Reading is a habit that I’ve been trying to build for years. Frequently, I curate a list of dignified, intellectual and timeless books to read, including the likes of Jane Austen, Malcom Gladwell and Stephen Hawking, but, despite my best efforts, I never end up reading a single book on the list!
This week, I started reading Normal People by Sally Rooney on a friend’s recommendation, and I finished the whole book in 3 days. It’s definitely a book with critical acclaim, but it isn’t a classic in the leagues of Pride and Prejudice. Despite that, being able to read it with such enjoyment was reassuring to me, as I realised that I still had my love for reading, I just hadn’t found the right book.
This reminded me of a lesson I learnt a while ago, which is that we excessively romanticise reading. Most people understand that reading is something fundamentally good. It’s excellent at growing our intellectual capacity, and it is a habit of many successful people. That being said, many people (including myself) struggle to read habitually. I find that I feel compelled to read the most intellectual books - classics, poetry & critically acclaimed titles - and that reading anything else is a waste of time. I tend to treat books as objects of worship: I never doggy ear my pages, always protect my book covers and never write or scribble in the pages.
I’ve found that these ideas contribute to making reading inaccessible. When I apply so many mental constraints to what books I should read, or how I should read them, I stop myself from truly enjoying reading for the sake of reading.
Reading Normal People this week has helped me rediscover my enjoyment of reading, and has reminded me of these lessons. I’m going to purposely read books that I enjoy, rather than forcing myself to read books simply because of their critical acclaim.
I hope that this will allow me to rebuild the habit of reading based on enjoyment and discipline, rather than holding myself up to a ridiculous standard.
If you want to read more, put away the Dostoyevsky (for now) and don’t be ashamed to re-read Harry Potter for the 5th time!