Yesterday, I was standing in front of my desk, piled high with books I had checked out from the library or received for review, trying to decide what to read next. I shifted from foot to foot and gave myself a pep talk. “Pretend you are a normal reader. You’re just picking whatever book looks interesting. You can read whatever you want.”
You’re probably wondering how I got here. Why am I not a normal reader? What does picking out something to read feel like such an intimidating task that I need to psych myself up and put myself in the right headspace? Well, we start with a kid who loves reading, and we end with an adult who has built their life around books to the extent that reading has become a minefield of expectations and guilt.
It all started with a book blog, which was supposed to just be fun. I was going to record everything I read and share it with people. But then I had a much better idea: I could create a book blog just for bi and lesbian books, since that’s what I wanted to read more of. I could talk about queer women books with people! How fun.
And when I started the blog, something miraculous happened: people started giving me free books. They were self-published ebooks sent from the author, but free books are free books! And well, if someone is going to write a sapphic book (still a rarity back then) and send it to me, the least I could do was read and review it. Besides, now I had a blog to maintain, which meant new content, which meant I needed to be reading more (bi and lesbian) books.
That’s when things started to go off the rails. Because suddenly, there was stress and guilt involved. When you have to read a book, it starts to lose its shine, and those ebooks started to pile up. I could no longer read every book I was sent, so I stopped promising that. Eventually, I started adding more reviewers to my team: they got access to these books for review, and I got additional content for the blog.
Somehow, though, I had managed to pile up more obligations while getting rid of those old ones. I was starting to get more books for review that I was really excited about, and even the occasional ARC (advanced reader copy) in the mail. I was reading more than ever, but my TBR pile grew even faster. And then, of course, I had to start a BookTube channel, because that looked like fun, which meant more content, which meant I needed to read more books. And then Book Riot was looking for more contributors, so I had to apply, and then I had to be producing enough bookish content for three platforms, and it’s hard to do that without reading more…
Meanwhile, my interest in reading — despite being surrounded by books I was excited about all the time — was beginning to wane. No matter how much I read, I was always behind. I didn’t want to read sapphic books, even though that’s what I most enjoyed reading, because that meant I had to write a review for it. But I didn’t want to read non-sapphic books, because what was the point?
That’s also about the time I realized that my reading was far too white, and I should really diversify it more, which led me down spreadsheet rabbit holes of planning the ideal TBR. Diversifying my reading also introduced me to so many incredible new-to-me authors, adding even more to my TBR list.
Then I got the opportunity to co-host All the Books, which sounded amazing, but that meant reading four books every month that were out on the first Tuesday of the following month. That was already almost all my reading in a month, which left very little room for the ARCs I had accepted, and the other new releases I was excited about, and — oh right — all the books I wanted to read that weren’t new releases.
Now, trying to decide what to read next looks like I’m trying to crack some elaborate mathematical equation. I’m factoring in how close the release date is, whether it’s out on the first Tuesday of the month, whether I can cover it on the Lesbrary, how diverse my reading has been lately, how long it will likely take me to read it, when my library due dates are and whether they’re likely to have holds (which means they can’t be renewed) — oh, and whether I feel like reading it right then, I suppose.
To be clear, and I think this should be obvious, I love the bookish internet. Working for Book Riot is beyond a dream job for me — I couldn’t have even imagined this as a possibility when I was younger. Getting to talk about books, especially queer books, with other readers is amazing. I love connecting people to their new favorite book. It’s why I’m doing all this, after all.
But somehow, my dedication to the bookish internet has been matched with a decline in my enjoyment of reading. Reading is tied up with guilt and obligation: I really should be reading those ARCs I requested, I really shouldn’t be leaving my All the Books reading to the last minute, I really should be reading those books I checked out that have a long hold list — and why did I put them on hold when I have so many books I should be reading?
I’ll be honest: I don’t know how to escape it. I still love reading, of course, but it’s much more fraught than it used to be. It’s rare that I ever drop all the baggage around it and just read purely for enjoyment. I’m not even sure I know how to anymore — which is how I ended up giving myself a TBR pep talk. Because this has been my reading life for more than ten years, I don’t remember the before times — but I suspect it still was filled with library hold guilt.
I’m determined to find a way around it, though, because my books are the foundation of my life. I went all in on books early on, and I have no intentions of changing course now. I just need to find the magic incantation that will get me out of my head, at least some of the time, when I’m reading. Here’s hoping I stumble on it next pep talk.