I’ve talked a lot about reading literary fiction and how difficult it is because it’s my current job to read as much of it as possible. I have experience in doing so in school as well, of reading books back-to-back with little or no breaks in between. Lately, however, I’ve been wondering about the benefits of taking breaks between books, especially ones with a large focus on tragedy.
I just finished Lisa See’s The Island of the Sea Women, where many of the characters were murdered and the protagonist spent her time dealing with the tragedies of war and military occupation and the grief that comes with it. I’ve read Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, where a family grieves for their dead daughter while we, the reader, travel back and forth to watch the daughter in pain trying to juggle her parents’ expectations. While maybe not literary fiction (though I find it confusing what is literary fiction and what isn’t, so it could be), Rena Rossner’s The Light of the Midnight Stars, which tells tragic tales of three Jewish women trying to escape persecution that hit me especially hard for some reason.
Maybe this is just something I experience, but when I finish a book like this, I feel like I’m expected to be able to separate what I’ve just read from my thoughts. I’ve had people reassure me when it comes to watching or reading scary material that I shouldn’t be worried because it isn’t real. I sometimes feel like the same applies for reading something that triggers any sort of strong emotional response. Why are you upset if it isn’t real? Well, even the most fantastical fantasy novel is going to be based off of elements of real life, so it isn’t completely detached from reality, and if it isn’t completely detached from reality than it is relevant.
But I don’t want to debate whether we should react to books because the answer will be different for everyone. My question is how do you deal with it, especially when it seems like the convention is to move on as fast as possible? I suppose what I’m asking is part of a much larger question about grief and emotion, but since I can’t possibly hope to address it, I want to focus on something I can hopefully begin to grasp.
Being in a situation where you have to read books without being able to take a break probably isn’t something everyone experiences beyond school, but since school is prominent, let’s look at that. At least in school we complete some sort of reflection in regard to the book, but it’s usually an objective look at the parts of the book rather than time to figure out what sort of emotional response you have to a book. Unless the events of a book are dramatic, I often have a hard time pinning down what sort of effect it has on me, and I wonder if it would be helpful to learn how to pay closer attention and understand my emotional limits as well as my limits when it comes to book analysis. In that case, maybe I’d know how to better handle large quantities of literary fiction (or know better than to force myself to keep going when it’s hurting me). Still, it feels contradictory to how I was taught to read, where I was assigned a certain number of pages that I had to get done or otherwise I would fail. Even when I read for fun, I usually go fairly quickly and become frustrated when I can’t finish a book within a certain number of days. I get that school is about discipline, that there’s not enough time to use a more relaxed pace, but I wish I hadn’t had to teach myself what I suppose is best called reading self-care.
Clearly, I have absolutely no idea how to practice reading self-care. If I had to guess, I would say it would entail:
– Reading only when you want to rather than when you feel obligated (unless you are in school and have no choice, in which case, sorry…)
– If you have no choice but to read more than you’d normally want to, then I guess take care of yourself in other ways as much as possible?
– Don’t compare how much you read to how much other people read, or what type of books you read to what other types of books other people read.
What acts of reading self-care are helpful for you? Let us know in the comments!