This might sound like a really odd thing to say but, last weekend, I realised that it has been a long, long time since I last read for fun. I voiced this discovery to my boyfriend the other night who – completely reasonably – laughed at me and replied, ‘But you’re always reading!’ This is an undeniable fact: I read on my commute, in lunch breaks, in the bath and before bed. On a bad day I’ll read for just under an hour – on a good one, nearer two. This is why I can steam through around 12 books a month – I read fast and frequently.
But when I read, I’m usually doing it to fill time. I read on my commute because it’s a 25 minute train journey. I read on my lunch breaks so I get a break from my computer. I read in the bath because having a good soak can get boring quickly without some literature to hand. I read before bed to help wind my brain down. I enjoy the books I’m reading, and I enjoy these little parcels of Designated Reading Time in my day, but it’s become part of my routine, and that’s kind of the problem – reading has become so institutionalised into my day, that when I have free time, I rarely reach for a book. Instead, I’ll watch a TV show or film, exercise, do some colouring in, go shopping, to the pub… all the things, in short, that I don’t usually get to do during in a working day. Reading is not one of those things – until last weekend.
I wouldn’t say I was reluctant to deliberately choose to sit and read, but I was startled at how unnatural it felt. At first I thought I should be doing something else, but there wasn’t anything else that needed to be done – this was free time, leisure time, to be spent how I wanted. I didn’t need to explain myself or justify my decision to anyone, but I still had a nagging feeling of ‘you could be doing more with your time’. However – and this is hardly the plot-twist of the century – that feeling didn’t last long: within a few chapters I was thoroughly engrossed in Career of Evil, allowing my tea to turn cold as I became more invested in Cormoran Strike’s latest investigations. I read for over an hour, and at the end of it I still had that slightly-guilty feeling of wasted time – but now, I welcomed it, like an illicit treat. The next day I did the same thing, and the day after that, too. I was reading not just to pass time, but because I wanted to, because I chose to, because it was the thing I wanted to do most at that moment.
I think the problem I created in my mind is that, reading is a rather singular activity, as Mr Hurst of Pride and Prejudice once said – my Designated Reading Times are nearly all points of the day when I’m on my own, and so when I’m not alone, I choose to do things that might be more inclusive of company and my boyfriend. I know I read a lot anyway – it seems silly to choose to read a book over any number of other activities, when I read so much in a normal day as it is. However, when I deliberately sat down and carved out some time in my day to read – as I’ve recently been hypocritically, pompously advising a friend to do – I found that actually, reading is fun. It’s not a time-waster, or a moment-filler – it’s something that can be done for the sheer joy of it, with the knowledge that you won’t have to put it down because you’ve reached your stop, or it’s time to go back to work, or the water has gone cold. I read so much, I forget that sometimes the best part about reading a book, is knowing you don't have to put it down.