A depressing number of people learn to hate reading in school. Between having to write book reports or give presentations on material, and having to read boring and antiquated books, many people graduate and leave reading behind. But beyond the school doors is a whole new world of reading, one where you get to read for yourself! Instead of avoiding reading, it’s time to embrace that freedom.
We’re brainwashed by social media and peer pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” in every aspect of our lives, including reading. As a result, many of us no longer read for ourselves, or for the pure pleasure of reading. Instead, we read like we’re in a competition. We read what others are reading or what’s on the hot list. Our reading pace is set by external goals on sites like Goodreads. Gotta read the most! FOMO drives us to read stuff we wouldn’t normally choose.
Here’s the thing: We all have a limited amount of time on this earth, and you don’t want to waste it reading things you don’t really want to read. (Beyond what’s required for work/school, of course.) (Also true, you don’t want to spend much of life doing anything you don’t really enjoy. Yeah, you have to do certain things to stay alive and employed but beyond that, doing stuff just because others are doing it isn’t worth it. Chart your own path and no regrets.) Anyway…
It’s time to re-learn how to read for yourself. You probably read for yourself as a child, unless you had unfortunate parents who helicoptered your reading choices. But once school got more complicated and the peer pressure ratcheted up, you may have found yourself reading more for others.
Reading for yourself has no rules. Just read what you like and damn the rest. Still, for those of you who (paradoxically) need rules in order to read for yourself, here they are:
The “Rules” of Reading for Yourself
Read things you like. Not things that are trending or appear in fancy Instagram photos. Not things that appear in celebrity book clubs or on bestseller lists. And not things in “socially acceptable” genres. Exception: Unless you really want to. Reading any of these things is fine, as long as you really want to read them. If you’re only reading them because they’re popular, however, you’re not reading for yourself.
Read at a comfortable pace for yourself, not at some “approved” pace. Sites like Goodreads or Reddit encourage faster reading. Whether it’s through challenges or subtle pressure to consume more books, these sites often treat reading like an Olympic sport. And you get subtly (or overtly) shamed if you can’t keep up. If you’re a fast reader, fine, have at it. But if you naturally read slower, or if you just want to savor the experience, unhook from the online world and read at whatever pace you want. If you read a book a day, month, week, or year, no one really cares except you.
Don’t feel bad about a DNF or re-reading a book. Not all books will appeal to you and it’s not worth struggling through those you hate. Give it a fair chance, move on, and don’t feel badly about it. Similarly, there’s no shame in re-reading your favorites. Some people make you feel like you’re wasting time if you re-read a book. Ignore them. I’ve got books I’ve read probably twenty times and I still love them. If it makes you happy, have at it.
Realize no one cares about genre, length, age group, or if a book has pictures. Who cares if you’re an adult reading YA, or even children’s books? Or a man reading romance. Or a woman reading military thrillers. So what if you prefer graphic novels? Maybe you like short books but everyone around you seems to like doorstoppers. Or vice versa. It doesn’t matter what other people like, or what seems weird. All that matters is that you like what you’re reading. No one but you really cares what you’re reading.
Don’t get hung up on format. Paperbooks, e-books, audiobooks, graphic novels… Format doesn’t matter. No format is “less than” another. The important thing is that you are comfortable with your chosen format(s) and that you can easily understand the material.
Wander the shelves of the store/library instead of sticking to the new release tables. Don’t stick to the popular stuff. Cruise the shelves and see what seems appealing. You might be surprised what you find. Most of my best-loved books were serendipitous finds.
Understand why you’re joining that book club. If you decide to join a book club, understand exactly why you’re doing so. Wanting a social outlet associated with your favorite hobby, liking the choice of reading material, or wanting exposure to different books are all valid reasons for being in a book club. Joining because it’s a cool club, or because you want to be seen reading certain things are not reasons conducive to reading for yourself.
So that’s it. That’s how you find the joy of reading for yourself again. But don’t overcomplicate it. Just read what you like.
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