Rethinking my approach to reading

Today’s post is a discussion one where I’ll be talking about my recent reflections on changing the way I approach reading πŸ“–

You can read my previous discussion post How Subjective is the Reading Experience? here and links to previous discussion posts are at the end of this post.

2022 hasn’t been the best reading year for me, I’ve spent most of it forcing myself to read instead of reading for pleasure 😩 But now that I’ve officially finished my masters degree πŸŽ“, I’ve been able to dedicate some time to reflecting on why I’ve been so deflated with reading recently.

I started to seriously read in 2020, and during that time book content creators were a huge inspiration that helped me get back into reading and shaped how I approached reading. But now I’ve realised that the initial model I developed for reading simply doesn’t work for me anymore 🀯

In principle, I’ve always believed that reading should be first and foremost about enjoyment and enrichment, but I’ve been prioritising metrics and quantifying every aspect of my reading experience to the detriment of everything else.

I have a spreadsheet that’s full of graphs πŸ“Š that track how many books I’ve read each month, how many pages I’ve read, what genres I’ve been reading, publication date, the book format (paperback, hardback, ebook etc.), star ratings, the authors gender and the list continues. In some ways, having these insights helps me to manage my reading, to track trends and formulate methods for choosing the next book I should read, but it also hinders my enjoyment of reading.

As much as I get gratification from my reading spreadsheet, quantifying my reading in this way has detracted from my ability to critically engage with and enjoy books in the way I want to.

When I read a book, instead of focusing on reading and enjoying a book in the present, I’m hung up on the fact that I’m 5 books behind my yearly reading goal or that the book is 800 pages and is going to take me longer to read which will impact my numbers

This obsession with metrics has led me to shirk books I really want to read in favour of shorter books, to blast through books quicker than my natural reading pace to tick them off the list, to listen to audiobooks on x2 speed when I’m busy or distracted and unable to actually take in what I’m reading.

I know that I’m not the only reader that suffers from this. In a community where we’re bombarded with monthly wrap ups consisting of 10 books or more, it’s easy to feel inadequate. As creators, there’s also pressure to read as many books as possible to have more material to make new and interesting content. With all of this in mind, it’s not surprising that reading becomes so focused on metrics.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to take a step back from metrics to focus on reconnecting to my authentic love for books πŸ“š

This means being more mindful about the books I choose to read and how I read them. I’m going to prioritise the books I want to read and read them at my natural pace no matter how slow or fast that may be.

My main reading goal from now on will be to find enjoyment, enrichment and contentment in the books I’m reading ☺️

Have you fallen into the same trap of prioritising metrics with reading? Have you felt the pressure of reading more to the detriment of your enjoyment of reading? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear from you on whether you have similar experiences.

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Previous discussion posts


How subjective is the reading experience?

I’ve been enjoying writing discussion posts this year (read my previous discussion post ‘Reading is HARD!’ here) and so I’m back with another. Today’s topic was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend about the way we experience reading.

It was a trippy conversation because it made us both realise that the word “reading” doesn’t really encapsulate the reading experience and it also made us realise how completely different our experiences of reading are 🀯

This got me thinking: what is a ‘reading experience’ and do any of us ever experience the same thing when we read? πŸ€”

Reading is a word that we generally use to refer to the act of reading i.e. perceiving words on a page, deciphering them in our brains, assigning meaning to those words and comprehending that in its entirety. Yet so much more happens when we read.

Some of us will see images, hear voices, experience emotions, develop a sense of place or character, connect deeper to a specific aspect of story or setting or message or critically engage with the text – and these are just some of the things we might experience when reading that go beyond the specific act of reading and understanding the words themselves.

When I say the words ‘reading experience’ this is what I’m referring to; the holistic view of what a reader goes through when they read a book from beginning to end.

This might include what they see/hear in their imagination, the emotions they experience, the thoughts they have, the meanings they attach to themes/characters/plot etc., the importance they place on certain aspects of the book (e.g. setting, characters, tone, plot) and everything in between. Reading experience can be different depending on the book and it can also be impacted by factors such as mood, mental health, location (where we physically are when reading a book) and many more factors.

Each time we read a book we have a reading experience with that book (whether positive or negative or in-between) but we don’t necessarily talk about it much so don’t know how similar our experiences are.

