I Read A Book This Year

I read one book in 2020, one book in 2021, one book in 2022, and so far in 2023, I have read one book. This makes me kind of sad. I’ve talked about it on here before, but I used to love reading when I was younger, and ever since I became an adult, I really just don’t do it at all. That’s not what I want for myself. I want to read books! Why does it have to be so difficult?

It’s so easy on paper (ha), but bringing myself to actually sit down and read is a tall order. I wish it wasn’t so hard, and I know the only way I’ll get better about it is if I try. I have to put in the effort to consistently make time to sit down and read, and work on actually making myself read a damn book. It’s some huge, unmanageable task in my head, but I know it wouldn’t be so bad if I just did it.

Funny enough, this goes for any hobby I’ve ever had. It’s why I don’t have any hobbies. Everything, even if it seems enjoyable (like reading), is just too difficult to do. Things that are supposed to be relaxing activities just seem like a mission or like a task that needs to be done and stresses me out. I have so much anxiety and guilt and stress built up around reading, no matter what it is I’m reading.

The only time I can seem to bring myself to read is on a plane, or on a cruise. Because I have no internet. That really is what it comes down to, it seems. I really am one of those people that chooses Tik Tok over reading, and then watches Tik Toks over books, watches the reviews and recommendations, then adds the books they suggest to some list, knowing full well I’ll always pick the screen over the paper. And reading books on my phone isn’t really an option, either, because I’ll just open a different app than iBooks. I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I’m so sad! I want to read! I’m missing out on so many good books! How do I fix this? Am I going to be like this forever? I keep thinking I’ll get better but it’s been almost a decade. I keep thinking, “start small, you don’t have to read a whole novel, try some short stories or a novella” and I still can’t do it. I can’t even read long posts on Facebook or the extra long posts they have on Twitter now. If it’s more than a paragraph, it’s not fucking happening. I’m amazed you all read my posts because I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to.

Someone please fix my brain.


121 Comments on “I Read A Book This Year”

  1. I’ll note I also read fewer novels recently than I have in previous years – mostly books I’m reading to blurb. Some of this is because I don’t tend to read fiction when I’m writing a novel, but some of it is, hello, social media, etc.

  2. I’m in the same boat, and it has been bumming me out, too. I know what changed for me, though.

    During the Plague Years, my company went permanently remote, so I work at home now. I used to sit on the subway for over an hour a day, which was reading time.

    So what happened was my reading time became more-free, making more things possible with that time. I guess an economist would say revealed preference shows I’d rather do things other than reading, but I think we can both agree that economist is a reductive butthead.

    I have started going to a cafe or restaurant after work and reading there some nights. But that’s a deliberate effort, and those frequently don’t last for me.

  3. I’ve loved reading my whole life and while life has slowed me down (work) I kept it up. I’m retired now and find it funny I’m not the reading machine I’d thought I’d be and yes, that darn screen…

    I found I could read and walk at the same time. (Good sidewalks where I live.) So to keep up moving I’ll go for a one hour walk, hat and sunglasses and that gives me some dedicated time with my book.

    Another “slot” is going to bed. I don’t go straight from TV/computer to sleep. I go a little earlier and take my book with me. Sometimes I read an hour, other times I fall asleep in 10 minutes, but it’s all good.

    I think the key is finding some dedicated time, how are your mornings? Or the time after lunch, to give yourself 30 minutes to read. Oh, and place the phone in another room!

    Not saying this is the solution for you, but see what the others say and play around with it. See what works and let us know. Plus, find a super interesting book (no matter what subject) and start with that.

    Good luck with that. The reading world awaits your return. :-)

  4. It’s about developing self-control. Tic Tok is like crack for your brain. I don’t have an account. I don’t want one. You go down that path, it is hard to get out once you’ve been sucked into that black hole of mostly useless garbage. To me, the self control is to not start. For others, they can maybe turn it off.

  5. You didn’t tell us which book it was! ;-)

    Audiobooks can be a terrific option, because you can do things with your body while you’re listening — go for a walk, clean the house, do some art or craft project, whatever. I find having my hands busy helps me focus on the story.

    Also, audiobooks (on a sleep timer so they don’t play all night) slide nicely into the time while you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep. The story keeps your brain from running on the hamster wheel of worries and other small thoughts, and you get to have your eyes closed.

    I read a lot of ordinary books too but audiobooks can be really, really great.

  6. Reading should never be a chore. If it’s stressing you out that you’re missing out on all these books you don’t want to sit down to read, perhaps audiobooks would be a better alternative for you? Listening is not reading (and I will die on this hill), but this way you still get to consume all the books you want and scroll through TikTok at the same time.

    But whatever you do, don’t put pressure on yourself to read. It’ll just make it so much worse so that you’ll never want to read anything at any time.

  7. I discovered TikTok and Insta about six months ago and found them scary addictive. Pawn your children, hit rock-bottom and then do rehab-level addiction. I’ve blocked the IPs for both in my router and life is better.

  8. Audiobooks are always good – great when walking, or just plain driving. Your father probably knows of a few good audiobooks to recommend … :-)

  9. I have managed to keep up with my reading by keeping a Kindle with me with plenty of eBooks on it so I can read a little whenever I have a few minutes to wait.

    It also helps if you start reading some books by an author that you like. (You can probably guess who one of them is)

  10. Have you tried audiobooks? I adore books but also have trouble getting through many in hard copy as an adult, mostly due to just being so busy, I have trouble setting aside time for it. I listen to a lot of audiobooks though. It’s easier to make time when I can listen to a book while doing something else. I also just generally find it more relaxing to listen to them. I also find them easier to pay attention to when I’m listening vs reading. If I’m tired or stressed out for example when reading often I’ll find my attention wandering and I’ll have to re-read the same paragraph several times, but I don’t have as much of an attention problem when listening.

    I’m surprised to hear you say you don’t have any hobbies. I had assumed baking was a hobby for you. You seem very passionate about trying new recipes and from the number of posts you made here I would say you do it often enough for it qualify as a hobby.

    Have you been tested for ADHD? (You don’t have to actually answer this, I’m not trying to pry into your health, just making a suggestion of something you could look into if you haven’t already). It’s really common for people with ADHD to have difficulty getting through books and sticking to hobbies, so you really shouldn’t beat yourself up about it, it’s pretty normal. If those are things you want to change you might be able to find useful advice in ADHD groups on social media, there’s a lot of support networks for it and they can have advice/coping strategies in them that might be helpful even if you don’t have ADHD. I’m not a doctor or in any way qualified to diagnose anyone, it’s just something you might want to look into if you haven’t already.

  11. You actually answered your own question. Put down the phone. Even if it’s for 1/2hour a day. Audio books are also a great idea. Maybe start by rereading something you loved before you stopped. Then you can look up similar books. It should be enjoyable. Honestly, I can’t really judge. I know how hard changing habits can be, I do the same thing with exercise. There’s always an excuse.

  12. Audiobooks have been a lifesaver for me! When I had to do a lot of driving, I managed to get through quite a few books. For them, it’s a combination of author and narrator… when I find a great author and a great narrator, I just don’t want to get out of the car!

    If you’re having problems getting around to reading, maybe try a shorter audiobook and work up from there.

  13. I started reading much more after i got rid of cable. If you really want to read more, move your phone and tablet out of your bedroom, only have a book or kindle handy for when you are going to sleep, or wake up in the middle of the night. And give yourself permission to bounce off something. It’s ok to say this is not what I want to read right now and move to something else. Maybe you will come back to it later, maybe you will not. Either is fine.

  14. And i forgot to say. I know you like recipes and food. So if the current book you’re reading happens to be a cookbook, that’s cool too.

  15. Try reading electronic books on a screen. It helped me when I was in the depths of screen addiction and not reading as much as I wanted to.

  16. Another options would be short stories. They can be read online or on a Kindle or in collections. Then you feel that you are not making a large time commitment to read the next short story, then the next one…

  17. Always been a reader and probably always will be. My wife used to be a reader, but then got addicted to the iPad screen. After watching it for a while, she didn’t sleep well, had little energy, and was exhausted all the time. It started affecting her overall physical and mental health.

    Realizing the cost and needing a change up, she asked for some books. I got them for her and she left her phone and tablet out of the bedroom. There were some fits and starts, but she tends to sleep better now and isn’t as tired.

    It is believed by some that the screens can excite neurons and have affects for hours. I keep Kindle but only as a fallback during the day.

    You like cookbooks so maybe read those to segue up to heftier books.

    We care a lot about you, Athena, but can’t fix your brain anymore than we can fix our own. Hopefully some of the suggestions you get will help.

