As I’ve been writing this blog, I have felt more pressure to read than I normally feel. Usually, any pressure to finish a book in a timely manner comes from my own impatience to move on rather than any feelings of duty toward my myriad readers. (A big thank you to those who do take the time to read!!!) However, I now feel guilty if I don’t update in a reasonable amount of time. An added pressure of writing this blog is the pressure to read “good” or “impressive” literature. I try to read books that interest me as well as books that will challenge me and stretch my reading comfort zone. But sometimes I read something that I really didn’t have much desire to read. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help held no appeal for me, but I decided to read it along with my mom’s book club. And I’m so glad I did! But sometimes, what is considered “good” or “popular” or “a must-read” sounds terrible to me, and I won’t read it. For example, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, one of the most acclaimed books of 2012, sounds awful to me, and there seems to be nothing that will change that. And until recently I have felt incredibly pressure to finish a book no matter what. Honestly, these feelings of pressure and guilt bother me, and though plenty of people have told me it’s ok to not read the “cool” book or not finish a book that you think you should finish, I’ve never really believed them.
Last year, I slogged through Sue Kidd Monk’s The Secret Life of Bees. I know many people who just loved it, and it is certainly a well-written piece of “good” literature. But it didn’t grab me. I forced my way through it, desperately wishing to put it down. Full disclosure: I was reading it to see if it would be a good addition to our English curriculum, so I kind of had to get through the entire book. But I finally decided that if I was having such bad time with it, so would my kids. Nor would I enjoy teaching it. It would be a huge misery fest. This experience is what finally made me start my journey to accepting that I don’t have to finish every single book I read and I don’t have to like every single book considered “good”. I realize that sounds totally cheesy, but it’s true. It really was a process.
Today I came across this quote from British author, Doris Lessing, which further supported my new-found feelings:
“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag–and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or movement. Remember that book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty–and vice versa….Above all, you should know that the fact that you have to spend one year, or two years, on one book, or one author means that you are badly taught–you should have been taught to read your way from one sympathy to another, you should be learning to follow your own intuitive feeling about what you need: that is what you should have been developing, not the way to quote from other people.”
It’s such a freeing approach to reading, isn’t it? And why is it that we need someone to tell us it’s ok not to finish a book or not read a book because we “should”? It’s not that I reject reading lists and recommendations from teachers, family, friends, and websites. We all need a starting point and reference for what is considered good, and there are plenty of fabulous books that I would likely never have read if it hadn’t been for class reading lists (Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, for one. It’s brilliant. Read it.) It’s just that we really shouldn’t be afraid to read what we want to read over what we should read. And what I want to read is different from what you want to read. And if you hate it, don’t waste your time on it…though that would deprive the world of deliciously eviscerating reviews! But ultimately, I just want to say, Thank you, Ms. Lessing, for breaking through the expectations of reading.