For example: Do we all experience emotion when we read? Do we all see images in our imagination? Do we all feel personally involved with the characters? Do we all subscribe importance to the same aspects of a book? Do we all hear our own voice in our head when we’re reading or the voices of characters or a narrator? These questions and lots more came from the conversation I had with my friend and here are some of the answers we found.

We discovered that we have similar perceptions of characters, seeing characters as vague outlines and not as a three-dimensional beings; we both hear our own voice in our heads, not characters’ or narrators voices; we have different perceptions of settings to the point that when we described the same setting from a book it sounded like we were describing two different places; I connect to mood/tone and she connects to characters; she remembers specific character and plot details, whereas I mostly remember the feeling of a book.

Overall my friend and I realised that despite having so much in common on paper we have very different reading experiences. This reinforced how complex reading is and that it is a holistic experience that encapsulates much more than the opinions we have of a book after we’ve finished reading or how much we enjoyed it.

We often describe reading as “subjective” but tend to reduce that down to meaning people have subjective opinions, which is true, but that subjectivity also encompasses the reading experience and ultimately, that’s what determines how a reader perceives a book they’ve read.

We focus so much on the end result of reading – we want to know someone’s rating, review and concluding thoughts – but in doing that we fail to consider how the subjectivity of their reading experience has coloured their concluding thoughts and feelings.

We don’t rate or review a book based solely on our opinions of that book but also the reading experience we had with the book. And reading experience is defined by that holistic reading experience I described above; it’s what we connect with and how we connect to it.

We connect to different things within a book and process them in completely different ways based on an endless list of personal and circumstantial factors. There may be overlap in the ways we experience reading but overall our reading experiences are always going to be unique and subjective.

That subjectivity and uniqueness attached to the reading experience is why it’s so important for readers to share their reading experiences with each other and why bookish creators provide such valuable content; because each person’s has something fresh to bring to the table about a book.

This topic also reminded me that as a blogger and reviewer I should take the time to dig deeper about what connected or disconnected me from a book throughout the reading experience instead of relying too much on basic overviews or star ratings of the books I’ve read.

Do you think bloggers should talk more about the reading experience? How would you describe your reading experience? Does it vary wildly depending on the book? Do you see images in your head when reading? Do you connect more to tone or setting or characters or something else? Do you hear characters’ voices in your head or just your own? Share in the comments, I’m curious to hear your perspectives! πŸ€“

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Reading is HARD!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a discussion post (read my previous discussion post ‘Book Hype: is it ever worth it?” here) and recently I’ve been struggling with motivation to write, so thought I’d kick back and take it easy with a discussion post. And today, I want to talk about how goddamn hard reading is, because I feel like it’s something we just don’t talk about enough in the book community. Each month book bloggers, YouTubers, TikTokers and Instagrammers share their wrap-ups having typically read 5-15 books, portraying reading as an easy and chill pastime, but there’s a reason why most people I know don’t read regularly: IT’S HARD.

Even for a regular and seasoned reader, reading isn’t easy. It’s an ongoing challenge for me that requires high levels of energy, commitment and planning. It also constantly feels like I’m falling short of my goals and lacking in motivation and consequently not enjoying reading as much as I should. This year in particular has just been so MEH for me so far with reading and has become very challenging because of that. These days I find myself spending more time thinking about difficult reading is than actually reading πŸ˜‚

Generally, reading requires so much time, motivation dedication and attention from a reader over a prolonged period of time. In that way it’s like any other hobby but I feel like reading doesn’t get the same recognition as for example playing a sport does. A sportsperson requires physical strength, skill and stamina, they need to commit to attending practice, strive to continue improving their technique and be mentally resilient. Physical strength aside, on a basic level reading requires all of the same things that playing sports does. Reading is a skill; one that needs to be practiced and honed over time, there are techniques one can develop to support their reading and boy oh boy, does it require a f*ck tonne of mental resilience. So although anybody that’s literate can pick up a book and read that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy or that they’ll retain what they’ve read or even enjoy it, because that’s much harder to achieve than the basic act of reading a text.