  18. If you are motivated by “streaks” and other gamification stuff, set a goal in your book reading app (I know Apple Books has this, I’m pretty sure other reading apps do as well) to read one minute a day. Not any more than that! And especially at first, there’s a good chance that you’ll be reading the bare minimum. Or even (gasp!) opening the app and letting it sit there to “get your one minute in and keep your streak alive”. Keeping it to a minute makes it (almost) trivial to keep the streak alive and the dopamine coming. Don’t put it to 30 minutes or whatever you “think” you should be spending reading a day. Way to easy to miss a day, and have to start over at day one and get discouraged.

    But! One minute of reading can very easily turn into two, or three. Especially if you find a book you’re interested in (be ruthless about giving up reading books that bore you, there is no prize for finishing a boring book). And a few minutes of reading a day can very quickly add up to “I just finished this book”.

    Signed, someone who had also lost his joy of reading and overcome exactly this issue.

  19. It sounds like you need a detox. Like “block the apps in the router” level. You’re going to need at least a month to break it completely. And that Jeff M. guy is being a judgy shit, that’s not how addiction works.

  20. Before the pandemic I used to read 50-75 books a year. Since the pandemic I’ve read two. This year. In the past four months. Sometimes you only have the bandwidth for certain things.
    It may be an overused statement these days, but we only have so many spoons on any given day.

    There has also been studies that show reading online content, with shorter forms and hyperlinks has effected people ability to read long form books that can affect anyone and for those that have fallen down that rabbit hole it often takes concerted effort to retrain their brain to read longer formats.

    Two of the things that have recently gotten me reexcited to read has been keeping a written book journal (vs. Goodread) of what I want to read and such,and following booktubers.

    No matter what, these past few years have been hard on us all, please remember to be kind to yourself and give yourself the kind of grace you would give to someone else.

  21. First, if you can please stop beating yourself up over things you should being – it makes my heart hurt for you.
    You may not read books but you gather the most amazing experiences. I tried Crumbl because of you. I found a candlelight concert near me because of you. I developed a serious case of envy about your recent dinner pairing.
    You get those weird snack boxes – those I will leave to you. But I never would have known that such things exist until you told me about them.
    You bake things you never have before and write about your successes and failures.
    So you don’t read a book – that’s ok because I read a ton. I’m too old to get into TikTok etc. but I do doomscroll the New York Times. You are a pretty great person, putting yourself out there. Just be happy.

  22. A friend of mine has found a kindle (or any e-reader I guess) helpful because she can make the text size larger – turns out it makes her less anxious than seeing a whole book sized page of text.

  23. Things that helped me get back into reading a few years ago:

    E-reader. It makes it easy to have a bunch of books available all the time.
    Downloading e-books from the library. It’s easier to try random books when you’re not paying for them.
    Rereading books I loved. That, more than anything, got me back into the habit. Even now that I’m reading 40-50 books a year, probably 25% of them are rereads.
    Giving myself permission to drop a book if it’s not working. If I’m not enjoying a book, I move on to another one.

    I think if you genuinely want to get away from TikTok etc. you’re going to have to physically separate yourself from your phone. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Maybe try putting it in a drawer once or twice a day and see what happens.

  24. I read on the toilet (while being careful about hemorrhoids), I read while eating, I read before sleep. When I was younger (BEFORE the internet) I read every waking moment I could. If I could have read during a shower I’d have done it. I used to clock about 300+ books per year, now I suspect I’ll do 200 in a good year.

    I’ve succumbed more than I should to online news on my phone…but am trying to limit that. It IS addictive. I get it. But you have to ask yourself now, is this the way I want to have spent my life when I come to the end of it?

    Consider a detox, because it can be an addiction. Give someone else control…or get yourself a lock box with a timed lock. You put it in there (or give it to the person) for small amounts of time, even 10 minutes to start, and READ for that time. Try to find something really engaging, and do this every day, for longer intervals. Or go for a walk, or play with the dogs, or do something your body likes to do, give yourself pleasure for that time. Replace the ersatz rewards of forever-scrolling with real rewards.

    Aim for something that productive people know…you have to schedule and stick to a short period of time every day when you respond to emails, play frivolous games, or otherwise engage the internet. Other than that limited time, be active and productive, or lazy and reading, the rest of the time. Find rewarding activities that benefit your life and your future, and expand your mind rather than just occupying it with other people’s activities.

    Free yourself. The people you watch online do not have YOUR best interests at heart. I had to break myself of Twitter at one point. It was hard, but very rewarding.

  25. As a person who beats herself up over everything (though this is because I’m beaten up on at work a lot, plus my family does same), telling someone not to…hahahahah.

    We all have those attention span issues thanks to the Internet. We still read a lot, it’s just different reading. Even I don’t read as many books as I used to, but I try to make myself do them in certain situations, while walking around (note: I’m not walking anywhere difficult!), or while in waiting rooms, or in line at a store, or forcing myself to go outside and read at a table. As you’ve noticed, we’d all rather read the Internet on some level, so it’s easier to read without it.

  26. Another thought, do you like comics and graphic novels? There’re some pretty great stories out there in graphic formats too. They tend to be faster to read and since the text is broken up into smaller blocks, they can be easier to digest when struggling to focus. Plus, some people just find art easier to focus on than text. I love reading comics as much s regular books and listening to audio books. I don’t feel any one type of reading is more virtuous than another, you don’t have to force yourself to read full length novels if other formats would be more enjoyable for you or easier to stick with.

    Also, if magazines are more your preference there’s cooking magazines, etc. It might help you get back in the habit of reading regularly if you sat down with something full of short articles that are easy to put down and pick up again in small increments.

  27. One of the best bits of advice I got from a counselor was allowing myself to be OK with taking breaks from hobbies, workouts, and projects.
    Reducing the sense of obligation that makes something feel a chore can help turn it into a moment of “me time” that you’ll want to keep doing.

    I think you’ve mentioned wanting to exercise more too, so I’ll share something that worked for me to read and workout more.

    I have an elliptical machine, and I’ll read while using it with an eReader that I can hold in one hand (audio books and treadmills or stationary bikes are good too). I don’t go hard-core or push for any specific goals. I just make sure I move at a good clip while reading for however long I choose, a few days a week. Sometimes that’s just 10 minutes with a quick chapter in a novella, sometimes I’ll go for 45+ minutes, especially if I get drawn into a good story.

    And sometimes I skip it for a week because other things came up, which is cool too. I can always come back to it because there’s no pressure or shame involved.

    I hope you find your groove!

  28. Athena, I totally feel you on the internet being a time suck and on my attention span suffering unless I put conscious effort into maintaining it.

    It seems like the joy of books or audiobooks might be diminished right now because you feel guilty about not reading more. How about sidestepping that cycle by taking a walk while listening to a 20-30 minute podcast?

    That might be a less stress-associated way to learn something new about the world and take yourself beyond your immediate surroundings for a while. It builds your attention muscles by being longer than a typical Tik Tok video, but isn’t a huge commitment, and can fit into a sustainable exercise routine that doesn’t require a lot of planning or gear. (From your roller-skating post, it sounds like that might be a plus.)

    A specific recommendation depends on your interests, but NPR has a bunch of options — Code Switch, This American Life, and The Moth are a few — with substantial archives, good production values, and reliable factchecking. Try a few and see if something draws your interest!

  29. I see several other people have suggested audiobooks, which I came here to suggest. I would also look at different formats, like kids books, comic books, something different than you’ve picked up before. And thinking about your baking experiments, what about one of those cozy mysteries that happen to a baker and include a recipe…it’s just a long food blog with an adventure in it along with the recipe (seriously just google cozy mystery with recipes and there are several suggestions that pop up).

    The other thing I’ve decided is that there is such a thing as “reader’s block”…if you can’t get into anything new, how about rereading a comfort read, or maybe try getting short stories or poems so there’s less investment and maybe less inertia.

    No magic, but if you can turn trying out other options into a game instead of a chore, something might pique your curiosity again.

  30. I have been a voracious reader from early childhood. I mean, whenever possible, it was literally all I did with my waking hours, for many decades (I’m in my 60s now). And then, maybe 15 or so years ago, for reasons different from yours (I’m disabled, and my physical state made it progressively more difficult to read print matter), I began reading less and less until I reached the point where I was reading almost nothing. It was devastating to me.

    But then… I found (digital) audiobooks. And my world opened back up in a way I had thought was forever gone. Being read to is every bit as meaningful as reading with one’s own eyes (and sometimes more, with especially good narrators!). My reading rapidly increased again, and my enjoyment of it even more, in both fiction and non-fiction. And not just my volume of reading, but my comprehension and absorption of the material. It was almost magical. (I’ve listened to quite a few of your dad’s books via audio–it’s how I found his work!)

