I love books. If I’m reading a particularly good one, it can feel like I’m underwater (but I can breathe, obviously). I’m suspended. Everything around me is blurry and quiet. Nothing seems to matter outside of the book I’m reading. If I have to stop reading and go to work or pay attention to the dog, all I can think about is my book. When I start reading again, it’s comforting, like being wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. Instant gratification.
The problem is, when you finish a book it’s like quitting something magical cold turkey. You’re back in your world, in your body, in your life. You can’t go back into the book. You can’t engulf yourself in that fuzzy blanket anymore. You’re cold and confused and probably tired from staying up all night reading. You’re a little in shock from whatever happened in your fictional world, and doing mundane things like eating and going to work
Sometimes Reading is Bad For Me
(And That’s Okay)
Reading is objectively a great thing. It can open peoples’ minds to new ideas, new people, new places. It can broaden your horizons. But sometimes, the simple act of loving a book can be the thing that sends you into a spiral.
The thing is, sometimes reading can be the wrong thing to do. I can’t speak for everyone, and I don’t want to, but sometimes I have to stop reading for my own health. It becomes like a drug; something I turn to when I want to escape my thoughts, my body, my world. It’s something that can become toxic under the guise of ‘self-care’ or ‘healthy habits.’
A couple of years ago, I started Fictionist Magazine. I love books, I read fairly quickly, and I have 10 years of journalism experience, so why not start a small magazine for fun? It started amazingly well; I had started receiving ARCs fairly quickly, I was invited to BookCon, I interviewed big-time authors like V.E. Schwab and Kendare Blake.
The problem with my newfound success was that constantly reading new books takes a surprising toll. I knew books were their own brand of magic, but I had no idea that being lost in fiction for too long could have a horrible effect on my mental health.
Once I started reading books one after another, I found that my mood became volatile, especially if I wasn’t reading. I didn’t realize it, but I was sinking into a depression. Nothing outside of my books mattered; work, food, friends. None of it was important if I couldn’t keep reading. I tore through all of the books that were sent to me and felt crippling guilt every time I had to stop.
Eventually, I had to admit I needed a break. I had no one to help write reviews, to help interview authors, to post to social media. Everyone who volunteered had suspiciously gone silent. I started trying to do everything by myself, but that made the guilt and the depression worse, which actually stopped me from getting any work done. Depression has a bad habit of making everything come to a crashing halt.
Once I admitted I had a problem, I was already fairly behind on my reading deadlines, but I decided to get rid of the deadlines instead of setting new ones. I started going to the gym. I started caring more. I stopped reading. In fact, I’ve only read a few books this year. I haven’t even looked at my Goodreads reading challenge or my Netgalley to-do list. That might be bad for Fictionist, but it’s working out pretty well for me.
The thing is, my relationship with books goes way beyond Fictionist. I read throughout my entire childhood and through my teenage years. I only stopped because I was dealing with
Beautiful, but potentially toxic to people like me. Fresh out of school, still dealing with PTSD, still in therapy, still trying to figure out how to make a friend outside of college… I was vulnerable. Every time I had to stop reading I would go into a depression. The only thing that made me feel better was reading, and the only thing that made me worse was coming back into reality. I wondered, once or twice, whether reading could be causing more hurt than help. It wasn’t until last year that I realized how much hurt reading can really inflict.
You can get lost in anything. You can always go too far, even with things that are supposed to be healthy. Now I know that.
What’s a Book Addict To Do?
I still read. My current favorite is S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass series. I still listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks when I’m sad. I still daydream about books I might write someday. But I leave room in between so that my life can still take up space in my brain. So that I don’t feel weird and alien because I’ve been reading about beautiful, magical people and ignoring myself. I have to give the real world permission to exist in between forays into fiction and fantasy.
As for Fictionist? It’s still here. I still post updates and reviews when I can. I’m hoping that once I find a good balance in my life I can start reading (at a normal pace!) again. We’ll see if I make it to BookCon this year — I may not be invited back after my radio silence this year.
Either way, I do love the book community. We have our flaws and our more controversial areas, but for the most part we’re a hyper-supportive, lovely, diverse group of magical people. I hope to stay a part of that community forever.