As a Hawthorne Books intern, a hopeful future book editor, a person with an English degree, and a self-proclaimed bibliophile, it is embarrassing for me to admit, but I don’t always have time for books. Don’t get me wrong, I always have time for books as an idea, as a conversation topic, as a table decoration, but between my busy work schedule, my social life, and my attempts to go to the gym, I don’t always have time to read them.
I am not proud of this. In fact, more times than I can count, I have been poised with the question ‘what book are you reading?’ and have had to stammer my way through some excuse or lie, while the person opposite of me (who will undoubtedly tell me that they were able to get through five Bible-sized books within the last month) looks at me with contempt. I am one of those people, they think. I can’t quote Joyce, I don’t know Russian literature, and I am currently- gasp!- reading nothing.
I am, on paper, a horrible book-lover.
So a few of months ago when a friend of mine invited me to join a book club she had recently started, I said yes, thinking this would be a great way to force myself into being a better reader. If the pressure of a looming weekly discussion weighed over me, I figured, my sheer desire to seem somewhat intellectual would force the pages to turn. And I was right—for book one. But then book two was slow, and book three was boring, and the author of book four seemed like a jerk…and there I was again, not making time for books. And truth be told, I thought about quitting. I thought, maybe I should just stop going; tell them I am too busy for books.
Give it once last chance, my friend pleaded with me (club attendance was dropping dangerously low, turns out a lot of people don’t have time for books), read at your own pace; don’t worry so much about keeping up. Stop, she told me, making reading a chore.
A chore? A chore?! Had I made reading a chore? Yes. I realized I had. I had made reading (before, and during the book club) into this large looming task. Read something, I would demand of myself, in the same way I told myself to clean the kitchen and start doing daily sit-ups. I had started to put pressure on myself to be well-read, and in the meantime, forgotten how much I truly enjoyed reading.
And so I took her advice. I stuck with the club. And guess what? I hated book five. I got half way through it and gave up. But that’s OK, my friend told me. Reading, she reminded me, is not about the end goal it is about the process.
And she was right. We started the sixth book, Lit by Marry Karr, last week and though I am still horribly behind everyone else in the club and I still can’t quote Joyce, I am starting to remember why I used to make time for reading, why I chose a life and career that involves literature. And this week’s book club was the best yet, I admitted to everyone I am a S-L-O-W reader, I stopped trying to pretend I was full of insight about every passage, and I just let myself enjoy the story, the company, and the wine, without pretense. So what if only can squeeze in a few pages per night while others can down 300? Who cares if I get bored, or distracted, or put it down and never pick it up again? There is no reading police, and there is no such thing as too busy for something you love. Because when I stopped making reading a to-do, it became enjoyable again.
For more on book clubs in Portland, check out this February Oregonian article.