When I pick up a book these days, I tremble.
This isn't a put-Little-Women-in-the-freezer-because-Beth-is-sick situation.
This is an I'm overwhelming myself situation.
Which is, essentially, everyday life for me.
I'll get back to explaining why books are making me anxious in a bit, but first let me just say this:
Last year I read 50 books.
Alex likes to mock me for reminding him that, while most of these were children's books, reading 50 was still a feat because, "Some of them were chapter books."
Harriet the Spy is 300 pages, and has big vocabulary words.
I'm not saying it was a challenge for me to read, but I am saying that it took a standard amount of time to read it, about the amount it would take to read an adult volume.
This year I have read two books.
One of them was Frog and Toad are Friends.
Another was full of pictures (Hyperbole and a Half).
Last year I was single.
This year I am not.
On the one hand, Yay! This is something I've prayed and hoped for and whined about for years!
So let's say it again, YAY!
On the other hand,
will I ever read at a standard clip again?
I've heard the horror stories about when one has children and never reads ever again.
Except kids books, which, lucky for me, I love. Wanna read You're All my Favorites one more time, kid? How 'bout twice.
(Just bring the tissue because that book makes me teary. (In the best way.))
I used to read books like a hamster would eat one*, tearing up the pages every night with great gusto and enthusiasm.
*Hamsters eat paper if offered, yes? (OK a Google search says the answer to this question is perhaps no).
Today I just feel pressure when it comes to reading.
Before I moved into a dorm in college, I feared what it would be like to never have time alone, and particularly, to live constantly with people who weren't my family.
I grew up in a large household and was able to read, study, play, be me, etc. with no issue. I had my own room for quiet and private time, but in general I could do general activities with a brother or cat or parent close at hand.
Because they were family.
They were background noise.
They were so close to who I was, so I didn't know life without them, didn't understand an environment without them.
They were like air. Brewer air.
I knew I was a people person, but I was afraid to be an ALWAYS people person. I didn't know how to turn myself off, how to stop the chit chatting in order to buckle down and get some work done.
With my family, heck they'd be around later if I went to my room for three hours to read Little House on the Prairie or, later -- ugh -- Frankenstein.
But, pre-college, friend time was focused, tried-and-true friend time. Just laughing, talking, no sleeping, be together and enjoy each other time.
So college made me apprehensive.
Eventually I learned to turn myself off -- or, more often, pack food and water and hide myself in the library to catch up on last minute reading and essay construction.
As I've gotten older, I've gotten even better. Not so much at turning myself off and on, so to speak, but being able to get work done with an audience, to tune out extra noise, sleep with lights on, etc.
I'm not sure I've quite figured out how to manage reading and dating.
Perhaps this could be my great challenge of 2015. This, along with maintaining a clean car and apartment.
I recently requested and received two free copies of new books, with a promise to the publishers that I would review each title.
I was so thrilled when they offered them up to me as if I had asked a coworker for a spare Post-it note.
Not that I was entirely surprised at this, as once upon a time I reviewed some 11 or 12 books on a blog during just one school semester as a part of my master's project, and during that time realized that publishers will throw books at you like candy at a parade if you offer them some free press.
If there's one thing I've learned as a journalist, it's that people love free press.
And oh to have the energy to read 11 books in 3 months again.
But now when I crack books, I get scared.
I've signed myself up for too many activities -- contributing to a podcast, volunteering at church, training for a half marathon -- and now I've added to that mix the task of regularly smooching on a cute boy with curly hair and glasses.
And it's not just that I'm smooching on him, it's that he deserves my attention. We're in a relationship, he's not just a fish who I drop some crumbles of food to once a day.
So why can't I manage to read, exactly? Why can't I focus? Why do I fear that no book will actually get read, at least not to completion?
And now that I've added on the responsibility of reviewing these books, will that ever get done?
It doesn't help that with every new volume I pick up -- yet another that a favorite writer of mine has managed to pen -- that I am reminded that I am yet to scribble out one book, let alone many. How do these writers get it all done?(!!)
I imagine -- and hope -- this is just something that I will adjust to, just as I did living with roommates in college and managing to get out of there with my grades and thousands of dollars owed intact.
But part of me fears that my reading days are over. That Alex and I will tie the knot and have kids (if you're reading this, Honey, hi :) and it will be all Cat in the Hat from here on out.
That can't possibly be true, of course. I'm a writer. And all writers need food, in the form of reading. How do you think we get all those words inside of us, to spout out to you? We eat them, of course. By devouring delicious, soul-healing books.
The other element to all this is all the writing I've been doing.
The book reviews themselves are hanging over me -- and I am constantly reminded of the conundrum/fact that I must in fact read the books before I can actually write the review, so get a move on already and read the thing!
But there are also freelance articles, essays, blog posts, and now, miraculously, eekingly (i.e. it is eeking its way out of me), the book. The book that I am writing, not reading.
On the one hand, Yay! I have been praying and hoping and waiting for the gumption to write this for years!
On the other hand, but, but -- the reading!
When will I do my reading?!
And when will I quit being so anxious about an activity I've done so effortlessly for so many years??
I say so many years, but it's only been effortless for about the last 20 years.
In fifth grade, I struggled so hard to read. I remember, vividly, being in our home's basement, urging myself to block out the vacuum, the voices to be heard above my head. My frustration bubbled to a level of helplessness that I couldn't understand or shoo away.
By the end of the school year, I was on the "Battle of the Books" team, amassing a pile of titles in the "read" column of life.
Things turn around.
I blocked out the noise of family.
I blocked out -- or hid from -- the sound of college kids.
I will adjust to this. To a boyfriend. To being a more full time writer.
I will adjust.
Please tell me I will adjust. I have so many books to read.