Why I Read

Today, I mentioned to my journalism students that I finished my 38th book of the year last night. Their heads whipped around in amazement.

“38 BOOKS?!”

“How do you even find that many books that you’re interested in?”

“I don’t have the time to read one book, much less 38!”

“Why aren’t our tests graded faster if you have all this free time?”

Ok, that last one is a fair point. (Sorry, kids.) The truth is… I’m not sure I have the answers to all of their questions. No, they probably don’t have enough time to read books for fun. With all of their extracurriculars, I’m frankly surprised they find the time to do the homework I assign them. However, finding books has never been a problem for me. I regularly quit books I’m not enjoying, but there’s not many books I don’t finish.

The truth is that, while I’ve always loved reading, this is the first time I’ve intentionally set time aside to read. Before this year, I would lose myself in a book, finish it in a day or two, then not pick up another book for days or weeks. I started my book club 5 years ago, but for a while, that one book was the only book I’d read in a month. I’ve gone through terrible slumps where I went months without reading.

So what changed?

I changed. In January, I started going to therapy. 2016 was a rough year, and I needed help to process everything I was dealing with at the time. Through therapy and a lot of soul-searching, I worked on getting rid of the things that didn’t help me become stronger (hello, mindless games on the iPad), and worked on committing time and energy to things that bring me joy.

And reading was truly my first love. (Ok… maybe second, but only because I put on ballet slippers before I could speak complete sentences.)

So this year, instead of mindlessly watching DIY shows (they were just too real when we were sitting in construction dust in our living room) or playing Match-3 games on my iPad, I picked up a book. And when I finished that book, I wanted to pick up another.

In an effort to bulk up my bookshelf, I committed myself to buying one book a month (don’t tell my husband), but then my mom gave me a gift subscription to Book of the Month Club, which was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten from her (and she gave me LIFE).

I also committed myself to reading every book club choice this year (and I’ve only missed one so far, because Gone with the Wind…) and I joined a challenge that I haven’t told many people about because my fear of failing at it is real. My Goodreads goal for the year when I set it in January was 30 books. I’m now at 38 for the year, but this (scary, seemingly unattainable) challenge is requiring 52. So far, I’m only 2 books behind (again, I’m looking at you, Gone with the Wind).

The title of this post is “Why I Read”, and I guess I haven’t really answered that question. Maybe because the answers are so broad and so specific at the same time.

I read to gain new perspectives. I am a creature of habit and a lover of comfort. In my real life, I do not like to be pushed outside of my comfort zone. But through books, I see the world differently. I try to be empathetic, and I credit my empathy to my love of reading. Reading about Malala‘s scary run-in with the Taliban, or Ove‘s experiences after losing his wife, or from the point of view of teenagers with mental and physical disabilities… all of those characters expose me to world views so unlike my own, and, if the author is good, I’m able to walk a mile or two in their shoes, and come out the other side feeling more loving toward my fellow man.

I read to escape. We all have our escapes, right? For some people, it’s a big glass of wine at the end of the day. For others, it’s video games with friends. For me, it’s reading. I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, and, simply put, reading gets me out of my head. It stops my mind from cycling through all of the things that could go wrong and all of the things I said the wrong way and all of the things I’ve messed up on and all of the things I could possibly mess up in the future, and it sets me down in an imaginary world where things get better. And if they don’t get better (ahem, John Green), I can ugly cry with the characters and release some of that pent up emotion.

So… I find the time to read because it is important to me, for my mental health and my personal views on life, and also because it’s just one of my favorite ways to spend my time. I used to feel guilt when I’d choose reading alone over other (more social) activities, but, in an effort to be true to myself, I’ve come to know that sitting in this red chair with my pup on my lap and a book in hand is really my favorite way to spend a Saturday night.

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