    It’s also really nice because you can listen while you do other things, like walking, doing chores, driving, etc (anything that doesn’t require verbal-type thinking, in my experience). That seems to help me a lot. Ultimately, everyone is different, but my suggestion is try out audio, and start with anything you find engaging (even books you’ve read before!). Ignore anyone who tells you it’s not “real” reading–that’s nonsense. You might find you’re reading more without even really trying!

    And finally, maybe the most important bit: Athena, your brain is not broken, and doesn’t need to be fixed. We all function in different ways, and different isn’t bad. I’m neurodivergent, and wish I’d understood much earlier that how one’s brain works is just how it is–it’s more important to adapt your environment and activities to your needs and strengths than try to force yourself into some mold because that’s the way it’s “supposed” to be. No worries, you’re fine. Best of luck… and my apologies for such a long comment!

  31. Folks, a gentle reminder that if you feel the need to prove to the world that you’re a jerk, I will happily mallet you into oblivion. So maybe keep your desire to be a jerk to yourself, thank you.

    (And also, if you see someone being a jerk, leave them be, I’ll be around with the mallet presently)

  32. Athena, I’m a librarian and I would ask you to go easy on yourself. It’s obvious from how well you express yourself in writing that you’re already a reader, which is not necessarily the same thing as someone who currently devotes time to reading. You are in fact reading when you take in and interact with information via TikTok and the web. An expanded definition of literacy is what’s needed here. Give yourself over to the thoughts and ideas that are part of your world now, and trust that when the time is right, you will likely return to reading and the printed word as a source of pleasure and enlightenment. Until then, no guilt, no shame, and no worries! You have a terrific mind and a lovely spirit.

  33. I feel the same. I love watching movies and playing video games, however tv show watching has fallen off for me. I love books, have a passion for reading…but i make excuses to not do so. I read a few a year, but much less than in the past.
    Hopefully you’re reading you’re dad’s book for support (chuckles)

  34. I used to read 100+ books a year – and retain what I read. Now I read a third of that and don’t always retain all of it. It’s really annoying.

    I’ve found that what’s helped me is this: I got an inexpensive Kindle – just a Kindle, not a tablet, not a Kindle Fire – and downloaded the books I wanted to read to that. I take that to bed with me at night and commit to reading for 20 mins. Usually by the time I’ve read for 20 mins, I’m settled enough that I’ll do a little more – 30 or 40 mins until I get to a good chapter break.

    I do NOT take my phone to bed with me. It goes in the charging station on my bedside table but I don’t touch it once I’ve put it down for the night. It goes on do-not-disturb after 11 and there’s no reason for me to pick it up again unless it’s an emergency.

    I’m still not reading as much as I used to but I’ve accepted that I’m likely never goign to get back to that level. I just try to enjoy what I am reading now.

  35. Athena, congratulations on reading a book this year. That’s a great thing in and of itself

  36. I hear your pain!

    tl;dr – maybe the solution is not directly related to your device usage or your reading at all?

    Lots of great thoughts here so far one of which I will reinforce – audiobooks. My wife loves to read, but can’t read text anymore. So she listens to audiobooks and podcasts. Works for her! I’m a big podcast listener when I’m doing stuff that’s not sitting still – walking, dishwashing, folding laundry etc.

    That’s a potential mechanical solution to what’s going on with you.

    But I think that you may be at a spiritual crisis. And by “spiritual” I don’t mean JC or any of His followers or teachings – although if one reads the book most of His followers like in order to cull nuggets of wisdom, they can be found. But there’s an entire set of multiple religions built around that book – and who needs the aggravation of dealing with them… If none of this resonates, please ignore it all. By spiritual I mean something that is a combination of psychological, societal, and maybe even a force or compulsion that’s greater than just your personal willpower to resolve.

    To me, it sounds like you might be addicted to your phone/other devices. This may be due to a sense of loneliness and lack of connection. Not surprisingly, you are not alone in your loneliness: Gen Z is the loneliest generation (insert crying face emoji here). Also no surprise then that Gen Z is also the most engaged demographic with parasocial apps like TikTok, Youtube, and Instagram where an individual knows SO MUCH about a creator that one feels like they know them – but honestly, they don’t. (This blog is very much a parasocial phenomenon, and there’s something very meta about me giving you advice about parasociality when my relationship to you is 1000% parasocial. But whatever…) There is no actual real connection. Thus loneliness. A loneliness that may drive an individual to continue to try to assuage the loneliness with further engagement in the app, leading to deeper loneliness, more app engagement, and so on and so on. Until the “engagement with the app” is an addiction.

    Loneliness, feelings of abandonment, disconnection – these are spiritual maladies.

    Here are some ideas on how to address. Most of my ideas are of the “start small and expand as able” methodology.

    As mentioned multiple times above, take a device break for a small amount of time a day. The amount of time can gradually get longer. But literally 60 seconds to start.
    Meditate – without an app. Start by meditating for 60 seconds. Extend as you feel ready. Meditation is my way of listening for my intuition and the world to tell me things. That may sound woo – but it works for me.
    Meditate – with an app. I am lucky enough twice a week to attend brief guided meditations, where I learn techniques I bring to my personal meditations. I might suggest to only meditate once a week with an app, and then try to use one technique you liked from the guided meditation in your personal non-app meditations. And again, start with very short guided meditations. If your app has 1 minute, start with that.
    Journal. With paper and pen. Start by journaling for 1 minute a day, writing whatever comes to your brain. This is never-publishable material. Crap. Doggerel. The letter A written over and over (hey, “A” is a word!). Whatever, just sit and put physical pen or pencil to physical paper.
    Connect with people beyond the surface. This is hard. Some spiritual communities offer ways to do this. Group therapy is another way to get to this. But there is almost nothing more valuable than being seen for who you really are and being accepted and loved anyway. (Your parents may already do this – but it’s valuable to find this outside your nuclear family)
    This one is my only suggestion that circles back to the actual issue at hand – reading. Find someone who is willing to be an accountability partner with you in reading. Someone who won’t judge; but will still hear your status update and celebrate any progress you make. Ideally the person/s is/are a) not a member of your family b) local enough that you can see them in person c) kind d) likes to read. And then weekly set a super small reading SMART goal (“I will read 1 page this week of this specific book”) with them – and they with you – and then meet for coffee or wine or a hot dog or whatever and check-in, as well as chat and catchup. While the intent is to “read” together, the hoped for outcome is to develop connection with your accountability partners. Book Clubs are a way to engender this, if there’s any sort of book club anywhere close to you. If you are willing, you could even start a “Book Club for readers who can’t read, because reasons” book club! Maybe you could even meet at the Bradford Old Church location.

    After all that – I hope things shift for you. Asking your friends or even your para-social friends here in this blog is a start – way to go!

    Ok, post is now super long, sorry!

    To paraphrase what I said up top, and a common phrase in certain recovery circles: take what you need and leave the rest

  37. When I was young I read a book a day. Then as adult I read nothing, maybe a book a year. Earlier this year, I tried an iOS app called Serial Reader. It feeds you books a small chunk at a time, once a day. And it nags. I started, and it started a new habit for me. I’ve been working through the Russian classics, and other classics, just finished James Joyce’s Ulysses. But it rediscovered my passion for reading by starting a new habit. And now in addition to the Serial Reader books, I’m reading two books a week and catching up on the marvelous things I missed by not reading. It’s not for everyone, but it might help to establish a new reading habit and bring the joy back.

  38. Athena,
    Do what works for you. If you actually want to read more then try some of the suggestions in the comments. Or decide you don’t want to today and don’t. I like to read with someone if possible, to talk about the book, although I’ve never been part of a bookclub. I just follow recommendations from friends, and sisters. And NPR.
    I can’t do audiobooks personally, they interrupt my suspension of disbelief, but many people swear by them. You only have to satisfy yourself.

  39. In my viewpoint, it has nothing to do with the internet or phones. (I may be the only one here saying that.)

    I’ve had a similar issue for decades about hobbies, etc. I started to call it the “WANNA-OUGHTA-GOTTA” syndrome.

    I think, “I WANT to paint watercolors” (after having done it in workshops and really enjoyed it). Some time later, I think, “if I really mean it, I OUGHT to paint.” And that turns into “I absolutely must paint! I GOTTA prioritize it.”

    Awesome, I just turned a pleasure into a duty, and I’ve always felt defiant (rebellious, put upon, un-free) about doing duties. Guess who hasn’t done any painting in decades?

  40. As many others have said, there’s nothing wrong with reading 1, 10, 100, or 1000 books a year. Others have suggested audiobooks as a potential alternative and that seems like a reasonable alternative if one of the main reasons you’re not reading is being intimidated by a large number of pages.

    But to use an analogy that may resonate with you based on your posts on Whatever, another alternative could be to look at something more like a tasting menu rather than a 5 course meal. Have you considered trying an anthology of shorter stories?

