Ecclesiastes 12:12 says “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (ESV)
Part of that verse: Of making many books, there is no end rings in my head as I hear of new books being published, of old books being hyped, and when I walk into a library.
It’s become slightly overwhelming.
I love books, but there are just so many to read! Some of them are fantastic, and others aren’t so much.
How can I get through all the good ones without wearing myself out?
I grew up in a family that loves to read. Yesterday, I was wondering if I could make space on my bookshelf by putting some of my books on my sister’s, and her’s is full too! (Time to buy a new bookshelf! XD)
In high school, if I had a spare moment during class, I’d open the book on my desk and start reading it before the teacher started teaching. I would also read while walking home from school, and just before I went to sleep.
But when I started university, a lot of things changed. I was living in a different house and suburb, meeting new people and trying new things. Covid invaded and everything changed again. Looking back, I wonder if maybe real life was so interesting that I stopped needing to look to books.
I felt like I’d lost a significant part of myself, because I hadn’t just stopped reading; I’d stopped enjoying it.
Reading had become a chore. While I used to read because it was fun and interesting, now it was a chore that I did because I felt that I needed to. Because if I didn’t read every day, my writing wouldn’t improve, I’d miss out on good books, and I’d never get through my TBR.
To Be Read
A TBR is a list of books To Be Read. Many bookworms have one, and the rest probably have several. I’m in the “several” camp: I have a list on my phone of books people have recommended to me (the one I’ll be mainly talking about here), some photos of covers of books that look interesting (I usually forget about these), a shelf of books people have given to me that I plan to read one day, and another shelf of books that people have given that are too big to fit on the other shelf.
When I started my TBR, it was there to keep track of all the books that I wanted to read before I died. It started with books that looked cool, or that I’d started but hadn’t had a chance to finish. But as time went on, I added serieses that others had recommended, and books that maybe would be helpful or interesting.
I’m not against having a TBR, if that’s something you find fun or helpful. But I have three traits that mean that TBRs are not fun for me.
First is my fear of missing out on a good book. Second, I have a legalistic-bent mind. This means that I tend to label things as “right” and “wrong” based on my own opinion, and my stubbornness (the third thing) means that I am slow to give up on such helpful rules.
Some of the “helpful” rules I subconsciously came up with were:
- Thou shalt not delete books from the TBR
- Thou shalt read every book on the TBR before thou diest (dieth?)
- Thou shalt read every book in a series on the TBR before thou diest
- Thou shalt not remove a series from the TBR until every book in the series hath been read
- Thou shalt finish every book thee starteth, whether or not thou likest the book thou readest
- Thou shalt honour the recommendations of every book-lover by writing the book they recommendeth into the TBR
I could go on, but you get the idea. Rule 2 constricted what I read to only books on my TBR–it’s a long list, and I’ll be steaming to get through them all before I die, especially taking into account Rules 3 and 4. Rule 5 meant that I couldn’t give up on a book I wasn’t enjoying, so it only took longer to read and get through my TBR.
Slowly, the list of rules surrounding my TBR sucked the joy not only out of reading, but also out of books and anything related to them. The library became full of forbidden books. Books that were gifted to me became a burden. Writers and readers forums became slightly lonely, as though I no longer fitted in because I didn’t like reading anymore.
My legalism isn’t something I accept and try to live with. Thankfully. The manual for life, the Bible, is very clear that legalism is just another way I’ve put myself in the place of God. I’m saying to God that what He says is right and wrong isn’t enough. These things are wrong too, God. Shouldn’t you include them? My legalism is something I need to fight, and something that Jesus has already overcome.
It’s refreshing to look back and see how crippling this was for me. As I remember how strangled I was by my own rules, I become so thankful for God’s clear laws, all of which are for my own good. God doesn’t make rules to make my life difficult. That’s my job 🙂 (jk)
God pointed out to me how my desire to be on His throne can pervade every part of my life, including, ridiculously, choosing which books to read. He used this episode, and this post, to remind me that He gave us books, and many other things, to be enjoyed.
My lack of enjoyment in reading felt wrong not because I was a different person, but because I was being shown what kind of person I really am. It disturbed me to see that when I do things my way, it becomes hard work, and something to push through.
If I’d rested in God’s love and acceptance, it would have been so much easier. Who’d have thought?
Crawling Out of the Mess
I’m happy to say that (after two years) I think I’m out of this reading slump. It was a slow process, but it wasn’t a process of reading until I found I was enjoying it again, but rather rethinking how I choose what I read.
First, I put my TBR away and went to the library. I wandered around the shelves, picking up a few books and reading some blurbs. I chose a few that made me feel excited.
One was called IQ and it was about a black teen detective who does odd jobs even though he’s a genius. I think I didn’t understand African American culture enough, as it felt like there were in-jokes and cultural references I didn’t get, but the ending was *chef’s kiss*
One was called Empire of Silence and that book was the first in a long time that I couldn’t put down. I’ve read the second book in the series too, now, and they’re both just *chef’s kiss*
One was called The Phonebox at the Edge of the World. It was a genre I don’t usually read, but a review said it was heartwarming, I think, and the concept seemed beautiful. It was a delightful book, and I ended up scoring one of my favourite scenes. It made me cry and laugh, it was so… *chef’s kiss*
I find it interesting that my actions changed before I realised that the problem was in my thoughts and intentions. Usually it’s supposed to be the other way around (i.e. you change how you feel about something, then how you act naturally adapts).
But this journey taught me a number of things about reading and myself. It taught me that I don’t need to like something all the time–it’s okay to have stages of life. It taught me to be careful making rules about something God hasn’t made rules about. I need to learn how God wants me to live, and stop acting like He doesn’t know what’s best for me. I need to rest in Jesus, remembering that He has already paid for my rebellion when He died on the cross.
I’m not against TBR’s in general; they work for most people. It’s handy to have a list of books that you’re working through, or that come recommended.
But don’t let that list rule what you read. Don’t let it become the boss of you–in fact, don’t let you become the boss of you.
Even if we don’t like or understand His way of doing things, God is God. He created us, and has given us a how-to guide for life.
And as Creator, He knows how we work best.
Please learn from my journey. Learn to enjoy the books you read, and read the books you enjoy. Hopefully we can all read a life’s-worth of good books.
So my fantabulous readers, have you ever been in a reading slump? Tell me about your experience!
What’s a book you weren’t able to put down?