Our Reading Lives

When Reading Reveals Your Worst Qualities

Maegan Donovan

Staff Writer

Maegan Donovan is a Southern-born, New England transplant raising a daughter with her husband in the Midwest. After earning her M.A. in History from the University of Rhode Island, she moved to Boston, followed by Kansas, Delaware, California and Kansas again. When she's not chasing her toddler (which is nearly always), she's reading, mentally planning European vacations, trying to learn Latin or feeling guilty about neglecting her blog, Lovely Leanings. The only two things guaranteed to be in her purse are a book and a bottle of hot sauce.

This is a guest post from Maegan Donovan. Maegan is an avid reader, a negligent blogger and holds an M.A. in History. She is currently raising a burgeoning reader with her husband and writes about life’s simple joys at Lovely Leanings in her limited spare time.

Impatience. Sarcasm. Unconcealed judgment toward those who chew loudly, drive slowly or wear leggings as pants. These are some of my more obvious shortcomings. We’ve all got them and most of us are aware of them, even if we are not inclined to speak openly about them. But sometimes, it’s harder to uncover our deeper flaws, particularly those of which we may be unaware ourselves.

There is a wise quote from Isaac Watts, in which he instructed, “Acquaint yourself with your own ignorance.” For me, this is where books come in. My lifelong relationship with reading has exposed me to more of my less charming qualities than any ex-boyfriend or outspoken friend ever could.

Like most bibliophiles, I read for a number of reasons. Education. Entertainment. Inspiration. But I also love reading because of the visceral emotion a great book can elicit. I’m no stranger to ugly crying on a train or trying to restrain my laughter while reading a good satire on a plane. Every once in while, a great book provokes a darker reaction that highlights some of my lesser-known weaknesses.

Novelists who narrate on the intricacies of relationships, be it marriage, friendship or otherwise, have been particularly revelatory in my “room for self-improvement” category. Elizabeth Noble’s novels, for instance, thrust readers into a moral hailstorm of themes relating to grief, loss, infidelity and deception. Every time I finish devouring one of her novels, I’m surprised to realize I’m not nearly as sympathetic, forgiving or open-minded as I once believed. Every. Single. Time.

Atul Gawande’s compendium of medical non-fiction never ceases to fill me with shame at not being as grateful as I should be for my health and that of my family. And as much as I hate to admit it, political narratives, particularly those that reinforce my own ideologies, leave me feeling a touch sanctimonious.

And now, the final disadvantage to being a self-proclaimed bibliophile. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t, on occasion, rely upon my extensive book collection and addiction to reading to feel a certain smugness over those who choose television and quick entertainment over books. There, I said it.

My saving grace is that I am now more aware of these flaws and judgments. And given that I never plan to quit reading, books will remain my harshest and most consistent mentor in humility.