Benefits…of…not…reading? If your first reaction was “that would imply that there are some,” or “I know all of those words, but why is she using them together?” never fear. All will be explained. Here’s a hint: that hyphen is important.
There’s a difference, first of all, between “not reading” and “not-reading.” It may not seem like a big difference at first, and maybe it isn’t all that big of a difference, but, at least for me, it’s an important one. Call it choice. Call it perspective. Call it temporarily taking leave of one’s senses, or being spoiled for choice. Any way you slice it, for a devoted romance reader, in possession of a fully stocked e-reader, a working knowledge of the library’s online borrowing system, entrusted with a copy of one of a dear friend’s favorite book, and access to NetGalley, there really is no plausible reason to not want to dive into the literally endless number of books available at any given moment, but, for some of us, as with yours truly, sometimes the lack of urge hits, and we can be surrounded by books and not want to read any of them.
In the past, I’ve tried various techniques to combat this. Go grab something brand new off the shelves. Pick something that’s garnered rave reviews. Go back and reread a favorite book for the elebenty billionth time. Wander the stacks of library or UBS, in search of books with favorite tropes, settings, or character types, and pounce on the first thing that looks interesting. I’ve even gone in the other direction, and purposely picked up a book I know I’m going to have a hard time getting into, merely to get myself reading, because readers read, don’t they?
Well, they do, most of the time. It’s that other time I’m talking about this week. Before I get too much farther into this, I will say up front that this tale of non-reading does have a happy ending. That means that the period of not-reading is over, and the siren call of bed and blankets now has not one, but several books accompanying it, and, if all goes well, Saturday plans are me, couch, tea, blankey and books. There’s going to be rambling, in case you haven’t figured that out already, but it’s all going someplace good.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced reader’s guilt. Aha. Thought so. Maybe you can’t get into the new “in” setting or author or character type. You don’t hate it, it’s just…not…you. Maybe life went for a walk on the wild side, and there isn’t energy for reading. Maybe a friend loaned you a treasured book, and they want to hear your opinion, which you would love to give, but you…can’t. Maybe you are in the middle of a long term move, and ninety-nine percent of the books you actually own in paper are in a storage unit that is not within walking distance, and all you want to do at the end of a long day, or middle of a sleepless night, or middle of a sleepless night, at the end of a long day, is pet your books, maybe read a few back cover blurbs, or even hug a particular favorite,and whisper to it, the single word, “soon.”
Whatever the case, that’s not possible. None of the books on hand are doing it for you, and any e-reader time is spent scrolling through titles you own or can borrow, and all you know is not that, not that, not that, lather, rinse, repeat. What’s a reader to do, in that case? In my case, step away from the books. Or lack of books. Or e-reader. Fill in the blank with your preferred form here. Instead of bashing your head against a wall (not good for head or wall) trying to get into reading, sometimes it helps to take the opposite approach. Binge watch a TV series, play a game to completion, spend more time with a hobby, new or old, or merely take some time to do what our family calls white space, which is, literally, lying somewhere comfy and doing nothing. Sometimes, a brain gets tired and crowded, and could use some airing out.
It’s during this airing out that some interesting things can happen. Not-reading books often leads to thinking about why one is in a period of not-reading, and the answers to why usually come about when we’re not chasing them. Feel the space where the reading usually is, and see what that’s like. This time, in my case, it was that I missed, sorely, the feel of a paperback, that I owned, in my hands. Not something new and glossy, but a new-to-me book, with a certain patina to it, a history of its own that was already there before I came along. Also, something I would not feel too bad about dropping in the tub, if such a thing were to happen.
That’s when the not-reading did its job. I made a special trip to a storage unit, clambered up on the stepstool, and went for the first box of books I could reach. My criteria were few: I would get no fewer than three books (to combat the “oh great, I got one book out of storage, and it was the wrong book, oh woe” effect) and no more than five (so as not to be spoiled for choice) and I had to be able to name at least one specific reason that I had picked that particular book when I first acquired it. The only book a well known author wrote in an era I love? Strong memories of reviews that mentioned a deeply emotional plot? A favorite author’s book I somehow missed the first time around, and figured it was too late now? All good reasons. Those reasons remind me why I love reading (and writing) as much as I do, and what kinds of stories get my motor running. It’s important to get back in touch with that, sometimes.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you ever have periods of not-reading? Are they intentional, or do they kind of happen on their own? What’s the best and worst thing about them? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.