I’m a Southerner and, by region and by birth, GUILT is hard-wired into my system. My kryptonite? Any of the following phrases: “That’s all right; you did your best” or “I’m disappointed in you” or – the UBER-guilt-inducing, “Your mother would be so embarrassed/horrified/shocked”. *clutches pearls* (That was for you, Rachel Hawkins!) This guilt creeps into every area of my life: marriage, motherhood, teaching, fitness, housework, yardwork, painting my toenails…You name it, I can feel guilty about it. How can one feel guilty about a pile of laundry? I hear you ask. Who the hell understands it?! I just know that I CAN and I DO feel guilty about most things on any given day. It’s exhausting. Now add in another area of my life where guilt creeps in and holds me hostage: my reading life.
My mother always used to tell me to clean my plate at supper. She would pull the cliched “there are starving people somewhere who would love to have this meatloaf” at almost every meal. Or there’s the ever popular “You should finish what you start. No one likes a quitter”. This attitude of shame for not finishing something has crept into one of my favorite leisure activities: READING. I can almost physically feel the pull of books on my shelves that I haven’t completed. Some of them still have makeshift bookmarks in them. Some of them I’ve attempted more than once and still feel I must, eventually, go back and read the whole thing. Because if I don’t, THEY will know. (No one knows who the hell “they” are but apparently, according to my psyche, THEY care a great deal about whether or not I finish books.)
The weird thing is, as a teacher, I do NOT believe that one must finish every book. In fact, one of my Rights of Readers for my students is the right to NOT finish a book. I tell my students every year that they can’t afford to waste a moment of their lives reading a book they don’t like. There are too many good books out there to spend even one chapter slogging their way through a book they are not really connecting with. I preach that not every book will match every reader and that’s why there are so many genres and authors available to readers.
So why don’t I take this advice to heart for myself? I force myself to finish books even when I have to force myself to open the cover and keep going. As a middle school reading teacher, I have this ridiculous expectation of myself to have read all the different titles I offer to my students and that if I can’t recommend that I read it all, how can I offer it to my students. Even reading that, I know how silly it sounds. So my challenge to myself is to allow myself to quit the books I don’t like. Lets see if I can meet my own expectation.