When I became a young adult librarian, I was ecstatic to be surrounded by books all day. I literally got paid to buy and peddle books and convince teens to get excited about reading. It was a dream job. Until one day when I stopped reading books altogether.
There once was a time when I knew every book that sat on a shelf in the YA section of the bookstore. I knew all the titles and release dates of upcoming books, I knew which debut authors seemed promising, and I had thousands of books on my to-read shelf on Goodreads. It was not unusual for me to easily devour 100 books in a year.
Then I left librarianship and became a high school teacher. Halfway through the year, I noticed that I hadn’t even hit double digits on my Goodreads challenge. I was mildly concerned but wrote it off as a side effect of the career change–teaching definitely takes a toll on my time.
Yet every time I picked up a book, I’d quickly set it back down. Anytime a book managed to linger in my hands longer than five minutes, I felt anxious and constantly looked at the page numbers to see how much I had read and how much I had left to go. Having limited time to read made it challenging to finish a book, but that didn’t explain the anxiety I suddenly came to associate with the once enjoyable pastime.
I realized that reading had stopped being something I did for myself; it became a job with deadlines that I had to meet. The hundreds of books I read each year weren’t ones I had chosen for myself but from a list of books required for a committee. The vast majority of books on my to-read shelf weren’t even books I wanted to read; they were books I thought other people might find interesting, so I had curated them for future reference.
Even though I figured out the root of the problem, but I didn’t know how to fix it. No matter how hard I tried, books I once found enjoyable couldn’t hold my attention, and I feared that I had lost my passion forever.
Desperately, I decided to switch it up and picked up poetry, a form of writing I had previously neglected. Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey became a lifeline. The short form worked well for my shrinking attention span. I could read a single poem or an entire book without feeling like I had to count the pages.
Slowly, I rediscovered my love of words. I reclaimed my bookshelf and purged every single book that was there for someone else and not for me.
Although being burned out on books was a terrifying experience, it was a useful one. I found a deeper understanding of why I read and–more importantly to me–why I write. The time away helped me to refocus, and now I don’t just devour words, but I create them as well.
Wherever you are on your journey as a reader or a writer, I encourage you to lean into it. There are essential things to learn in every part of the process.