    Instead of having to try to force yourself to read through a several hundred page book, reading one story at a time that is maybe a few dozen pages long may be less intimidating. And if you find that one author’s story doesn’t float your boat, the book isn’t “wasted” since another author’s story might resonate more strongly with you. Perhaps start off with an anthology on a particular topic or theme that interests you, or one with a story from an author that you know you like in a setting that you like.

    Given that your family has and has had a menagerie to rival Doctor Doolittle’s, I think one anthology that may pique your interest is “Instinct: An Animal Rescuers Anthology”. In it authors tell stories of animal companions in their universes. [I picked it up because Mouse, the Dogasaurus Rex from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files universe, has a story in it. He is a VERY Good Boy, as is the mythical canine who recruits him for the mission!]

    According to Amazon it has 442 pages and 17 stories, for an average length of 26 pages per story.

  41. I started reading a little bit before I go to bed on a Kindle. It helps, but I’ve only read several books instead of absorbing them like I used to as a kid

  42. I have had the same problem as you, Athena, for the past way too many years. I buy books that I am really interested in reading and then they sit unread on my TBR shelf. A big part of my reluctance to start them is that I know that if a book is really, really good it is impossible for me to put down. I have read for 14-16 hrs straight and gone to work on 2 hrs sleep because I just can’t put the book down. So I sometimes worry about picking up a book and having it disrupt the rest of my life. But I also struggle with that work ethic that says reading a book is pleasure and you don’t get to do that until all your chores are done!

    It’s amazing the baggage some of us carry! I am working on ignoring those voices in my head that say I can’t enjoy a book until every chore is done! Some days are better than others, but lately I am finding a half hour or so before bed to just sit down and enjoy a good chapter or two!

    Good luck on getting past the anxiety/guilt/stress about reading and just sitting down and enjoying a great story!

  43. I literally couldn’t read for all of the COVID years. My job requires me to read medical records and the horror in our state (New Mexico) 2019–2022 pretty much broke me. I only read much loved favorites (Guy Gabriel Kay, mostly) those years. I’ve been reading more new stuff lately and it feels GOOD!

  44. Athena;
    Reading for me has been a comfort and a chore. Sometimes I feel an insatiable ‘need’ to read, other times I will nurse a book along for an insufferably long time. The key I think is to keep curious and inquisitive.

  45. I think the struggle to put down the phone is real. I’ve been monitoring how much time I spend online through a digital health report my phone sends me every week. I’ve whittled it down a lot.

    Also, you might not be a fan of what you used to like to read. Maybe try a new genre.

    Just my .02

  46. Go fishing. Don’t worry about catching anything, this is an excuse to go outside, listen to the water, and do nothing but relax in nice weather for hours. If you catch dinner, that’s a bonus.
    Read fanfiction. I lost my attention span and risk tolerance for new books a few years back (I mean, f**k “The Traitor Baru Comorant” and the guy who wrote it–killed my desire to read modern fantasy dead). Fanfiction, on the other hand… I know the characters and the world, and the tag system on AO3 mostly lets me avoid stuff I don’t feel like dealing with. I can pick the length of story I want to read, from a 2000 word character study to someone’s million-word slow-burn romance epic.
    Seriously, have you been checked for adult ADHD? Almost all of the problems you’ve posted about, like your college issues, sound just like the problems I and other friends with ADHD had, either with life, education, or whatever.
    I agree with everyone who says dump TikTok. I don’t follow it myself, but the collective wisdom of Tumblr tells me that the TikTok community is toxic and that the TikTok algorithm is designed to drive you into anger and depression.

  47. I agree with everyone hoping you won’t beat up on yourself. That could be making this harder for you. I hope you can treat yourself well about this and other things.

    What you say sounds complicated, about how hobbies and reading are difficult, and seem more like chores (or sources of guilt) than like pleasure or fun. Plus there’s the lure of the phone. It sounds complex enough that if you see a therapist, you might raise this as something you’d like to work on. You closed with “somebody fix my brain.” You can certainly get with whatever you would like to change.

  48. What saves me is the Jewish sabbath. From Friday twilight to Saturday evening, 25 hours, our family uses no electronic devices. That’s when I get most of my paper book reading done.

  49. Perhaps what you’re reading isn’t really grabbing you. Maybe try an engaging novella, like the first Murderbot book by Martha Wells, “All Systems Red”, or the Vinge classic “True Names”.

    I like to read on my 10-inch tablet while walking in the house, white on black. You could have a nice reading track in your church before your parents seize all the space.

  50. Athena, you mention not following through on hobbies but perhaps you’ve shown us a few in your blog posts. You like to try new recipes, for instance. And you like to explore new restaurant and dining experiences. You blog about those pretty often, so maybe you do have a hobby or two you keep coming back to. I find those posts enjoyable, by the way.

  51. Maybe you could read more short stories, either in anthologies or magazines. That way you can read one story a day (or more) until the book is finished, but feel a sense of accomplishment. LOST IN THE CITY by Edward P Jones and THE BLOOD OF STRANGERS by Frank HUYLER are two of my favorite collections. Not all stories in a given book will be winners, but that’s okay. You can skip them and come back later.

    I also agree with the others who have suggested audiobooks. You could also read aloud to each other.

  52. Feeling the pain a lot, Athena. Not being able to manage stuff you want to do sucks.

    For reading, I have the same routine as @Kara described above: time when I put the phone down (and fire up music, since I rely on it very heavily to pace my addled brain) and pick up my Kindle (Paperwhite) for a while, and just read. It helps a lot by shutting out the net for a while.

  53. I love stories, so it’s sad that you’re missing out. I’d like to suggest audio books. You can listen while driving, out walking, biking, whatever! As far as your brain is concerned, there’s not a huge difference, and you get to enjoy the story either way.

    If reading is what you really want to do, maybe shorter stories are more your jam.

    It’s not a shorter story, but it’s very well-written and it grabbed my attention right away: Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, by Brandon Sanderson. It was his “Secret Project,” #3. Maybe it will grab your attention, too.

  54. I spent my teens reading all the books and then sometime in my 20s I just…Stopped? For like 15 years I read one or two books a year. Usually the same ones over and over.

    But it came back a couple of years ago and suddenly I’m reading again. So don’t despair. Sometimes life just gets in the way and sometimes it can get back out of the way again.

  55. How do you feel about short stories? I love them. They’re much less of a commitment and there are a lot of free ones.

    I mostly read SFF/speculative fiction – so places like Uncanny, Strange Horizons, The Dark…
    This is meant for authors looking for paying markets to submit their work, but it’s a good place to start and see if there’s anything you like. :https://publishedtodeath.blogspot.com/2018/05/mega-list-of-paying-markets-for-horror.html

    I’d also just suggest giving yourself “permission” to not read if you don’t want it. If it feels like a chore, you’re less likely to do it for fun. You don’t have to read. You aren’t a bad person because you aren’t reading.

  56. Ah, I should have read all the way through before i suggested short stories.

    But maybe break them up into pieces? Read a paragraph or two and just see if you like it. It’s pretty typical to make snap judgements of a story. You’ll know if it’s for you within a few sentences….and there’s no commitment you. You can put it down if you don’t like it.

  57. I used to LOVE reading when I was younger, but then “real life” happened and reading just sort of fell by the wayside.

    A few years ago my wife and I decided to do something about it, and so we started reading at bedtime. Usually about half an hour to 40 minutes, but even 15-20 minutes is better than nothing. Turns out I still love reading, I just needed a reminder.

  58. I’ve started declaring Saturdays as #AntiSocialSaturday and trying to stay off of social media for the day. Both because I need to get stuff on my to-do lists done, and because I want to get in more time for reading books and watching tv/movies. (Some success with the former, though never as much as I hope for, not so much success with the latter goal yet.)

    (Social media is like the demonic love child of popcorn & Lay’s potato chips. You can’t stop at “just one more”.)

    I also need to remember to set a timer for my online sessions during the rest of the week, and actually stop when it goes off.

  59. Jeopardy! clue for $400: Tik tok; potato chips; crack cocaine; twitter; sex; booze;

    answer: what are highly addictive things Americans have in easy reach?

    start with your basics: vision check? ADD/ADHD eval? covid lingering?

    did you unplug every device before picking up the book? get away from your desk-office-kitchen and find someplace alone; if it’s too cold outside, ask your parents to lend you the use of that non-church they have

    right here is a topic you could focus upon for 50+ blog posts, deep dive research and online classes in (choose one or many) pysch, human brain flaws, tech adaptation, behavioral therapy, stress/detox, modes of entertainment, short attention spans, ADD/ADHD, modes of learning, cognitive treatment post-neuro damage (stroke, TBI, long covid, stroke, etc)…

    …and if you really focus, maybe a old-style book with how-to’s, worksheets and lessons for parents trying to help teenagers avoid flunking out in their first year of high school…which could well become a Netflix four part mini-series which will be viewed a zillion times

  60. a writer’s block trick that’s been useful… might work within your short attention span

    “Chicken Soup For ZZZ” each entry is two pages in length and a couple hundred per volume… read one entry aloud then write the back story

  61. Overcoming inertia seems so hard when you are on the not-doing side. Starting a thing — a hobby, a book — often reveals that the inertia was just a speed bump, not a wall.

