Our Reading Lives

When Your Reading Life Falls Apart

Rebecca Hussey

Staff Writer

Rebecca holds a PhD in English and is a professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. She teaches courses in composition, literature, and the arts. When she’s not reading or grading papers, she’s hanging out with her husband and son and/or riding her bike and/or buying books. She can't get enough of reading and writing about books, so she writes the bookish newsletter "Reading Indie," focusing on small press books and translations. Newsletter: Reading Indie Twitter: @ofbooksandbikes

Has your reading life — all your bookish hopes and dreams and plans — ever completely and utterly fallen apart? One day you’re chugging along with your Goodreads challenge, making your way through your TBR, buying books in the expectation that you will read them soon, posting your bookish pictures on Instagram and Litsy, and then the next day and for many days after that, you’re not reading anything.

All this change might make you feel like a different person. You may wonder who you are. When reading is a part of your identity and then your reading changes, you might not recognize yourself.

This happened to me after the election last November. My first impulse was to think that my reading would stay mostly the same, just with a little more attention to books about politics, society, and activism. But then I found myself reading less and less and spending time online catching up on the news more and more. I began to get more politically involved, attending a few meetings and rallies. I volunteered to be a researcher for a local activist group and spent more time researching the workings of my state government. All I wanted to listen to was political podcasts, in spite of having just started an Audible membership in the hopes of getting more reading in through audiobooks.

This change in focus isn’t necessarily a bad thing — nobody has to be the same kind of reader their entire life — but it is disorienting. The things I cared about one day — reading as many books as possible, keeping up my book blog, writing reviews, participating in bookish social media — I could no longer summon up energy to worry about the next. For the last decade and a half of my adult life, I spent almost every evening reading books and I devoted a lot of time during the day to thinking about what I had just read and what I would read next. But now I’m contemplating the prospect of many evenings in a row doing something entirely different. I may read half as many books this year as I did last year, or even fewer. My blog may go completely neglected and my bookish twitter feed may become entirely political. And now I’m wondering, can I get by reading only an essay or a short story every now and then? Will I be okay taking two or three weeks to read a novel instead of a few days? Will I be just fine, or will I feel like a vital part of me is gone?

The answer is that I don’t know. My life may be heading off in a new direction. Or I may simply be going through a tumultuous but short-lived time and I’ll return to my usual ways before long. I can’t tell. And in the meantime, I’m feeling adrift.

I’m guessing most if not all of you have experienced something similar, whether in response to political upheaval or because of personal life events. It’s a strange feeling, isn’t it, when the events of one day make your feelings toward books completely change? Books have helped me figure out who I am, they have given me a sense of purpose and focus. But my sense of purpose may come from somewhere else in the future. That makes me feel very strange, but I guess it’s going to be okay.