I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading habits lately. As a kid, I gobbled up books like turkey and mashed potatoes. Sadly, I could probably count on one hand the number of books I’ve read in the last few years that were strictly for fun. As a writer and prospective author, this presents a pretty serious problem.
If I’m not reading for leisure, how can I reasonably ask all those strangers out there to buy my stories?
My lack of recreational reading is certainly not because I don’t enjoy it. Rather, I think it’s just a matter of exhaustion. I’m approaching the end of a second bachelor’s degree after taking a few years to work and “find myself” as the cliché goes. Well… I did. I found a large number of things I was no good at doing, and a few that I could do pretty well. The biggest difficulty is finding employment that uses my gifts, but these opportunities are few and far between.
Some part of these efforts is confounded by the busywork nature of so much of what I’m asked to do. In this, I think the college system has failed miserably. It has almost become an end in itself rather than the means to an end. At one point, higher education aimed to produce informed people capable of producing positive change in their respective spheres of influence. In my experience, it’s become mostly about filling the pockets of a privileged minority. I think of my home university, where we have a football coach that makes well in excess of $1,000,000/yr, while we’ve lost four times as many faculty this year than normal to state budget cuts and the gutting of university departments (see this Seattle Times article).
Mixed priorities? I think so. Yes, I know that a certain amount of the annual budget comes from sports programs, but shouldn’t this be concerning?
I read a tremendous amount—mostly academic material—but I don’t read it with the same enthusiasm that I have when diving into a good piece of fiction. So, to loop around back to the original point…
What will it take to start prioritizing recreational reading? Prior to determining even this, I wonder if recreational reading is worth the time. In a world that increasingly demands perfection and a life defined totally by the work we do, is it even feasible to devote our time to pointless reading?
I’d like to think that there’s still a place for leisure reading, but I’m not so sure. My life would be much poorer if I didn’t have my writing. There’s a kind of beauty in a well-turned phrase or the landscape evoked by a vivid description. I didn’t always appreciate the more traditional arts of sculpture and paint among other forms, but I have learned to do so. To experience a creative work, and the emotions and thoughts that arise from it, is a freeing experience. For a moment in time, we forget our troubles.
Maybe we all need some more of that.