Reader’s guilt

Since I can remember, I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of reading material floating in the ether. As early as the third grade I would check out piles of novels from my school’s library, certain I would read each one from cover to cover. I would quickly realize the sheer volume of pages I’d committed myself to and become frantic, starting several books at once and growing even more overwhelmed. I can remember crying to my mom at least once, frustrated I couldn’t read everything.

I continued to consume books at a fast pace for years after, but my interest waned as my school district placed more and more emphasis on its reading program. In high school, the amount of words I read and the required comprehension tests I took were integrated into my English grade.

Sometime after high school, I stopped reading.

It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t consciously decide I was tired of following rows of print with my eyes and silencing the parts of my brain not conducive to the pictures forming in my head. Nevertheless, the desire dropped away. It happened between the relief of not being forced to quickly consume and regurgitate novels and the onslaught of reading required for my college classes.

Now a junior in college, well-adjusted to the reading assignments of upper-level college courses, my appetite for reading has still not returned. In the past three years I’ve read less than five complete novels and started several that I’ve read on and off, but not in a committed way. There’s a weird guilt that comes from abandoning the novel and I haven’t been able to shake it for years.

Slowly, though, I’ve realized journalism has filled that hole. I voraciously consume brief news stories and long form pieces. I spend around 20 hours a week listening to podcasts from NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting and author Malcolm Gladwell. Maybe I haven’t yet been able to finish Their Eyes Were Watching God or The Martian, but I’m no slouch when it comes to the consumption of important and well-researched news media.

It’s my obsession with words that first informed my love of reading and writing. Maybe realizing that journalism, in all its forms, has become a substitute for novels in my life can ease some of the guilt I feel for not tapping into the world’s wealth of literary work often enough. Until I pick up the next book, I can feel a bit better by reminding myself that I haven’t forgotten what it is to be a reader.

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