January 28, 2023

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

The literal internet has ruined my reading life

Yesterday I stood in front of my desk, stuffed with books I had borrowed from the library or received for review, and wondered what to read next. I shifted from one foot to the other and encouraged myself. “Pretend you’re a regular reader. You just pick the book that looks interesting. You can read what you want.”

-Record Scratch-

You’re probably wondering how I got here. Why am I not a normal reader? Why does choosing something to read feel like such a daunting task that I need to cheer myself up and put myself in the right headspace? Well, we start with a child who loves to read, and we end with an adult who has built his life so much on books that reading has become a minefield of expectations and guilt.

It all started with a book blog that was just supposed to be fun. I wanted to record everything I read and share it with people. But then I had a much better idea: I could create a book blog just for bi and lesbian books because I wanted to read more of those. I could talk to people about queer women’s books! how much fun

And when I started blogging, a wonderful thing happened: people started giving me free books. They were self-published e-books sent by the author, but free books are free books! And now, if someone writes a Sapphic book (still a rarity back then) and sends it to me, I could at least read and review it. Also, I now had to maintain a blog, which meant new content, which meant I had to read more (bi and lesbian) books.

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That’s when things started to get out of hand. Suddenly there was stress and guilt. When you need to read a book, it loses its luster and these e-books pile up. I could no longer read every book that was sent to me, so I stopped promising. Eventually, I added more reviewers to my team: they got access to those books for review, and I got additional content for the blog.

Somehow, however, I’d managed to accumulate more commitments while getting rid of the old ones. I started getting more books for review which I was really looking forward to and even the occasional ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) in the mail. I read more than ever, but my TBR stack grew even faster. And then of course I had to start a BookTube channel because that looked like fun, which meant more content, which meant I had to read more books. And then Book Riot was looking for more contributors, so I had to apply, and then I had to produce enough book content for three platforms, and that’s hard without reading more…

Meanwhile, my interest in reading, despite being surrounded by books that always fascinated me, began to wane. No matter how much I read, I was always behind. I didn’t want to read Sapphic books, although these were my favorite ones because it meant I had to write a review for them. But I didn’t want to read non-Sapphic books, because what was the point?

That’s also about the time I realized my reading was way too white and I really should diversify it more, leading me to go down spreadsheet rabbit holes to plan the ideal TBR. Diversifying my reading has also introduced me to so many incredible new authors who have added even more to my TBR list.

Then I got the opportunity to co-host All the Books, which sounded amazing, but that meant reading four books each month that came out on the first Tuesday of the following month. That was pretty much all I read in a month, leaving very little room for the ARCs I’d accepted and the other new releases I’d been looking forward to and—oh yeah—all the books that I wanted to read and the releases were not new.

Now when I’m trying to decide what to read next, it looks like I’m trying to crack an elaborate mathematical equation. I take into account how short the release date is, whether it comes out on the first Tuesday of the month, whether I can cover it on the Lesbrary, how diverse my reading has been lately, how long I’m likely to take to read it, when my library due dates are and if they’re likely to have reservations (which means they can’t be renewed) – oh, and if I want to read it right now I suppose.

To put it bluntly, and I think it should be obvious, I love the literal internet. Working for Book Riot is more than a dream job for me – I couldn’t have even imagined it when I was younger. It’s great to talk about books with other readers, especially queer books. I love connecting people to their new favorite book. After all, that’s why I’m doing all this.

But somehow my devotion to the literal internet has been matched by a decline in my enjoyment of reading. Reading comes with guilt and obligation: I really should read the ARCs I requested, I really shouldn’t wait until the last minute to read all the books, I really should read the books I’ve checked out and the one long one Have time waiting list – and why did I put it on hold when I have so many books to read?

I’ll be honest: I don’t know how to escape this. I still enjoy reading, of course, but it’s a lot more tense than it used to be. It’s rare that I drop all the baggage and just read for fun. I’m not even sure I still remember how to do it – so I ended up giving myself a TBR pep talk. As this has been my reading life for more than ten years I don’t remember the old days – but I suspect it was still filled with guilt in the library.

However, I am determined to find a way out because my books are the basis of my life. I went all in on books early on and have no intention of changing course now. I just need to find that magical incantation that gets me out of my head at least sometimes while reading. I hope I stumble upon this at the next pep talk.