  62. Hi Athena, I had another thought that might be helpful. My brain can be a guilt machine as well. I used to make lists of videogames I wanted to play and, in time, I noticed that I was feeling guilty about not getting to then yet. It was at that point that I realized that, by writing a list (setting a goal) my brain converted a previously fun activity into a chore. After that, I deleted my list and all remnants of goals in that area. That way, I was better able to enjoy what I was doing.

    Goals are still important to me but I try to frame then differently and try to put less pressure on myself. I’m a low energy guy and I find I can work longer and get more done if I put less pressure on myself.

    Just a different perspective that may or may not apply to your situation. Mostly, I just feel really happy that you read a book this year, and last year, and the previous year, and the previous year. That’s something!

  63. I agree with the audiobooks suggestions and short stories others have mentioned. Also, with putting your phone somewhere else when you are reading.
    Crooked Media has a weekly podcast called Offline that comes out every Sunday. It is basically about phone/online experiences and how different people are coping with changing their habits. There are almost 2 years with and you can listen to the ones that sound the most interesting and helpful to you. https://crooked.com/podcast-series/offline/

  64. Many of us have been there.

    Best tips:
    * Setup time limiters on your phone. Max 30 minutes of social media per day. On an iPhone, this is called “Screen Time”.
    * Make reading something you do habitually at a specific time each day.

    For me, it’s part of my bedtime routine. I know others who read as the first thing they do in the morning. Either way, pick a time and set and alarm to make that your reading time.

  65. I guess everyone’s told you to try audio books? A friend of mine listens to them while he works (he’s a gardener, so I guess that easy). Or maybe stop worrying about it as something you “should” be doing – coz that doesn’t sound like much fun, and fun is the whole point!

  66. I did read your whole post, so I’ll keep this short. If you’re specifically interested in reading fiction, try flash fiction or micro fiction. Very short, like less than a paragraph sometimes. And audio podcasts with short fiction while you’re doing something else that you already enjoy From the responses, I think we’ve got your back, because we care about you. Best wishes for enjoyment no matter what you do.

  67. “I have something I want to do that I enjoy doing, but I can’t get myself to actually start doing it.”

    That is an executive function disorder. Probably ADD/ADHD; but autism also has executive dysfunction as a major component of the disorder, and lots of other mental health problems can also cause it, though generally not to the same degree (unless they are really severe).

    I would recommend reading stuff written or vlogged by people with ADD/ADHD to see if it sounds familiar and to see if they have any tips or tricks that sound helpful. I’m autistic, but also struggle with executive function. The hashtag used by people with ADD is #ActuallyADD (or #ActuallyADHD). (Autism is #ActuallyAutistic).

    If you do have ADD, getting diagnosed can be a hassle as an adult, especially as a woman; most of the diagnostic criteria are based on how the disorder presents in white boys. But having that diagnosis means you can get medication, which for many people can help dramatically.

    As for practical tips, putting pressure on yourself is not going to help. Or rather, ‘pressure to get things done to force yourself to do them’ works great until it stops working at all. And then you’re burned out and miserable and have to completely rebuild your coping skills because nothing works any longer. Give yourself grace, and look for ways to make things easier on you. Find ways to lower the pressure and make things easier. For reading, for example, don’t beat yourself up when you don’t read, and leave copies of old favorites around the house. (And maybe do things to make online time-wasters harder to do, or find ways to interrupt things so you can’t get sucked in by the algorithm.)

    For a lot of people, it helps to break things down into small steps and then chain those steps together. This does a number of things. First of all, for people with executive dysfunction, the organizational ‘how to do the thing’ can be the hardest part. If you treat that as a step and work specifically on it (consciously figuring out all the different things that need to happen in order) then everything else becomes so much easier and way less scary to your brain. Then you can tell yourself “I don’t have to do the whole thing, I just have to do this little bit here.” Instead of a whole huge thing, you have something manageable. And sometimes that’s all you get done. But other times, you find that once you have done the first thing, and the rest of the steps are clearly laid out in order, you can then go on to the next steps with a minimum of extra executive function needed.

  68. Perhaps it would help you to consider what you like about TikTok. What makes you spend time on that Platform. And then use the platform for that purpose.

    That’s how I guided my time on Twitter into more reasonable tracks – when I analyzed for myself that I like to use it to stay in contact and informed about authors, books and regional atheist and nerd communities.
    That’s also why I’m deeply saddened, to see the platform demise thanks to the actions of its new owner.
    Maybe when you make yourself aware about what you like about the platforms the stuff that bothers and gets on your nerves on those platforms (and usually there is plenty of that stuff on those platforms) will help you put those down after an hour or two of consumption.

  69. I’m sorry you’re missing out on the things that you want to do.

    I can’t read on my phone, either – too many distractions. So I have one (or many, that’s a different rabbit hole) device dedicated to reading. I don’t install other apps on that device beyond reading apps.

    Audiobooks are great, too!

  70. Normally I’m much gentler, but I’ve been worrying for a while (at least as far back as “Call Me Britney”), and here’s what I think both you and your father should do: both of you talk to your mother and ask her to set up ADHD evaluations with a trusted physician/psychiatrist ASAP and then follow up to book treatment if need be.

    My very strong sense is that it’s not that you need to “try harder.” It’s that you’re beating yourself up for the way your brain is wired (which wants instant gratification NOW NOW NOW because of a nonstandard but common kind of relationship with dopamine), which is only going to cause misery. Right now you don’t have a way of talking your brain into doing things you don’t want to do, or only kinda want to do, and that’s brutal. People who benefit from repeatedly trying something until they improve are starting from a very different place from this.

    All of my students who have received this diagnosis recently are doing much better. One of them said she started on meds and could suddenly just DO THINGS. Just like that. As soon as she decided she wanted to or had to do them.

  71. Audiobooks, my friend. I too have fallen prey to the lure of the Social Media Time Suck, but have learned to stick an earbud in whenever I’m doing dishes, scooping litter boxes, anything that engages my eyes but not my brain. I used to tear through dozens of print books, and unfortunately that’s dropped to a fraction of its previous number–but I pretty much make it up in audiobooks. (Sidenote: a whole lot of public libraries offer up Libby or Hoopla as a service–both are great ways to get access to more audiobooks than you might feel comfortable buying on your own. Just…not most of Scalzi’s titles, as he mainly publishes through Audible which doesn’t play well with either service.)

  72. During the pandemic, I discovered that I was carrying an enormous load of stress that I hadn’t been fully aware of. Setting aside my impotent rage at our governments, one of the first places I noticed this was that I was having a hard time motivating myself to read anything complicated — including the books I used to love reviewing for my professional society and demanding or multi-volume fiction.

    I was fortunate in being able to pick up on this and I solved the problem myself, but it took time and a lot of support from friends and loved ones.

    So maybe work with someone (whether a psych professional or yur BFF) to see if you can do a reality check on your stress load? And develop coping strategies, such as talking yourself through the stress? One of my coping strategies was reading and rereading collections of single-panel or single-page comics, like Far Side, Tom Gauld’s comics, XKCD, etc. etc. Baby steps until I was able to run again.

  73. I’ve had enormous trouble reading new fiction other than very lightweight stuff since the pandemic started. I’ve reread lots of old favorites and managed new romance novels, fanfic, and nonfiction in my professional field, but my old novel-reading habit just got whacked.

    Oddly enough, what helped me get out of it was a deadline: the Hugo voting. This year I vowed to read all the fiction categories except Best Series, and I just about made it, taking them one by one. Having a hard deadline of September 30th and treating it sort of like a job helped. It also helped that this involved reading a lot of really good stuff, though also some stuff (looking at you, several Lodestar nominees…) that was in dire need of an editorial axe. Once I got started and made a nice day-by-day task list (“Sunday: read and vote on all short stories”) and started checking things off and going into the voting site to enter votes category by category, the momentum and deadline really carried me along. Seeing all those nice red checks on the voting site was gratifying. And, frankly, it was a form of procrastination over other things I should have been doing – too stressed to write or answer professional emails? No problem, I have the Hugo Reading Task I must complete! Sit and read a book instead of working!

