When I recorded the Enneagram podcast with Tsh on The Art of Simple, I was surprised by the response to what I thought was a throwaway line.
I was talking about wings, specifically my 5 wing, and how I've embraced my introversion since entering my 30s.
In that context, I said, "I've always been a big reader but now it's become a coping mechanism, and again, it can be a good thing or it can be a way of hiding. I'm trying to figure out where that switch really happens."
It can be a way of hiding.
People emailed me, they brought it up in conversation, Anne even wrote a post, which was the kick in the pants for me to finally write this post I've contemplated for the last year and a half.
I have always been an avid reader. From the moment I figured out how to read, I began trying to figure out how I could do more of that. I learned how to speed read in 3rd grade (it was a legit lesson). I co-captained Battle of the Books with my best friend in 5th and 6th grade and I believe our grammar school still holds the winning record.
I could go on and on about my book nerd qualifications but you get the picture.
In 2005, I started recording what I read. At the time, I averaged 4-8 books per month. Since then, I've seen a steady increase in how much I read overall. My current average is 10-12 books per month. The biggest reason why I read more is because I read multiple books at the same time. I also read more in January and February (cold = hibernate) and when I'm on vacation.
I realized, however, in 2007 I was turning toward books in an unhealthy way. That spring I experienced two major losses. It was the hardest time of my life, especially because I worked as a hospice social worker.
After work, I'd collapse on to the couch in my apartment with a book in hand and I'd read and read and read. My 2007 average was 6-8 books per month. I read 12 books the month after Grandma died, a number that would have been even higher had I not gone on a previously planned canoe trip in the UP.
Initially, this form of self-care was healing and good. Because of the nature of my work, I had no way of escaping grief and loss for the majority of the day. I needed to be left alone for a while. I needed happy endings and other people's problems when I came home. I read Christian fiction, Maeve Binchy, and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, just in time for the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
But as the months passed, my reading habit didn't back down and by the time I read 19 books that October, I realized I was turning to books more than I should.
Because of my book log, the evidence stared me in the face. I hadn't completely disappeared from society (my friends wouldn't allow that) but it was a marked difference from my usual routine. Like I said, at first self-care via reading was healthy but it became a way of hiding, a way of buffering myself from the world.
Since then, I have noticed my tendency to hide behind books in times of grief and high stress.
I'm never going to give up reading, nor am I going to give it up as a form of self-care. But I do pay attention to how much I'm reading.
If the monthly tally seems on the high side, I ask myself what's behind the number. Am I hiding? Or did I stumble on to a number of must-reads?
Sometimes you read the first book in a series (Outlander, Cinder, Daughter of Smoke and Bone) and you simply have to read the rest to find out what happens. This also happens when I find a new-to-me author: Kate Morton, Ruth Reichl, Barbara Brown Taylor, Tana French.
Some books take longer to read due to content or sheer number of pages. For instance, I finished Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices last week, which comes in at 600 pages. It was a fascinating account of her time as the US Secretary of State but this was no fast read.
But sometimes I'd rather read about someone's life, instead of engage with my own. When I realize I am hiding, I have a simple choice: I can keep piling on the books or I can reconnect with my community. Sometimes both responses are right, at least for the moment, but I strive to err on the side of connection with others.
These days books and I are on good terms. Reading was a big part of the reason why I stayed sane while moving to a new house last month. But I'll continue to keep an eye on how much I read so a good thing remains a good thing.