One of my favorite summer activities growing up was the reading challenge at the Warren Newport Public Library. To my recollection, you had to read 25 or 50 books over a couple of months and you got a prize at the end. It was always something silly like stickers or a puzzle, but that was never the point — I loved picking out new books and mowing my way through them in the warm idle hours.
I think those summer competitions fueled my love of reading. I’ve always dedicated time to a good fantasy, a thick murder mystery, or a playful romance. In previous blogs I’ve mentioned that being “bookish” became part of my personality. I was the library-girl: a cheaper copy of Rory Gilmore, a discount Hermione Granger, and I really really loved it. I made it so much of my identity I pursued a degree in English Literature.
My husband teases me that my favorite saying is, “Well in the book…”
But somewhere along the way my priorities shifted. I didn’t really want to identify with Rory or Hermione.
Friday nights at my favorite haunt, Barleycorn, replaced cramming for my latest dissection of Beowulf. Sunday brunch trying to spot Henry around town was infinitely more engaging than Louise Erdrich’s latest novel.
Which makes sense. In some ways your 20s are about building friendships, experiencing the world, and making mistakes. They’re also about trying out new parts of your personality. I didn’t want to be this one-dimensional bookish Belle, I wanted to be fun and silly and normal (a truly unattainable thing). So I let my routine reflect what I felt was normal for me to do.
I met up with friends, focused on my career, listened to podcasts, and eventually I realized that I hadn’t dedicated time to reading in years.
Maybe I’d read a magazine, or listened to Michelle Obama’s Becoming, because that’s what our current culture was focused on. I even joined a book club that chose really great books — but I hardly ever read them (sorry guys). I mostly showed up for the champagne and celebrity gossip, though I’ve never failed to voice my opinion on the plot, themes, and allegories.
Sometimes, like a phantom phone vibration, I was alerted to how much I missed it. I’d snuggle into bed while scrolling through my phone, thinking I should have checked out a book from the library. But, that thought would pass with every flick of my finger.
It took the pandemic to bring that spark back to life. To stoke the fire that I’d let die out.
My friend invited me to a “pandemic virtual book club” and we met like clockwork. At first I fell into the same routine of reading the book but being focused on other things —“life”. But as the pandemic wore on and I was forced to look at my priorities, and find what brings me joy, I realized that this book club always found its way to the top of my list. Again and again I’d find enjoyment and peace at an hour spent with a good book. I love the escape, the adventure.
So, I gave myself the space to return to my youthful passion. I gave myself the space to love reading and keep it as my hobby without making it my personality. Space meant commitment. I committed just 5 minutes of reading a day at first. Then I found myself “finding” more time ⸺ 30 minutes before dinner, before bed, during my lunch break. It helped to have a great group to discuss it with.
With every turn of the page I realized that part of who I am never went away. It’s just that my free time changed so much and I didn’t have the tools to realize what my hobbies meant to me.
I also feel more comfortable in owning the things that bring me joy. With the space I’ve given myself to enjoy reading, I’ve also opened up that space for radical self-love. If reading the Throne of Glass novels on a Friday night makes me weird, then I love it and own it. Now I don’t care to spend my time doing things that don’t bring me ultimate joy.
What I’m taking away from this revelation is that true self reflection has led me to prioritizing me. In prioritizing myself, I’ve opened up space in my life for hardbound self-love.