    That particular task has just expired for this year, but perhaps you can come up with something similar that fits into your own life?

  74. I just want to say that all reading counts as reading. Echoing above– comic books are reading. Manga is reading. Blog posts are reading. Cheesy romance novels where you know every beat of what is going to happen are reading. Cereal boxes are reading.

    Maybe you want to read more hard-core stuff, which is certainly valid, but I don’t know that I would consider that a hobby so much as like personal improvement or something. (Unless this is the kind of thing that you find you enjoy once you get into it, you just have a hard time getting started.) I feel like hobbies should be fun and enjoyable, because life is hard enough.

  75. Normally I wouldn’t comment, and certainly not with advice, however you explicitly asked for help.

    Jews spend approximately 26 hours a week disconnecting. They don’t work, which includes electricity. They don’t travel more than they can walk. They don’t clean or cook or do other such chores.

    This time (Shabbat) from sundown to sundown is different. It’s slower, more deliberate.

    I’m not saying become a Jew (you’d be hard pressed to even find a Rabbi who would let you convert), but I am saying that trying out “keeping shabbat” once or twice a month might help you with the specific complaint you’re having.

    I’m sure you could find an observant Jewish fan of your father’s work that wouldn’t mind hosting for a Shabbat. Particularly if it might lead to more representation. (Jew as something other than “person who celebrates Channukah instead of Christmas”). This might not be close by, but as your father has pointed out, you all are rich, so a weekend flight is probably within the budget.

    Just an outside of the box idea.

  76. Ok, just read your post a little more carefully (my fault!)

    One thing I have tried that worked was to have month long challenges where I just locked up my phone or blocked twitter entirely, particularly in the mornings when I would usually get most of my scrolling in. I honestly think getting those short bursts caused something like adhd and made it harder to concentrate on things that take longer to give a dopamine payoff.

    I am not a doctor and have no idea if that’s a real thing, but it did seem like there was a genuine withdrawal phase and then I started to be able to read longer form stuff again after a couple/few weeks. I don’t have a twitter account so every time Elon Musk makes twitter unreadable if you’re not logged in increases my concentration.

    It doesn’t last forever because eventually I’m like, I should be reading reddit (which I then have to block) and then find other new things to get addicted to, but I think the short term cleanses are helpful.

  77. When it comes to the advice to read some lighter stuff:

    I found some guilty pleasure in irreverent reading of prestigious books or prestigious classics. It started when some local author pushed me into reading his beaux-arts styled novel.
    It cost him an entire star in average rating of his book on Amazon – but writing that review was the only way to convince the algorithm to stop suggesting alike novels to me.
    Apparently, since the algorithm knew that I read the book, it weighted my review stronger than courtesy reviews.

    (If you are an author who reads along these comments: There are risks attached in pushing out-of-your-usual-audience people to read your books)

    On the other hand: You might find classics who are actually good (probably because I don’t have to write an essay for school on them anymore). Albert Camus for example.

  78. Another librarian checking in here– you don’t have to read books to be accomplished or thoughtful or smart (all of which you are, so you know this already). Being made to read is the surest killer of reading enjoyment, and that includes making yourself read.

    Instead of a list of things you want to do, have you considered keeping a list of things you’ve done? That can help you look back at what you’ve accomplished and also figure out what you might enjoy doing more of. (I’ve been doing this for a few months now and it’s helped me at home and at work too.)

  79. Wow. You’ve got advice! I’ll try not to add to it. You mentioned that you don’t often pursue hobbies with much success, and I can’t fully agree with that, since I see baking from scratch as a hobby, and you do that quite well. Also, you aren’t put off by getting results that differ from your expectations. Your food writing is excellent, and I always enjoy your restaurant reviews. I have a book recommendation: Ruth Reichel, Garlic and Saphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. It’s a memoir of her time as a restaurant critic trying to avoid being spotted and given VIP treatment that might misrepresent a regular diner’s experience.

    And now I’m going to break down and do what I said I wouldn’t. Advice! It comes! If there’s something you want to read and you can’t get started with it, read the first few paragraphs aloud to the cats. (Or a dog! Dogs are good for this!) Here endeth the advice.

  80. Oh, honey. There are so many reasons one can fall off of doing something, and none of them have to do with being Bad or Broken or any other self-punishing B word. As others have said: have kindness for yourself. Hating yourself into doing something is not, um, useful.

    It’s possible that being in more no-internet situations might help. It’s possible that one of these days you’ll just find yourself reading. It’s possible that the things you think you need to read aren’t what you need to be reading–I once knew a man who didn’t believe in fiction (seriously, he couldn’t understand why anyone wanted to read made-up stuff) but read ALL the non-fiction. So.

    Go easy on yourself. And you can read recipes: we’ve seen the results. As a fellow baker, I’ll tell you: those are complex. Ain’t nothing wrong with your brain. When you want to read fiction you will.

  81. I can’t blame social media because I don’t do that, but I love having an entire library in my tablet, and when reading on the tablet it’s just so easy to finish the chapter, or the page, or the paragraph and just stop and check if there’s any new emails, oh and do a puzzle while I’m out of the reading app.
    I just tell myself I have Adult Onset Attention Deficit Disorder. I certainly don’t have any hyperactivity variant of that!

  82. Hey! I ran into that issue for a few years, and my TBR pile is easily in the triple digits. But, I find myself reading a lot on my phone. Grabbing a physical book feels like a bigger commitment. Plus, the physical books are often by friends, or books that are reviewed well that I SHOULD read. And there’s so many. Which do I even start with?

    So, what I end up reading are cheesy, formulaic romances via Kindle Unlimited. And I’ve decided to stop being embarrassed that I’m not reading “the right books” and let myself read what I’m feeling at the moment.

  83. When it comes to reading devices: I only read books either on paper or on my Kindles.

    These Kindles are easier to read from than usual tablets, they weight less than tablets and last but certainly not least: They’re single purpose devices.
    That way, when I open them, there are no games and no distractions on them to keep me from my reading.
    I also have paper books, mostly to support the local book store. But then I forget them at home while I am on a train and therefore buy them a second time on my Kindle.

  84. So I’ m in the same boat. But maybe worse? I was a pretty good reader when I was a kid. Even into high school. I’d do it at night, in bed till I was ready to pass out. Got home from stuff at 12.30? Gotta be up at 6.30? Time to get a chapter or three in. Then I got to college and really, I had to no free energy to read for fun anymore. I was just reading for school and that was it. I’d try to read for fun and my brain was just like NOPE. So I basically stopped. Instead I found the internet and short form reading: news stories, journal entries, blog posts. Quick easy reads.

    It wasn’t until a few years ago that my wife and I figured out how to get me to ‘read a book’. Audio books. We listen to them in the car instead of the radio or music. We get thru 6-8 books a year like this, sometimes more. I get a new pile of them every gift giving occasion. It allows me to read a book, but without sitting down and holding and trying to stay awake or interested or really anything. As long as we can get the book in a physical format, we’re down. Then we aren’t dependent on connections/speed or some service pulling the book from it’s listings midway through the book for us.

    It just works for me.

  85. The last couple of months have been harder to read because kids schedules’ are more complicated, but even then, I wasn’t reading much in the way of books, but mostly articles in chemistry journals (which I remember some but are more like transient bites of information).

    I don’t know – I thought people who deal with difficulty in life tended to read more difficult fiction but I wonder if the loss of structure in society and around me makes it harder to read for me. I don’t know.

    I wonder if essays might be something – they’re shorter and can at least be selected for desired style. I liked reading Anthony Bourdain a lot, for example, though I don’t appreciate that level of cooking so much (I think of how I’d like to be at my job when I read “His Aim is True”).

  86. For me what works is, I have to borrow the book from the library. If I own the book I can read it anytime, so there’s no rush to read it, so it just sits on the shelf forever because there are other things to do.

    If I borrow from the library I have to return it within 2-3 weeks so I make sure to read it within that time. I’ll start reading it right away instead of letting it sit somewhere.

  87. Those telling Athena “you must not really want to read books:” that’s just wrong. Nearly everyone is blocked from doing something they really want to do. Also, Athena’s 100% right that the Internet is a huge distraction / competitive activity.

    Athena –

    The distraction you mention is one reason that many people (like study skills guru Cal Newport) advocate cutting back on tech. Maybe consider making your bedroom or some other space a wifi- or computer-free zone, or find a local wifi-free library or coffee shop or other space to read in.

    However, this – “It’s some huge, unmanageable task in my head, but I know it wouldn’t be so bad if I just did it.” – is classic perfectionism, and here’s what you should do about it:

    1) make a list of all your barriers to reading books. take your time, be comprehensive, don’t self-censor. Also, don’t exclude “small stuff: (e.g., “poor reading light”) because: (a) it’s not really small, and (b) it all adds up.

    most people, when they do this, come up with a list of between 20-40 items, and are shocked that so much was packed into their “simple” block.


