I was chatting to a friend the other day about a book I’m reading. I was surprised to hear that he struggles to read.
He’s literate and very intelligent — his challenge is a psychological one.
In his mind, non-fiction is “work” — and he doesn’t like to “work” in his free time.
I decided to challenge some of his thinking.
- Not all non-fiction relates to his profession, so his categorisation isn’t right (“have you thought about non-fiction that relates to your other interests, or biographies of people you admire?”);
- When does he get to read work-related non-fiction? Is there time for that already built into his working week? Doesn’t this count as professional development — surely he needs to make sure there’s time for it somewhere? Can he carve time out for it in the working week (and justify it later if challenged)?
I asked him about reading fiction instead. He said that he finds it really hard going, hard to concentrate and stick with a book. I asked him how many he’s tried recently and he looked at me strangely.
Some people don’t abandon books. They are book-monogamous and lifelong committed to finishing what they’ve started and not trying another until then.
I found myself stuck like this at the end of COVID. I had definitely struggled to read during the height of the pandemic. My monkey mind couldn’t sit still enough to read — anxiety about my health and that of my loved ones, worry about the impact of isolation and broken schooling on my kids, sheer overwhelm from working on COVID testing services, the pain of seeing so many other people suffering so much worse.
But in mid-2021 that had largely passed. I was stuck now because I wasn’t reading the right book. I was trying to read a book recommended to me and every time I picked it up, I struggled to get into it. I’d read the same few pages over and over again, and then put it down. Not because I couldn’t focus on it, but because it simply didn’t hook me in. It took me maybe a dozen failed attempts before I realised what was happening.
What a waste of time!
I told myself it’s okay to not finish a book. I don’t think I believed myself entirely at that point, but I wanted to and that was enough to make me put it down and pick up something else.
It turned out my friend was indeed a book-monogamous completer-finisher.
I told him how freeing I’ve found it allowing myself to put down a book that wasn’t working for me.
How I’ve discovered I actually do like some of the genres I’d dismissed in the past because of a bad book experience.
My friend abandoned his bad book. He just needed to give himself permission to do so.
If you’re struggling to get back into reading, perhaps you need to do the same?