The year was 2017. I was fresh off reading almost a hundred books in the previous year and raring to go again. My to-read lists on Goodreads and in notebooks and excel spreadsheets were overflowing with entries, most of them likely to be enjoyable. I was taking pride in being called “well-read” by peers, and just about beginning to feel the same way about myself. But I wasn’t happy.
In hindsight, it’s easy to say I made a change in my life because I wasn’t happy, but the truth is I never know if I’m happy or not on a given day. I just am. But I remember clear as day that on a particular day in 2017, I got rid of every single list I had. They were deleted, cast aside, and banished to oblivion. If you asked me why that day, I’d probably say because I could.
Pudge, what you must understand about me is that I am a deeply unhappy person, says a John Green character in Looking for Alaska. I suppose the part of me left buried in his body of work, the part I shamelessly resuscitated while watching the series adaptation of Looking for Alaska for Hulu, would likely refer to himself in a similar fashion. In many ways, it was true and perhaps still is. I’ve enjoyed reading since I picked up the habit at 4 or 5 years old. I’ve read hundreds of books, carried stacks of books home from the school library that the librarian would challenge me I wouldn’t finish by the due date (I always won), and relentlessly pursued books in every shape or form I could find. But on that day in 2017, I felt like I didn’t enjoy reading. That I wasn’t reading for reading’s sake, for enjoyment, for fulfillment, or for entertainment. I felt like I was reading to put numbers on a list- to be able to brag to a Facebook group that I was admin of at the time that I’d actually outread several of them that year, that somehow my being this prolific made me smarter, superior, better than them. And I’d probably get away with saying that I gave up this pursuit out of the goodness of my heart, realizing the poor grasp of reality that I held on so dearly to. Alas, introspection is a boon that comes in trickles to men of moderate privilege like myself, and my boon felt it was enough to let me know that I was exhausted trying to live up to this perception of myself.
And so, it was done. I made a vow to myself that I would read only on my own terms, and that I’d follow a laissez-faire approach to any literary pursuits I follow and live a little vicariously, without the pressures that structures might impose. How do I feel about it 3 years later? There is some wistfulness about the whole “so many books in the world, so little time” shtick- certainly I’ve read fewer and fewer books year-on-year. Of course, surrounding conditions haven’t necessarily enabled literary voracity, but that’s alright because I had no targets, no expectations. Just a world of literature waiting for me to reach out. I don’t think of myself as well-read anymore, but I’ve made peace with it. I enjoyed most of what I’ve read and am finding my way back to establishing a healthy reading habit.
Probably couldn’t have asked for more.