    *hopefully, just making the list will diffuse some of your concern around the issue. (Because writing is therapeutic, and also because nothing’s scarier than the unknown.)

    *the list will sort, roughly, into 4 categories: (1) nonissues, (2) easily/trivially fixed, (3) fixed with a little effort, and (4) fixable, but will take time, $, or other resources. Note that many of your entries will probably fall into categories 1 – 3, which should also help defuse concern.

    *as part of this exercise, answer this question: am I trying to convince myself to do something I really don’t want to do? If the answer is yes, that’s totally legitimate – see below.

    *pay attention to which of your reasons are grounded in fear. Generally, speaking you want to avoid acting out of fear.

    *although I don’t know you at all, being the daughter of a famous writer makes you a prime candidate for what I call situational perfectionism, which is another layer of perfectionism ladled on top of the everyday, ordinary perfectionism many people encounter. Many people don’t read books, but they also don’t experience the pressure of being the child of a famous writer, so they don’t really care.

    *hopefully, when you’ve done this exercise you’ll have a better idea of whether you really want to read books or not. “Not” is a valid choice – esp. since, as your dad and others have pointed out, there are lots of competing activities these days. But I’m guessing based on the “perfectionist” part of your post that you really do. So onward and upward…

    If, after doing the above you realize that you really do want to read books, here’s your next step:

    (1) deal proactively with the barriers you uncovered above. (As noted, most will be easily dealt with.) Set yourself up in a nice little comfy, wifi-less little reading space, even if you’re not sure you’ll use it. (It’s okay to take a risk and invest in ourselves, and doing so is empowering.)

    (2) choose the book you are most motivated to read, not the one you think you should be reading. (If you can’t decide among several books, choose the shortest / easiest / most fun.)

    (3) do timed reading intervals.

    set a kitchen timer for a small amount of time, say 5 minutes or 3 or even 1, and read till the alarm goes off. (Note, your phone is not so good for this, it’s distracting.) Repeat at least once a day. (It’s important to choose an interval you can *easily finish.)

    *important: the goal for each interval is ONLY to (1) comfortably finish the interval (so keep it short), while (2) remaining non-perfectionist (non-judge-y, not impatient, not goal oriented, just nicely zen and relaxed and in the moment). That’s the essential practice.

    *when you can reliably complete the 3-minute (say) intervals, then you can boost to 5 mins, 10 mins, 20 mins, 30 mins, etc.

    *the people who are saying to set up a specific time and routine – yes, I agree with that. However, most important is to neutralize the perfectionism that triggers procrastination.

    Finally, remember that it’s always legit, when you’re procrastinating, to ask yourself “Why do I not feel like doing my work (reading) now?” and to answer that question, preferably in writing. Just be sure to answer in an objective, compassionate way, instead of with shame and blame.

    Good luck!

  88. So a couple of things I do that might help you out.

    My phone charger is not in my bedroom. When I head to my bedroom I drop my phone on the charger and am now bereft of it for the remainder of the night.
    I go to bed about an hour before I go to sleep. That’s when I do my primary reading (secondary reading is at the dinner table when I’m eating). The cats come curl up with me and I get through however much of the book feels appropriate before it’s time to turn out the lights and go to sleep.

  89. I was a bit perturbed by “,,,fix my brain” because as far as I can tell your brain is just fine. I left you a comment yesterday that I hope was supportive and not full of well-meaning advice. This morning I checked my inbox and found nearly 100 comments – apparently we care about you alot and value what you write about. I am a reader who thinks about writing and you are a writer who thinks about reading. I read constantly and I have for as long as I can remember: Where’s Sue? She’s off over there in the corner reading a book. I’ve never been a big user of social media, although I can spend time on email reading newsletters, etc. I am also a big tester of hobbies. This usually involves hearing about something, getting a book about that something, and then buying all of that something’s parphernalia – think bright shiny objet. The actual doing of the hobby lasts from a few weeks or a few years. I have now combined two things I like to do – reading and knitting – by listening to audio books. Regarding cooking and baking – I really admire that you bake with what is on hand. Again, you’ve gotten loads of advice on “fixing your problem”. As far as I can tell you don’t have a problem that needs fixing. I like you just fine now and I probably will still like you in the future. Have fun.

  90. Hope I’m not bothering you with so many comments but after reading some of the other feedback I wanted to add another thought –

    Per the discussion about investigating ADHD, a lot of people consider the possibility but dismiss it because they don’t consider themselves ‘hyperactive’ so they think the ‘H’ in ADHD disqualifies them from having it. Something I didn’t learn until I was an adult is that you don’t have to be hyperactive to have ADHD, there are different subcategories of it and being hyperactive outwardly is only one of the ways it presents (also there is the fact that your brain can be functioning in a hyperactive way without your body or energy levels seeming hyperactive.) There is a type of ADHD called ‘inattentive type’ which is not particularly hyperactive at all and presents more as having attention problems (like difficulty concentrating rather than just easily distracted) and time blindness, etc, rather than the more stereotypical “look! A squirrel!” way that you see portrayed a lot in pop culture and social media.

    I’m only bringing it up further because it’s very common for adults to have it and not realize since usually doctors only diagnose it in children, so if you miss it getting caught when you’re young it’s easy to remain undiagnosed. The things you wrote about college also really lined up with typical ADHD experiences. To be honest when I read your posts about college I rather assumed you had ADHD and probably knew it and I’m only saying anything now because this post explicitly asked for advice. Again, I’m not a doctor or anything, that’s just a strong impression I’ve gotten as a general layperson who has looked into it.

    And about hobbies – I think you are putting too much pressure on yourself to only count hobbies that seem ‘productive’ in some way. You collect stickers/pins, don’t you? That’s a hobby. You seem to enjoy going to tasting events and having new and novel culinary experiences – that’s a hobby too. You don’t have to be doing something that seems active or requiring effort on your end, you just have to have an interest and be enjoying yourself. Also, there is no time limit on participating in your hobbies. You can literally go years in-between being active in your hobbies, putting them on pause for a while doesn’t negate them being your hobbies. One of my hobbies is doing art. I tend to go through phases we’re I’m really into doing a certain type of art (say painting) and then I get interested in something else like sewing instead and I get completely distracted from painting and don’t do it anymore for years. But often I find I eventually come back to being interested in the former projects again, even though an entire decade can pass before I pick it back up. I’m always glad I held onto my old art supplies even if my interest is completely burned out for years. If you get really into something and then drop it don’t be hard on yourself. Just put it aside for now and embrace the new interest. It’ll either come back when your brain is ready for it or it won’t, but there isn’t any sort of rule (barring financial limitations to allocate to the hobbies which it sounds like is less a worry for you than it might be for some people) about time or intensity that you do them.

    Also some of the advice you were given about re-reading old books you already like is really good. I’ve been doing that myself lately. Often I am in the mood to read but don’t have the energy to search for a new book that catches my interest. One of the executive function barriers I encounter is the searching for new book options and making decisions about which one I want to try and if I’m interested enough to warrant the cost of buying the book (or if I want to further limit my options by only looking at what’s at the library, etc). Finding the new book just seems exhausting and I don’t manage to do it. But I have a lot of very beloved books from my childhood which are both already in my possession and easy to digest. It’s enjoyable re-reading things that I loved but haven’t read in a few years plus it’s easier to just get started reading. And if your attention doesn’t hold and you don’t manage to finish it, it doesn’t really matter since you already know how the story ends. It’s a good way to get back in practice of reading physical books without much pressure or effort.

  91. This is about me, not about you. I have no idea what’s going on in someone else’s head. Gradually over the decades I started not enjoying things I use to enjoy, things I spent hours on.

    I found out I was chronically depressed, and most meds had side effects I didn’t want. (Who wants to wait many minutes to be able to pee?) So perpetual anhedonia.

    Ironically, instead of a phone and the Internet, I found out that reading became my addiction, with over a thousand books on my iPad. Also exercise because it made me feel good and it feels good to finally feel good. But gone are movies, TV, sports, hobbies etc.

    That’s me. What about you?

  92. A couple of folks have mentioned ADD/ADHD, at least one about John Scalzi also, and I am pretty sure he mentioned recently that he is planning to check this out for himself.

  93. Hi Athena,
    I teach school for a living and one thing I noticed among my kids who have trouble focusing is that they all love to be online because of the endless stimulation and endless opportunities to jump about quickly. From your post it sounds like what you’re probably trying to do is get your mind to slow down a bit. I saw that some other folks already posted about meditation, which is good. Music through headphones with no screens involved is also good. Quietly walking for a while with no phone. Really just about anything that puts you in that slower zone is good. It can be hard at first, but it gets easier as you do it.
    Best of luck and don’t worry too much about it. Do what you can as you can.