There’s little appreciation for how much is required to actually pick up a book every single day, read it, process it, engage with it and retain it. Before someone even reads a book thought has to be given to which book to read, and spoiler alert, there are A LOT of books out there to choose from. We talk about “choice paralysis” on streaming platforms like Netflix, but with books it’s an entirely different level. A quick Google search estimates that there are around 170,000,000 books in the world based on data from 2019 🀯 So even before you’ve attempted to read, the process of just choosing a book can be a challenge!

The proof is in the pudding when it comes to how challenging reading is, because so many (if not all) readers regularly experience reading slumps. There are hundreds of posts and videos online giving book recommendations and general advice on how to avoid slumps (you can read mine here) and the reason for that is because reading is hard. That’s literally the reason why I also did an entire series (check out the Breaking into Books series here) for new readers that focuses on the in-depth processes involved in becoming a regular reader. I know that for me reading slumps happen because I’ve lost energy, motivation and desire to read. That can be triggered by low mental health, being busy, reading a few books that have been duds, being distracted by other stuff (I’m looking at you Heartstopper πŸ˜‚) and a million and one other things. But ultimately it comes down to the fact that (yep, you guessed it) – reading is hard.

This year so far I’ve read 14 books with an average rating of 3.36. It’s been a pretty slow and mediocre reading year so far which has been characterised by a lot of slumps and a general lack of joy in reading or motivation to read. I’ve been trying my hardest to find The Book (you know, the one that’s going to steal my heart and be a glittering 5 star read that pulls me out of my slump and restores my faith in books) and working to stick to my reading routine as best I can but it’s tough πŸ˜”

So I guess the point of this post is to say that no matter how much of a reader you are, how much you’ve read or typically read, whether you’ve been reading for years or have only recently started, if you’re struggling to find motivation to read or to meet reading goals or to just pick out a book to read, know that you’re not alone. Remember that reading is hard; it’s a challenging hobby to have and it requires its own unique skills and mental/emotional determination to make it a part of our daily/weekly lives. It doesn’t just happen and there are going to be times when it feels much harder than others. But no matter how hard reading is, the pleasure of reading is unmatched by anything else and it’s worth enduring and struggling through the slumps and demotivation to find that next magical read πŸ™ŒπŸ»

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Book Hype: is it ever worth it?

It’s been a while since I’ve done a discussion post (read my previous discussion post ‘Reading, Blogging and Mental Health’ here) and there’s a topic that has been on my mind recently that I wanted to chat about: book hype in the book community. As someone that came back to reading only a couple of years ago, I was thrust into the bizarre world of Booktube and engaged in various online bookish communities. Prior to this, my reading consisted of searching the library and browsing bookstores and picking up whatever took my fancy. But in this digital world, I, like most readers, now take the majority of recommendations from online spaces. What I quickly noticed when I joined these online spaces is that certain books would suddenly erupt with popularity and gain traction because creators across all platforms would create content about the books. Books like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, The Song of Achilles, The Poppy War, Six of Crows, Throne of Glass, A Little Life have all been subject to this hype (and still are) and almost every reader will have heard of them regardless of whether they have read them or not. But the question is, are these books ever truly worth the hype they receive and what impact does book hype have on readers?

The answer to that question is: yes and no. I’ve read a lot of books based on hype that I’ve enjoyed and others that were a colossal disappointment. Sometimes I dislike a hyped book precisely because it was hyped. When a book is widely popular and praised, it means that I go into that book with high expectations and therefore increasing the likelihood that it will fail to meet my expectations. Generally though, books that receive hype are hyped for a reason and have genuine merit. Inevitably, that doesn’t mean that they will suit everybody’s tastes because reading is subjective and a lot of the hype surrounding a book often stems from FOMO.

When we see others reading and talking about how incredible a book is, we want to become part of the conversation regardless of whether we like the book or not. Also, when a book explodes with popularity it’s fun to see the varying thoughts and opinions of a large audience of readers which we don’t necessarily get with other less popular books. It’s exciting to be part of the buzz in the community when a book is the talk of the town, but it also creates an unfortunate side effect in the community: echo chambers.

If multiple readers and creators are talking about the same books, those books continue to be recommended and reinforced in all bookish communities at the potential exclusion of other books. Since readers are increasingly likely to take recommendations from online spaces, this also means that the pool of books that people are reading is likely to become more narrow and discussions in the community less diverse.

