Confession: My biggest shame in life is that I’m a writer who doesn’t read
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This is my absolute deepest, most secret shame… I don’t read.
I know that might be a funny or surprising thing to say considering that I am in recovery and could probably shock even the closest of friends with some of my worst drinking stories (only my partner Adam knows them all), but it’s true.
You see, I love books.
No, seriously, I love love LOVE books. I love the way they smell, I love the way they look, I love holding them, I love collecting them, I love the way they decorate my bookcase, I love that buying them supports another writer, and I love owning them. Seriously, I *love* books!
So what the heck is wrong with me that I don’t read?
I can tell you right now that I have probably owned at least a thousand books in my lifetime. Working as a journalist has allowed me to buy books for cheap, to give them away when I was done with them, to get books for free even, and so much more. When I was really into cooking, I would buy every cookbook I could find (often for $1), and eventually donated them. The same happened when I was really into writing chick lit and YA, books which I eventually gave to my friend who is a teacher.
These days I have stopped buying physical books, and instead switched to ebooks. I thought this was a great switch for me, and even loved it for quite a while. But now I own at least 200 books on my Kindle, most of which I have not actually read.
In fact, as I was doing my taxes last year, I discovered that I spent $1,500 on books. Thanks goodness it’s a tax write-off!
Do you know how many of those books that I bought last year I actually read?
That’s right. Last year, I bought a shitton of books and read absolutely none of them from start to finish… And I feel absolutely horrible about that. I feel guilty, like a loser, like a failed writer, and like a fake.
A common piece of advice that we writers get is that we should be READING ALL THE TIME. It’s a well-known way to learn “the craft” of writing, by simply reading what others do, learning from those that came before you, absorbing their stories and their prose and their sentence structure and… Yeah, all of that.
I don’t disagree with this piece of advice. It’s just I don’t exactly follow it.
Here’s the thing: I don’t get why I don’t follow it considering just how much I truly, truly love books. I love learning about people’s stories, I love fiction and non-fiction and absorbing things about other’s lives. I’ve fallen in love with memoir, and I try to read as much of it as I can while also working on my own memoir, Moscow Chica.
Or at least I want to, in theory. But I don’t read.
Instead, I buy books and then feel guilty because they stay sitting on my shelf, lying on my nightstand, or waiting on my Kindle.
In fact, even my Kindle is a brand-new purchase. Last year, in hopes of reading more, I switched from an iPad to a Kindle. I bought it around the Thanksgiving Day sale on Amazon for a cool $50. I almost bought a fancier, pricier version in hopes that would motivate me further (but I’m really glad I didn’t, because it hasn’t).
I spent hours setting up my Kindle and making it perfect.
All of my books are now in categories, and that makes me SO happy. All of the books I have ever bought in digital form are just happily waiting for me to finally open them, and yet I never do it.
Why is that? What the hell is wrong with me, a writer for the entirety of my 10+ year career and beforehand, that I don’t actually read?
I think I have finally figured it out, actually. The reason behind my oh-so-secret shame as a writer is that I am an extrovert.
Yes, that’s what I said: I am an extrovert and that is why I, a writer who absolutely LOVES books, doesn’t read.
Here’s what typically happens when I sit down to read a book: I read a chapter or two, sometimes more, and then I get antsy and bored. The last time I read a good chunk of my current bookclub book (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, a writer I love and follow), I got through to the next section and then decided to go get a manicure and pedicure.
Sometimes, I start reading and decide that I have to take care of the dishes RIGHT NOW, or that I should be cleaning out the litter box, or that I want to draw, or that I want to catch up with Facebook, or whatever. There’s just always something. Something else I want to be doing that isn’t sitting there and reading. A lot of the times I want to be doing something else that involves other people, which is why I often run off to get a mani-pedi or even put in a movie instead.
In a weird way, reading is too isolating to me.
And I know what you’re going to say: Reading is all about using your imagination! You live in the world of the books! You’re involved with those characters!
Hey, I get that, and I don’t disagree. But at the same time, I am realizing that what reading is missing for me is a more personal connection. When I read, I just hear my own voice in my head and somehow… that’s boring.
I don’t know what to make of this, but I just am not good at reading books.
Here’s the other thing I realized, though: I actually do read. I read constantly. I am also an editor, so I am always reading other people’s writing. And because I am a journalist, I am constantly reading other people’s published articles. I am in a few Facebook groups, where people post their most recent stories, and I am often either saving them to read later (sorry, must be more of the not reading issues) because they’re too long for me at the moment or I’m reading them right then and there.
I am constantly consuming media, really, because I am also always either watching television or listening to Spotify or, my newest thing, listening to podcasts.
I talked about it briefly recently when I confessed that I had some middle-of-the-night issues as a writer, but I have fallen in love HARD with podcasts.
Currently, I’m listening primarily to Dear Sugar Radio (that’s Cheryl Strayed’s podcast), Happier with Gretchen Rubin (another writer I love), Modern Love, Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert (ditto as Cheryl and Gretchen), Quiet: The Power of Introverts with Susan Cain (learning something about my partner, Adam, who is an introvert), and many more.
What I’m finding out as I learn more about myself as a writer and as a person in general is that I need to connect with others in order to “recharge”. That’s the whole extrovert thing. And I guess that reading just isn’t recharging enough for me, but somehow watching television or listening to a podcast is recharging.
Even though in those cases I’m not actually spending time with people, I’m still somehow around people in a weird way. If I’m watching a television show or movie that I like, I’m still learning something or feeling close to someone else (even if they’re a fictional character). And with podcasts… Well, even better!
The reason why I’ve fallen in love with podcasts is because one of the reasons I enjoy reading (and do read a lot of articles, honestly) is to learn things, and podcasts are a great way for me to learn.
I also realized that I enjoy audiobooks, after many, many, MANY years of poking fun at one of my best friends (who also happens to be a journalist) who doesn’t read but instead has been listening to audiobooks for years now. I used to think it was kind of funny that he didn’t read (I even gave him the hashtag #jessedoesntread), but now I realize that audiobooks are AWESOME.
I discovered those a couple of months ago, during my April book club, when I listened to Jurassic Park. Then in May, I listened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now, in June, I am struggling through reading Wild (because I don’t have the audiobook), and it shows.
Perhaps the other reason I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks and podcasts is because I love multi-tasking, and simply “listening” to something (while learning or absorbing whatever it is that I am hearing) is fulfilling… because I can also be doing something else.
I absolutely loved listening to Jurassic Park all day on a Sunday, for instance, while organizing the second bedroom of my house (which has long been on my To Do List). Lately, I’ve been listening to various podcasts while doing laundry and cooking for the week on Sundays. It helps me pass the time and makes me less bored, honestly.
As I grow and mature as a writer and as a person, I am trying to let go of the expectations that I have for myself and the things that make me needlessly guilty.
So today I am confessing that I am a writer who doesn’t read… Or rather, a writer who has found that sitting down and reading a book for hours just isn’t for me because I need more activity and movement and noise in my life. So instead, I am a writer who loves to read… audiobooks and podcasts and articles that don’t take me too long.
I think that this new realization about myself will actually make me a better writer because I will spend less time obsessing or feeling bad that I’m not reading something, and instead do more “reading” with my audiobooks.
I can’t even begin to tell you how great it feels to wake up, turn on my podcasts (or Audible app), and take my shower while “reading”… Maybe more serious writers will completely judge me for this and tell me that I’m not a real writer if I’m not reading at least a book a week, but that just isn’t me. And I’m tired of living up to the expectations of what a writer should be, and instead am just going to be myself. #irinadoesntread