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reading

I Stopped Reading to Say Hello

In October of last year, reading 100 books in 2019 seemed possible if I really pushed myself. Over the years, my annual reading has steadily increased by about ten books, and last year I planned to read eighty. After surpassing this and hitting triple digits, regret—instead of accomplishment—settled in.

The privilege to read for leisure is not lost on me, but something about indulging a personal scorecard felt especially off. The last two months of the year felt like reading to win a marathon rather than reading to learn or enjoy. I skipped my reading journal and seemingly picked books at random. Writing and reflecting became secondary to the act of digesting pages.

Thus, I decided to change my reading practices in 2020. Instead of setting a goal of more books than last year, or an arbitrarily large number of books read, I committed to setting monthly reading limits. Once I read five books in any given month, I would stop reading books altogether and spend the rest of the days writing, reflecting, and reading my growing stack of monthly literary journals.

On January 20th, I finished reading my fifth book of the month. With eleven days to spare, I spent them reflecting on what I read, writing for a few projects, and catching up on music and movies. Unsurprisingly, I chose the five books in January with more intention, and, in turn, I more thoroughly enjoyed all of them. As an introvert and socially anxious individual, I also felt challenged to leave my apartment more often and spend time with people, since books were no longer providing an easy excuse. This article on liking books as a personality convicted me, casting doubt over the trendy motto “I’d rather be reading” I once gleefully ascribed to.

I feel a bit naive for only now realizing the positive effects of limiting my booklist. Because I see reading as an inherent good, I often perceived my annual reading goal as a way to better myself. Along the way, however, I lost sight of what a goal was intended toward. I do not want to read to accumulate data or boast about my stats: I want to read to grow myself, to be a more sensitive being, to know people more deeply.

Seeing personal growth as a data point is a dangerous way to live. We’re encouraged in this capitalistic society to value only what can be numbered and measured. But you and I are complex beings with more depth than can be tracked along a graph or profit margin: any threat to collapse that depth must be consciously refused. I learned a lot in January from one of my five books, Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, which encourages readers to embrace such depths by resisting the demands upon our attention to create content, increase engagement, and drive profits.

I’m still learning how that looks in my life, but making my blog a space to be vulnerable and truthful is one way forward. Years ago, I stopped sharing my teaching experiences and eventually stopped blogging altogether, save for my yearly album lists. I was afraid that what I wrote would not be perfect, and that people would stop reading. This anxiety is rooted in toxic thinking that demands we optimize our content and treat our readers as customers. Quite simply, I want to rid myself of such thinking—of perfectionism, individualism, and capitalism as a value system for living and relating.

As the days stretched out before me and I found myself with more time to reflect, I decided to start recording my learning for the month as a document of my growth and in hopes that I might relate to readers in more meaningful ways. Truthfully, fostering an online community has never been a priority, but some of you are gracious enough to read my thoughts, and I would sincerely like to know you better.

In truth, this blog was never about teaching, but what I was learning from teaching. When I stopped teaching for a time, I felt I had developed a singular online identity, and I could not escape the feeling that I no longer held that identity. Thus, in a way, I no longer existed. But I know that, in Whitman’s words, “I contain multitudes,” and I want to dedicate this blog to the multitudinous manners of learning in my daily life. Consider it one small way of refusing to be reduced to a data point.

If only one person reads this, I want to write for that one person so that we might know each other as more than writer and reader. I have limited certain aspects of my life for too long: I still want to grow alongside you, if you’ll have me.

5 replies on “I Stopped Reading to Say Hello”

I admire you for striving to express yourself and your ideas to others. I too read a lot, books but also newspapers and magazines. The thoughts and ideas of other people have always been of interest to me, and I love to crawl into a book of fiction and embrace fantasy. The human imagination is incredible.

I have always appreciated you reading and talking with me across the net (and letters) throughout the years! There are a handful of journals and magazines I keep up with to learn from more perspectives, and it’s an immensely rewarding experience. I still have the copy of the New York Times you sent me.

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