Our Reading Lives

My Unrealistic Reading Expectations

Every summer, it’s the same thing.

I make a bucket list, either in my head or on paper. In addition to getting to the beach and visiting my favorite ice cream spot, it usually includes an unreasonable amount of books from my TBR pile I hope to get through.

I forget that summer no longer means I’m “out of school” and will have a ton of “free time” on my hands. Still, I always fall into the same trap. There’s a more relaxed atmosphere at work, the days are longer, and it’s usually the time of year I can take a week or two off. Surely, this summer I’ll be able to get through more reading than ever before!

One of my favorite spots to go in summer is the local park. It’s bright, sunny, and a perfect place to relax and get some quality reading done. Every week, as I pack my bag for the park, I go through the same thought process. Here’s an idea of how it goes:

  • I definitely should bring the novel I’m working on. I want to get through a few more chapters at least.
  • Better pack my Kindle too, just in case I can get to that nonfiction book I started months ago and haven’t read since. Or one of the thousands of books I’ve downloaded and haven’t started yet.
  • Oh! My new Time magazine came, I’ll definitely read that.
  • And this New Yorker. 
  • And this Entertainment Weekly.
  • Hmmm, maybe this would be a good time to start that big paperback Presidential biography as well.
  •  Just for good measure, I’ll bring my journal so I can reflect on all of this great reading I’m going to do.

By the time I’m done, my pack feels like I’m going on a week-long backpacking trip. When I actually get to the park, this is what happens:

  • I read a few chapters in my novel.
  • I flip through one of the magazines for a few minutes.
  • I take a nap.
  • I read news stories on my phone.

A similar thing happens on vacations. I pack an obscene amount of reading material, thinking I’ll have all this time to get through it.

I’m not sure why I keep thinking I’ll suddenly read more or faster when I have large stretches of unstructured time. It could be wishful thinking, but the reality is that I’m probably just completely deluded. This really isn’t an argument for choosing to read only one book at a time. I actually think there’s a lot of benefit to varying your reading material and reading multiple things at once.

What I do think I have to do is learn to manage my reading expectations a little better. I need to learn to be okay with reading less than I anticipated. As this summer comes to close, it’s not so much that I’m disappointed that I didn’t get more reading done, just surprised. Again.

Looking back on it, where did all of this supposed reading time go? A lot of it went to other pursuits – writing, and spending time with friends, and exercise, and life in general. I constantly forget that I like to do other things when I have free time in addition to reading. And there’s only so many hours in a day.

None of these things are bad, they just need to be balanced. Although, in fairness, I could probably afford to spend less time on the phone.