Personally, I will always take recommendations from others in the community, because I value and trust their opinions and have found some of my favourite books of all time because of those recommendations. However, I do think it’s important to acknowledge that a lot of books that are continously promoted online are often hyped due to external factors (e.g. marketing, algorithms). From a creators POV, the bottom line is that content about popular books will always draw engagement across all platforms and this influences the books that many creators discuss on their platforms. This means that not every popular book is deserving of its hype, instead, certain books gain traction because content creators make content for those books to ensure their content is current and in-keeping with what is going on in the community.

Overall, book hype is like a double edged sword. On the one hand, it helps readers discover lots of new wonderful books and engages lots of readers into exciting discussions. But on the other hand, it creates echo chambers, limiting the breadth and diversity of books being read and recommended in the book community. As a reader and blogger, I’d like to make more of a conscious effort to reach for and explore books that are perhaps lesser known in the bookish world and broaden my horizons.

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Reading, Blogging and Mental Health

Today’s post is a little different from my usual content and is a discussion post around the topic of mental health and how this impacts reading and blogging. I’ll be sharing my personal experiences of mental health and how this has impacted my reading, particularly over the last couple of months. If any of you are also struggling with mental health, know that you’re not alone and you can reach out to me any time. There will also be resources at the end of the post for more mental health information and support ❀️

I, like so many others around the world, have felt the impact of COVID-19. It wasn’t until recently that I recognised how much my mental health has taken a hit because of this second lockdown (which is finally coming to an end, hooray!). Ironically, the thing that helped me to recognise my poor mental health was my reading habits. Usually, I read every day, even if it’s only for half an hour and I average about 7 books a month. This month I’ve read only three books and have gone days and days on end without even picking up a book. This complete lack of motivation and ability to read really highlighted how much of a negative space I was in mentally and emotionally.

During the first lockdown last year, reading was my saviour. It gave me something to focus on and was a means of escapism; it’s what I turned to when I was feeling anxious or lonely. But recently, I’ve found the opposite happening and my low mood and poor mental health has turned me away from books. As much as I’ve wanted to read, whenever I’ve picked up a book I haven’t been able to focus and find myself reading the same lines over and over again but not comprehending or retaining anything I’ve read.

Because I consider myself a proud reader and books have become such a huge part of my life, I’ve constantly berated myself for my inability to read and my lack of inspiration or creativity to create content. But over the last week or so something clicked in my brain and every time I’d put myself down about not reading, I reminded myself that I’m not obligated to read and that I’m not failing as a reader or a book blogger by not reading every day. My mantra and belief is that reading is and should always be primarily about enjoyment. But unfortunately, I found that I’d fallen into the trap that so many other content creators do of feeling an obligation to always be reading and creating and hitting certain numbers.

Other bloggers and content creators have spoken openly about mental health and the impact it has on us as readers and creators, and I appreciate that so much because we need this type of transparency. We’re not machines, we’re human beings. Most of bloggers, like myself, create content for free in their spare time in addition to juggling other responsibilities like work, studying and caring for a family. It can be tough and we shouldn’t feel pressure or feel like a failure for taking a break or focusing on other areas of our lives.

The main purpose of this post is to say to all of my fellow book bloggers: I see you and you’re not alone. If you’re struggling with your mental health and are unable to read or create content for any reason, that is perfectly okay and you are still a valuable and loved part of the book community. Take some time for yourself and remember that sometimes when our mental health is low, reading and blogging becomes an impossible chore. Every single one of us has mental health just like we have physical health and it fluctuates and has its ups and downs. The most important thing is to take time to re-center at those times when our mental health is low and not put pressure on ourselves to read and/or create content. To get the most out of reading and blogging, we need to feel strong and healthy both mentally and emotionally.

I’m working towards improving my mental health with meditation, journaling and socialisation, and gradually I’m feeling the benefits. I’m already starting to want to read more and I’m feeling better in myself. But an important part of this process for me was letting go of reading for a while and understanding that although reading helped my mental health in the past, on this occassion it didn’t and that’s okay. Books will always be there for me to come back to but sometimes prioritising myself and other parts of my life is necessary.

I hope you are all safe and well ❀️

If you would like any more information about mental health support please check out these websites (UK):

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.