to stick to my new standards, or would I end up reading just okay books again? And if I did stick to them, which books would pass this bar?

Instead of cracking one open to see, I shied away from the notion completely. I drifted aimlessly in that strange space between finishing a book and starting a new one. I nurtured my obsession with the TV show Ted Lasso. That obsession lead me to fan fiction, and suddenly I was reading many thousands of words every night — they just weren’t from books.

It took me a while to realize what was happening, especially because it is a ridiculous problem to have, and something I have done entirely to myself. Still, this project was meant to make me fall in love with reading again. I began it with the intentions of remembering what it’s like to read a book that you fall into, that absorbs you completely. Making those books a priority, I figured, would make me read far more than I have been lately. Instead, I stopped reading altogether.

Once I figured out the weird game I was playing with myself, I took a step back. I organized the TBR piles to be a little less intimidating. I gave myself permission to ignore the books I “should” be reading for now, the ones with deadlines, and instead finally started a library book that’s been languishing despite the fact that I excitedly put it on hold months ago.

I was relieved to find myself actually reading it, carving out some of my fanfic time to for the latest volume in a graphic novel series that always makes me smile (The Adventure Zone by the McElroys). It’s definitely looking like at least a 4-star read so far.

As for my disavowal of 3-star reads? I haven’t made up my mind. On the one hand, there are so my brain-explodingly brilliant books out there that I haven’t gotten to yet that the idea of slowly meandering through “pretty good” or “okay” books seems ridiculous. On the other hand, having to pronounce a book Worthy of My Time makes me less excited about starting a new one: there’s too much pressure to immediately judge it.

I imagine this will be a longterm project, figuring out how to balance these two sides of my reading tastes. Admittedly, I am overthinking this. But when your life is built on a foundation of books, it’s hard not to.