Our Reading Lives

Confessions of a Slow Reader

Emily Martin

Contributing Editor

Emily has a PhD in English from the University of Southern Mississippi, MS, and she has an MFA in Creative Writing from GCSU in Milledgeville, GA, home of Flannery O’Connor. She spends her free time reading, watching horror movies and musicals, cuddling cats, Instagramming pictures of cats, and blogging/podcasting about books with the ladies over at #BookSquadGoals (www.booksquadgoals.com). She can be reached at emily.ecm@gmail.com.

This is a guest post from Emily Martic. Emily is currently an English PhD student at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS, and she has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, GA, home of Flannery O’Connor. She spends her free time reading, watching horror movies and musicals, cuddling cats, Instagramming pictures of cats, and blogging/podcasting about books with the ladies over at #BookSquadGoals (https://www.booksquad.ink). Follow her on Twitter  @booksquadgoals.

readingI have a hard time admitting this, but here it goes. I’m a slow reader. Every year I set a challenge for myself on Goodreads to read fifty books by the end of the year, and every year I fail.

As a lover of books, it shames me to admit this, and whenever someone sees me with a book and says something to me like, “Wow, you’re still reading that same book,” I feel my muscles tense as I go on the defensive. I’ll say, “It’s a pretty long book,” or, “I’m just trying to savor it,” or, “I’ve had a lot of school work to do.”

But here’s the thing. People who are not slow readers will tear through books in spite of all of those things. It’s time for me to just admit that I am a slow reader, stop making excuses, and proceed accordingly.

It’s difficult being a slow reader who loves books. My shelves are stacked with books I’m dying to read, but it takes me weeks to get through one. In my literature classes in grad school, I’m envious of my classmates who tear through 500+ page books in a week while also reading for other classes and somehow also finding time for pleasure reading. Who are these people? How have they come to have these superpowers? Where can I get me some of them?

In my distress over my slow reading habits, I’ve collected many words of advice from Booktube channels and blogs, all of which are great pointers for some types of readers and maybe not so great for others. More than making me a faster reader, however, learning about others’ reading habits gave me insight into why I read at such a frustratingly slow pace. I share my deepest shame with the world now, hoping that my slow reading brethren might relate to these hang-ups:

The Internet. So much has been written about the Internet and how it’s changing the way we think. For those like me who are Internet addicts, it’s changing the way we read. I want to interact with a book in the same way I’m able to interact with the Internet. If something interesting happens in a book, I think of something I’d like to look up online. I want books to be the same endless rabbit hole of information that the Internet is. I get lost in the hole, and it takes me a while to come back. This problem gets even worse when you factor in my phone, which is accessible to me at all times. I know I should stop fidgeting with it, but that’s easier said than done.

Stress. There’s always something else I should be doing other than reading. When I sit down to read a book, it’s hard to turn my brain off and remember that reading is an essential part of my life that needs to be tended to regularly, just like food or exercise. I feel guilty when I’m relaxing in a chair and reading a book because sometimes it seems too fun to be important.

Anxiety. Like a lot of adults in the 21st century, I suffer from anxiety. I take medication for this, which helps, but I still sometimes have trouble focusing on one thing for an extended period of time because my brain won’t let me. To a certain extent, that’s beyond my control, but if I still want to get my reading done in a timely manner, I’ve learned that alternating between an actual books and audiobooks gets the job done. When I start getting fidgety, I switch to the audiobook and go for a run or do the dishes. I’m still processing the information like I would if I read the words on the page, but I’m creating busy work for my body so I can focus. I’m able to get more from the book by reading it this way a lot of the time.

This is the point in this article where I wanted to defend my slow reading habits, to remind everyone that it’s about the quality of your reading life rather than the quantity of books you read. I get told that all the time, anyway. But I don’t know if I believe that anymore. That would be the old me talking, the me who was not entirely honest with herself about her slow reading problem. In reality, I cannot think of many things that are more rewarding and emotionally fulfilling than finishing a good book, the way it feels to be on those last few pages, to feel your excitement build as you get closer to that last page. I imagine fast readers get that feeling throughout the entire book rather than just at the end. I’d like to feel that too.

I’m trying to be better. I’m making reading a priority. I’m creating deadlines for myself because my brain responds to deadlines and tricks my brain into believing that reading is as important as other work. Joining a couple of book clubs really helped with this, because I’m a bad book clubber if I come to a meeting unprepared. I’m reminding myself that audiobooks count, and often my most enjoyable reading experiences are with audiobooks. And that’s just as valuable. I’m putting my phone down every now and then. Well, trying to put my phone down more. Okay, I’m still really bad about checking my phone a lot while I’m reading. I’m a work in progress.

I’m optimistic. I am thirty-three books into my fifty books for the year, and I think I might make it this time. If you’re okay with being a slow reader, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But for a lot of us bibliophiles, we always want to be reading more. My advice to my fellow slow readers is this: admit your weaknesses and do whatever you have to do to trick your bad habits into succumbing to more reading.