by Debra Hewitt, author of Chasing Your Dream
Am I reading too much? Is that a silly question? Can anyone read too much? We can watch too much television, play too many video games, eat too much, talk too much, exercise too much, but reading? That's a super good-for-you activity like learning. Who ever said, "You know, lately, I've been worrying that I'm learning too much?"
But I wonder. I'm constantly tempted by free books from my library or for my Kindle, and I seem to have adopted this attitude of mindless consumption. What's next? Must read.
For a couple of years I set pretty ambitious goals on Goodreads for the number of books I wanted to read, but one year I asked myself, "Am I reading too much . . . and writing too little?" Sure, I was reading some great books in my non-stop literary adventures, some of them great models for the kind of books I want to write. But I knew admiring good writing wasn't enough to get me where I wanted to be. I needed to spend time practicing the craft as well. Instead of taking inspiration I was using reading as an excuse and escape--not from an intolerable living situation but from the work I wanted (or said I wanted) to do. So I resolved to read less that year. If writers around the world shuddered at the thought, they seem to have survived. That year I learned to be more discriminating again. I stopped reading about subjects I was only marginally interested in. I gave up the genres that felt like a waste of time. I homed in on my true delights and found more pleasure in my reading again. I was sad to see the list of books read in my Moleskine notebook shrink, but as I looked over the list for the year I saw books I had genuinely enjoyed, books that I felt were a good use of my time.
But there were books on that list I barely remembered, that I felt like I had swallowed whole without tasting. I had a whittled down, curated list, but was I still over-consuming? I had to ask, "Am I reading too much . . . and reflecting too little?" That can be a big problem for voracious readers in part because reading is typically such a solitary experience. If we don't talk to someone about what we read, we're more likely to forget it. I'm sure there are studies that will back me up on that. (I probably read them once and only half-remember.)
But what if we live alone or with people who aren't interested in the kind of reading we are? There are always book clubs, real or online. There are places in life and on the computer where it's possible to connect with other readers. It just takes time away from the next book. That's what stops me. I'd rather move on quickly because there's always a stack waiting on my nightstand, a lengthy queue on my Kindle and glossy unexplored covers beckoning me from bookstores and libraries.
So many books, so little time. I really feel that way. But . . . and this is only a small objection but a valid one . . . I don't want to skim the surface of what I read. I want to dig in. And if I love a book, I want to thank the writer if I can by posting a review. I've already missed my chance to write and thank so many authors who shaped my character and thrilled my imagination as I was growing up. Some of them are gone now, and that saddens me. What writer has touched me who is working today and wondering if her words make any difference to anyone? Can I be the reader who stops to say "thanks"? And can I find the time to do this by giving up something other than reading? Am I . . . cooking too much?