Am I reading the right books?


I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not reading the right books. When plied with the question “Have you read…?” I almost always shrink with embarrassment because the answer is usually, “No I haven’t.”

When asked to recommend a good book to someone I struggle because my reading choices are often miscellaneous, ranging from popular bestsellers from over five years ago to independent fiction published in the UK to “classics.” My number one recommended book for the last three years has been Gone Girl. I’ve never read it and I haven’t seen the movie.

But why do I pretend? It’s because books do carry a certain amount of prestige. Hilariously, one of the most solitary and beloved past times of an introvert is also very indicative of intelligence, class, and, to my dismay, social participation. The fact is I’m bad at reading the books I am “supposed” to read. Whether those are the wonderful pieces of art which any Good Scholar will have read, the popular (and usually well written) award winners or a book with a shiny foil sticker slapped on the front, I confess that I a) have not read it yet, b) probably don’t plan to read it at all, and c) can’t be convinced. I am a misanthrope when it comes to reading. I’m not a bookworm, I’m more like a book-goat. Chewing, ruminating on my book choices at a modest pace.

It has nothing to do with forsaking what is popular to prove that I am an individual. Long before the word hipster appeared I was politely declining invitations to read the most popular books on horses, Shel Silverstein poems, and Goosebumps mysteries my fourth-grade classmates loved. When my mother recommended that I read Harry Potter I said, “No, thank you.” Not to be mean, not to be above it all, but because time and time again I would search the summary of these recommendations and find myself uninspired. I was cloaked not with a steely shield of superiority but with the comforting blanket of knowing what I wanted.

Yet, for some reason, I’ve felt disturbed lately. I’m not as confident in my choices. Within only a few pages I get a nagging sensation that maybe what I should be reading is something else on my bookshelf, something I haven’t read yet, something I have read, something I don’t own, something I haven’t even heard of yet. It’s been discouraging. A pile of books has been collecting on my night table as I try each one before bed, trying to trick myself into diving in.

Which is why when I read the New Yorker piece “Can Reading Make You Happier?” (which I’m appropriately commenting on three weeks late) I felt at least somewhat understood. Here was what I had intuitively known as a child come back to haunt me in my adulthood as the latest in both health and journalistic crazes. It’s bibliotherapy, the concept that reading can be used as therapy by choosing the books you need, not what people tell you (aside from a therapist). Such a simple idea even I knew it as a child. If you wanted to laugh read a comedy, if you needed an adventure read a fantasy, if you’re nervous about what comes next read a book about middle school. Books are a balm for your soul.

Bibliotherapy isn’t that much different as an adult, in fact, I would argue that the spectrum of adulthood is covered more in-depth and verbosely than childhood. Meaning, you’re far more likely to find that book you need for whatever circumstance you find yourself in.

Maybe I’m not reading the “right book” and that’s okay but I’m also not reading the book I need right now. Once again reading becomes about the individual experience and not about which titles you can point to like trophies in a display case.

I’m going to give my current book another shot and if I can’t keep up then I’ll just let it go for now. I need to focus on what I need (inspiration, to be in-touch with nature, nostalgia) and not what people think I should be reading. If you have a book recommendation for me, please just keep it to yourself or send it to me and I’ll add it to the list of books I’ll consider someday. Who knows? Maybe it is the one I will need next month or even next year. Either way, I’m going back to not pretending to be interested unless I really am. So in the meantime, No, thank you.