Our current society is a ticking time bomb for guilt. The influx of social media in today’s culture has created a cesspool of guilt that surrounds us 24/7. Let’s be honest. We’ve all looked at that one person’s Facebook or Instagram post and flipped through pictures of their seemingly “perfect life” (Newsflash, no one’s life is perfect no matter how they portray it to the world. We all have some kind of ugly going on behind the pretty pictures, and cheerful updates. That’s just reality) and were consumed by feelings of jealousy, pettiness, or guilt. I’ve been consumed by all three. I’ve been in my car at lunch time, halfway through my work shift. I’m sweaty and hot, and just ran to the store to buy some fresh milk and bread because ours was just past the code date, and maybe a bit on the dry side that morning and saw a post from one of my stay at home mom friends. She is talking about how her and her children made macaroni art all day, and she still had time to bleach her bathrooms, and get a meal ready to go in the crockpot. Immediately I’m irritated and jealous that she has time to bleach down her bathroom on a Monday, but as I sit and stew those little feelings of self doubt and guilt start to sink in to my subconscious. Are my kids as happy as her children are since I work? Will they be as smart in school? Will they grow up to tell their kids that their mom was never home to make macaroni art, and toilet paper bird feeders?
To combat all these feelings of guilt that come with just being human, and being a parent in this day and age, I like to relax with a good book and a hot cup of coffee in the evenings. Reduce the stress of everyday life, and get lost in a sweeping romance, or a heady adventure story. But more and more, I’m finding that not only is my normal everyday life racked with feelings of guilt, but my relaxation time is now being racked with the dreaded “reader’s guilt,” and it seems to be becoming more and more of a problem as time marches on.
Guilt by definition is the “feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy” (Merriam Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guilt). Reading, by comparison is supposed to be something we do out of enjoyment. For me, it’s supposed to be an escape from my hectic lifestyle. A place to put everything else on hold and just savor the moment. But lately, rather than feelings of excitement, as I cozy up under my blanket, with my coffee in hand to dive into the latest book I’m reading, I’m racked with anxiety. Often times the anxiety is caused by simple things like how quickly I can or cannot read compared to others, or the number of books on my never ending TBR, or worst yet, the number of authors I follow on Facebook but haven’t read. Eventually it culminates into this awful feeling, and instead of reading, I push it all away and go binge on Netflix. So what can we, as readers, do to combat this horrible feeling?
- Stay away from the Goodreads goal feature – How many of you, with a show of hands, set yourself up a goodreads goal every January? Don’t worry, my hand is waving in the air too. Better yet, how many of us obsess over that number and the little ticker underneath that states “You are 2 books behind,” or like mine said recently “You are 35 books behind.” As soon as I saw that little note, I panicked. I tried to figure out a way to fit 35 books into my monthly reading. I felt horrific guilt over the fact that I wasn’t going to make my goal for the first time in years. I started looking for books that were short, rather than books I really and truly wanted to read. And then I stopped. Why do I have a goal if it is keeping me from truly reading what I really want to read? I won’t lie. I’ve wanted to reread the Game of Thrones books now for years, and start the Outlander series, but I know that those books will take a lot of time, and negatively impact my goal so I just don’t read them, even though I really want too. And so for 2019, I’m negating my Goodreads goal. I’m going to try to be really happy knowing I’ve enjoyed everything I read, rather than the number of books that I’ve read.
- STOP comparing yourself to other readers – This is a big one for me. I’m horrible about looking at other people’s Goodreads lists for the year and thinking about how pathetic of a reader I am because I’ve only read 100 books to their 200. Believe it or not, I’ve done it with Charli. I’m completely envious of the fact that she’s read twice as many books as me this year. But then I have to stop myself and think about the whys. Listen, no one else lives your life. The good thing about the freedom to choose is that you get to choose what you want to do with YOUR TIME. So if you spend time working around your house instead of reading, that’s fine. Spend the time repaning your bathroom, or cleaning out that closet, or better yet binge watching 12 seasons of your favorite show on Netflix. Do not let the guilt of not being as fast of a reader, or being able to read as much as the next person get in the way of your enjoyment. If you read 1 book, or 1000 books in 2019, you’re doing fine!
- Take back your reading – I read a lot of ARCs this year for different authors, and I’ll be honest, there were some weeks the pressure was intense. These were books that I had been looking forward to for weeks, months, even years and once I had them, I was so high strung from reading on a schedule that I didn’t enjoy the time with the characters like I really should have. So when you sign up for an ARC it’s important to think about a few things. One, think about your personal life that week. Do you know that it’s your busiest week at work, and you already have another ARC to review? Is it the week of an important family event that is going to take you away from home and your reading time? Do you already have a number of ARCs to read that week? I’ve learned the hard way to make sure I really think things through before I sign up for an ARC. In 2019, I’m focusing on making sure that I space out my ARCs so that I can really enjoy them, rather than feeling too many feelings of pressure and guilt.
- Don’t be afraid to DNF a book – This is a hard one for me, but over the past year, I’ve really learned to let a book go if I’m not enjoying it. Why should I stay with something if it’s simply not something I’m enjoying. Once you can get to the point where you can walk away from a book, it’s an incredibly freeing feeling.
The most important thing to remember about reader’s guilt is that you’re not alone. All readers experience it in some way, shape, or form. Perhaps you feel the guilt in reading TOO MUCH and neglecting household duties. Or guilt in not picking up a book in a month because you’re having too much fun hanging out with friends, and enjoying life. However, in all actuality, reader’s guilt is something we do to ourselves and it shouldn’t really be a thing. As readers we need to remember to step back, and think about why we started reading in the first place. Determine what causes the shift from reading for pleasure and just enjoying it, rather than having an overwhelming feeling of “needing” to read for no other reason than not to feel guilty. Remove those guilt triggers, and hopefully we can all become happier readers in 2019!