The guilt… oh, the overwhelming guilt I feel when I place a book on the back burner and don’t get back to it for weeks or months at a time. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I feel awful.
I think it would be safe to say that I have always been an avid reader. In high school, when a novel was assigned to us for a book report, a presentation or a test, I would usually devour the book cover to cover on the Sunday, to ensure the information remained closely in my subconscious for the coming week.
It wasn’t that I was procrastinating, but with my brain processing so much new material from all of my classes, it was the most efficient way for me to ensure I was prepared to answer questions about the story.
The pace at which I learned to read (and to retain) became a wonderful life skill not only for my personal reading pleasure but also for my career, where I often needed to process great amounts of information to generate reports, recommendations, solutions or combinations of all three.
If I had to express a preference, I like to read at a more casual, relaxed pace, where I can truly savour every word, especially when the author’s masterpiece is a tour-de-force in brilliant writing. Savouring a book on a rainy or snowy Sunday, in my favourite chair, sipping a wonderful cup of tea, with the cat snoring next to me is paradise on earth. Still, there are times when regardless of how quickly or how slowly I may start a book, the words just don’t seem to sink in. Why is that?
Over the years, I became aware of the difference between a “light read” and a “heavy read” and how that affects the appropriate timing for introducing a book in one’s life.
During stressful times at work, heavy reads just would not sink in. In most cases, a light read was all that my brain could handle. Still, there were some abundantly stressful times when light reads were a challenge too, as you could likely see glimmers of “no vacancy” signs in my eyes.
When my headspace was heavily cluttered for one reason or another, a story with too many characters or too many intricate details would lose me easily.
A story that seemed to escape editorial quality control might have also thrown me off.
I recall a book that spent so much time setting up the story that I found myself distracted, constantly wondering to myself if this story was ever going to get going. I had to put it on the back burner with the goal of returning to it when time and patience were in generous supply.
When I put a book aside, I actually feel worse when I pick up a different book and am able to read it cover to cover over a weekend. I hope that there is no jealousy among books.
To this point, I have never parted with a book that I put on hold. I just park them with a strong resolve to return to them when the timing is better.
In those moments, I feel awful. But is my guilt justified?
I realize the effort, the blood, sweat, sometimes tears, and the piece of oneself that an artist instills in every work of art. Out of respect for the authors, I truly wish that I could devour every book in a couple of days. That is likely why my empathy runs as deeply as it does if, for whatever reason, a book just doesn’t click with me right away.
I try to reason with myself that personally, as an artist, I realize that not every piece I write is a home run for everyone, and I am OK with that.
I also accept that readers sometimes need to be in a certain frame of mind to welcome a story into their world. I see it in myself that when I am highly curious and tuned in, no amount of distraction can keep me from a book. But that curiosity has its own ebb and flow, and that is the way life goes.
In recognizing these factors and circumstances, I try not to let the respect and admiration I feel for an artist bubble over into a painful, self-inflicted guilt trip.
I hope that other artists see things the same way and won’t begrudge me if I have to step away from their work of art until the ideal mindset comes along, to truly savour every word and to love the experience along the way. To me, that is the best time to be consuming art and to be left with a wonderfully positive and lasting impression.
The beauty is that in retirement, not only have I been able to enjoy more time for reading, but I have been going back to some of the books that I paused along the way and have been reading them with great enthusiasm. The best part is that I finished them, and some of them, surprisingly quickly.
I think it would be fair to say that as readers, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if a book won’t sink in when our lives are at the height of challenge or adversity. To me, it now seems perfectly natural to put it aside until the brain has the capacity to easily absorb a story and to appreciate it at its fullest value.
Isn’t that the point of a good book?
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Have a great day,
2 responses to “My Guilt Trips over Books”
I’ve had the same problem. Your solution is a perfect one.
Good morning Lydia,
Thanks for the feedback and for reassuring me that I am not alone!
My assumption is that when a book doesn’t sink in, it’s a temporary situation. To me, patience and time are the best ways to navigate through.