{Day 22} A Real “Disorder” {sort of}: Reading Guilt

Life is too short to read stuff you don’t want to read. 

I toiled away for four years as a graduate student studying American history. I read more books and journal articles than I can remember. Obviously I loved history and I loved much of what I read. And what I didn’t love? I had to plow through anyway. 

I learned to read really quickly. So quickly, in fact, that on the rare occasion I was able to read solely for pleasure, I’d fly through the pages out of habit. I literally had to retrain my brain to read slowly and savor. 

Now that I no longer have assigned reading lists, I can read whatever I want. At times I’ve picked up a book and somewhere along the way realized I was not enjoying it. Yet guilt propelled me to finish it. Or I wouldn’t finish it and I’d feel guilty about that.

I’ve also felt guilty that I haven’t read many classics in my adult years. There are so many amazing works of literature I’ve never read. But the thought of reading them makes me sort of tired. 

At some point I realized that I have reading guilt. 

Just writing those words makes me laugh because “reading guilt” sounds like the most ridiculous disorder ever! 

But if you like books, there’s a chance you may suffer from it too. 

How ’bout I be the one to give all of us permission to read what we want to read? A reading manifesto perhaps?

  • If you are a grown-up you do not have to finish a book if you don’t like it.
  • You shouldn’t read a book just because everyone else is reading it. That’s just literary peer pressure. 
  • If you get mid-way through a book and it’s positively loathsome, you’re allowed to quit. Even if everyone else you know loved the book.
  • You have permission to read multiple books at once depending on your mood. I usually have a stack on my nightstand of 5-7 books. It results in an embarrassingly low completion rate but the variety is nice.
  • If you love to read but your books haven’t been touched in weeks because your brain is tired and TV is therefore easier, that’s okay too. {Homeschooling and having young children has completely sapped the endurance from my brain.}

Good. I’m glad we’ve gotten that out of the way.

I still love books. The smell of Barnes and Noble is like a drug for me. If I ever worked retail, it would be in a book store. I want to read more books than I will ever actually read. But even something one loves can become burdensome. I don’t think there’s any area of our lives that grace doesn’t need to touch. Reading included.

So what about you? Do you ever suffer from reading guilt? Are there any proclamations you would add to the reading manifesto?


{Click on the button for the list of all the days 
and topics thus far.}


  1. says

    Love this post! I’m the same as you in that I always have a few books on the go at the same time. I can’t tell you how often I have to tell people that they don’t HAVE to finish a book if they don’t really like it! I will give it a try, especially if it’s really popular, and then if I don’t like it, I’ll just give up. Life is too short! (I have to admit, it was hard being the only person in my ‘circle’ who hadn’t read The Divinci Code! Hated it!)

  2. says

    “Book guilt” is really such a ridiculous disorder but funnily enough, this condition truly exists. I have not been posting lately because I want to finish the book I’m reading (“When We Were Orphans” by Kazuo Ishiguro). I have several books lined up after that and I am both excited and stressed out that I have a pile waiting for me. All of those books are by contemporary authors.

    There are classics I also want to read or reread (“The Brothers Karamazov”, “Anna Karenina”, “Wuthering Heights” top my lists and I’ve already downloaded it on my Kindle- most of the classics are now free). The mere thought of that already gives me an inexplicable thrill. Yet it depresses me that I don’t know when exactly I can get my hands on those titles. Aaaahhh, book guilt. I am glad you found a term for this crazy affliction 😉

    PS. I tried reading multiple books at a time, too, but reading one book at a time seems to be the one working well with me.

  3. Amy Albright says

    I just ran across this post. I never finished the last 80 pages or so of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I started it because my literary roomie at Governor’s School read it. I remember coveting my roomie’s talent at poetry and another suitemate’s glamorous Chanel makeup. Today, I have a little stash of Chanel makeup from a birthday, and I never have finished The Fountainhead. Hopefully not too symbolic of my priorities, but probably a little…

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