When I meet new people, and the conversation turns to what I do for work, I invariably get the same sort of response. “Oh, it must be wonderful to read for a living.” And it is. Except that sometimes it is not.
Leaving aside that it’s not really what I spend my daytime hours doing—those are reserved for teaching, planning, collaborating, collection-building, program administration, and more—there’s an even bigger issue.
Lately, I haven’t enjoyed reading.
Yes, you read that correctly.
It has become a bit of a chore. The stack of books to-be-read can be overwhelming, and I find myself saying, “I have to” as opposed to “I want to” when it comes to picking up my next read.
There are lists of must-reads, award nominees and books I should read so that I can speak to their greatness with my students. There are clever picture books, nicely predictable chapter books for young readers and more than one new dystopian YA novel in my stack. There are professional titles meant to inspire and challenge, plenty of news on which to stay abreast and blog posts that I’ve bookmarked.
Honestly, sometimes it makes me want to turn on a mindless movie and mentally check out.
And then, with a few blissful hours available during Winter Break, I snuggled up with a grown-up novel—“Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. Typically a very fast reader (job related hazard; so much to get through and not enough time), I found myself drawn to a slower pace. I wanted to savor each and every word, to soak up the lyrical language and marvel at Owens’ craft. I didn’t want to skim this one, I wanted to dive in deep.
As I turned each page, I found myself wishing for just a little more time, wanting to stay up for just one more chapter and when I closed the book after the final chapter, I was more than a little sad. I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience of immersing myself in that world for a while. I wanted to feel that way again.
In similar fashion, I dug into Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale” and “The Great Alone.” I grabbed Ruth Ware’s “The Death of Mrs. Westaway.” With each subsequent novel, I found myself making an effort to be in tune with my own thinking. I was predicting, questioning, marveling at the author’s word choice. I shifted perception about characters and took time to let those ideas tumble about in my head.
My renewed awareness of my own metacognition deepened my joy and enhanced the experience. I found my bliss by digging deep in texts, slowing down to savor them, reading materials at my own level and of my own choosing. I had tapped into the experience that we strive to provide for our students: reading something wonderful, then wanting more of that.
Sometime in November, I stumbled upon a fantastic article by Pernille Ripp: On Reader Identity and Its Importance, which was originally published in 2018. In that article, Ripp mentions a shift in her conferring with young readers. Instead of setting reading goals for her students, she asks young ones: “What are you working on as a reader?”
What if I asked that question of myself? What would I like to work on as a reader? How can I grow and evolve and become stronger as a reader? For me, it comes down to giving myself permission to find a bit of balance. Sure, I need to continue to read middle grade fiction, the grossest nonfiction I can find (trust me, there’s a readership for that in elementary school) and push myself to read genres I typically don’t. But there needs to be time allotted for grown-up novels, memoirs of inspirational people and the occasional piece of satire.
I also need to give myself leeway to abandon books from time to time. Life is too short to waste time reading something that brings zero joy. If I give a title the old college try, and I can’t find a foothold, then it has to be okay to set it aside. And I can be honest with kids about that. After all, finishing every book really shouldn’t be the end goal. Enjoying them is. And what one reader loves may not be a great fit for another.
I’m absolutely convinced that practicing this particular brand of self-care will make me a better librarian, a more in-tune teacher, someone whose love of reading is infectious.
Renewed and recharged near the end of Winter Break, I decided to pick up a book or two from the stack I had brought home from school. The first was a (super-creepy) ghost story, “The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle” by Janet S. Fox. Not my usual genre, but definitely a hot commodity with the upper elementary school set. It was written by a new-to-me author, and I enjoyed her writing style, and I found myself questioning and predicting, synthesizing and analyzing as I turned each page.
My second read wasn’t nearly as successful. It was a well-reviewed middle grade novel, one that has been checked out over a dozen times in the couple of years it has been on the shelf. It’s even won a couple of awards, but it didn’t hook me. I gave it a few chapters, then guiltlessly set it aside. Maybe I’ll try it again one day if a random kid inspires me to give it another whirl with their own love for it. Maybe I won’t. Either way, that’s fine.
Next, I grabbed a realistic fiction title “My Life with the Liars” by Caela Carter. I was hooked from the first chapter, and I looked forward to the moments when I could spend a few more minutes unraveling the story.
I set aside an afternoon to take in Jason Reynolds’ “For Everyone,” finding myself once again intrigued by his ability to get right to the heart of things with just a few words.
As the stack of books I brought home to read became a stack of books I’ve actually read (or abandoned), it felt so good. And the next time someone suggests that it must be amazing to read books for a living, I’ll smile and nod.
I have rekindled my love of a good book.