  94. Fortunately for me, I find short videos as on YouTube and I presume TikTok to be annoying and pointless wastes of time. (I hate being told “If you need to learn how to do X, just watch this video). So, like scotch, that’s a habit I don’t have.

    But I worked with someone, smart, educated, who was totally hooked on YouTube (2019, not sure TikTok was a thing). He would happily sit there for hours, presumably clicking on the next video.

    But I do realize that when I’m sitting somewhere using wifi, I don’t want to stop. Even if I’ve caught up with everything (including Whatever) and all I’m doing is checking for something new (which there isn’t).

    What saves me is that I have no internet at home, and no data plan on my old Nokia phone. When I go home, I read something, maybe fire up the Windows 95 computer for some Master of Orion or solitaire, but I am not stuck constantly checking for new stuff on the internet. And to be honest, it really doesn’t make any difference if I don’t keep up with Whatever, etc. I do have to keep up with email–because I am also not on Facebook, Instagram, etc., email is my usual form of communication with people not in my immediate vicinity.

    The solution of no data plan and no internet at home may not be a feasible solution, but it certainly would work, if it could possibly be implemented.

  95. I read an excellent article earlier this year called “Your attention didn’t collapse. It was stolen.”: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/jan/02/attention-span-focus-screens-apps-smartphones-social-media

    It touches base on what you said about TikTok – our (societal “our”) ability to pay attention has been wrecked in part because of all the bite-sized social media content that’s meant to keep us scrolling (and keep seeing ads). It makes it difficult for us to sink into something as deep as a book, because we’re so used to switching focus. So I think you’re correct in that TikTok is definitely playing a part.

    That being said, that feeling of “I used to read so much!! What happened?!? Why am I not reading?” is a whole-ass mood. And it’s so frustrating to be unable to actually enjoy something that you want to do because it’s such a struggle to sit down and do it.

    I think everybody else in the comments has touched on the advice I would share, so I’ll just say here’s what’s worked for me specifically:

    Reading before bed. I try to limit this to short stories, novellas, or nonfiction – things I’ll enjoy but are unlikely to keep me up until 3am if I get engrossed.
    Finding new authors. I was honestly convinced for a solid year or two in my mid-20s that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy reading ever again, and then I found the Smart Bitches Trashy Books website and picked up a couple of their romance recommendations (specifically for Loretta Chase and Courtney Milan). I flew through those books and ended up buying as many of their books as I could. And that led me to finding other, similar authors I enjoyed.
    Social media fast. I’ve given up Twitter, Facebook, and/or Tumblr for Lent at varying times over the past 10 years, and a week or two into it I find myself making some headway into the TBR pile.
    Reading fanfic. I know the characters, I know if I’m going to get a happy ending (usually yes; God bless tagging), so my buy-in is a lot lower than with a new novel.
    Reading manga. Once I adjust to the reading style (right to left instead of left to right), I can whip through a standard volume in less than 30 minutes.
    Tumblr book club via email newsletters. The “Letters from Watson” and “Dracula Daily” newsletters have been super enjoyable, and the memes and meta on Tumblr make them even more so. (I did Dracula Daily last year and mostly have been doing Letters from Watson (for the Sherlock Holmes short stories) this year.)

    I’ve also noticed that it’s more difficult for me to read when I’m writing a lot. In which case, it’s just a season, and when the writing moves to a point that it doesn’t require as much of my attention (I’m letting it sit before I edit, it’s out on submission, etc.), then I find myself able to read more easily.

    I’m very sorry you’re struggling with this; it’s frustrating and it’s unfortunately something that most people I know have gone through at some point or another. And it certainly can’t hurt to look into whether ADHD is a factor, as many other commenters have suggested. (Executive dysfunction is a bitch.)

  96. Anxiety is the worst. It robs so many things.

    Thank you for being honest –and for sticking with writing while dealing with something that is so difficult. So many people feel they must hide their struggles.

    It’s not your fault– and there’s no shame in being human. Hope you find the joy of reading again and remember that you are enough just the way you are.

  97. I sometimes run into stretches of not wanting to read the books I intend to read. I start building up a feeling of anxiety and desire to procrastinate that’s not easy to get past. What helps me when that hits is to pick up a book I enjoyed in the past and more or less remember. I can read those books in bits and snatches without having to finish to find out how they end. I also don’t have to face the possibility that there will be something in the book that I’ll really hate. This isn’t a complete solution for me. I sometimes remain in rereading mode for months. However, rereading has it’s own value. You start to see the structure of the writing and the language.

    You may be in an entirely different state of mind. I offer my approach for what it’s worth.

  98. I used to read easily 40-50 books a year. One year, when I was a teenager, I read over 100 books. In the past 10-15 years? Not so much. 20-30 books on average and I’ll be lucky to read 12 this year (currently at 8).

    A couple reasons why, I think. Social media for one. Also I spent a lot of time on Wordle (and the variants like Quordle, etc.) last year (not any more, burnt out).

    I also noticed I am not enjoying reading as much as I used to. I used to devour good novels easily and now it takes much longer. Maybe the writing style isn’t a match for me? Or I’ve seen that particular story before? Maybe changing genres will help. I don’t know.

    That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading. It’s just my reading of novels and stories has gone down. I still read lots of articles on my news reader. I also read a bunch of articles that pop up in my social media My Audible time has gone up and I read/hear more blogs. It’s all good, I think..

  99. Are audiobooks any better? The vocal acting might make the story more engaging, plus you can listen to audio books while doing something else, like driving, walking, cooking, etc.

    Ultimately, reading books, especially fiction, is a totally optional hobby. You can probably learn some things from reading fiction, and also, you probably learn some things from Tik Tok. You probably want to fact check the things you learn on Tik Tok, but the fact checking will probably lead to learning even more things. Different people have different learning styles, and some people definitely learn more from the internet than from books.

    Also, is it possible that length is the issue? Have you tried short stories or magazine articles?

    It seems like you might enjoy nonfiction on certain topics that interest you. For example, you seem to like cookbooks, including old cookbooks, which often have some interesting historical and cultural information mixed in with the recipes.

  100. Try Franz Kafka’s short stories. Many of them ARE only a paragraph, maybe two.

    I think if you have to make yourself do it, it isn’t really a thing you want to do so much as a thing you think you ought to be doing. But I could be wrong. This is armchair psychology from 900 miles away.

    I’ve been reading at bedtime since I was, like, 4 so 60 years. At this point, it is so ingrained that I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep if I didn’t.

  101. “Our kids aren’t good readers. Here’s the reason.
    Opinion by Susan Engel and Catherine Snow”


    please… keep this thread active for another two weeks before closing additions…

    please… de-duplicate entries and ideas… then assemble an inventory of suggestions, insights, questions, tasks, complaints, mis-understandings (gonna be dozens) into a set of separate articles digging into this quite complex issue…

    seems like — based upon inferences derived out of prior postings — your parents have granted you a ‘gap year’ to figure yourself out… best way to get yourself more time and support (editorial as well as fiscal) is to find some open-ended topic to draw eyeballs to this blog/site…

    …and you might well find yourself a career possibly a passion

    “Screen Addiction Survivor Writes About Re-Learning to Read Real Books”

  102. “Everything, even if it seems enjoyable (like reading), is just too difficult to do. ”

    That’s a very saddening statement.
    I’m sure your parents are eager to help you out of these doldrum, and I’m equally sure you’ve tried therapy.

    Huh, turns out I don’t have anything helpful to add, but I do sympathize with you. I hope you find something that can light your fires of interest. Maybe I should add, somethings that might SEEM difficult turn out to be far easier than they appear at first.

  103. Something similar happened to me. It’s been a bit heartbreaking because of my long love affair with books. Got myself reading again by making a rule for myself that, if I’m eating alone, that’s book reading time. I’m nowhere near my former reading levels, but I’m enjoying books again. If nothing else, quiet time with a book drives the brain weasels away.

  104. I would strongly recommend Yohann Hari’s “Stolen Focus” if you are seriously looking for the answers to your question.

  105. There’s nothing like asking for advice to get some! I agree with those who think this issue is like some of the others you’ve previously brought up; some part of you seems to be sabotaging other parts of you, and more effectively than it used to. Trying different kinds of therapy, most of it on the self-help end of things, has been really working for me this past year. I did Caroline Myss’s archetypes therapy with a counselor on Zoom, and have been talking that up. She includes the saboteur as an archetype we all have, and have to deal with. I’ve also been doing DNRS, a way to talk your brain into reconfiguring itself into a more healthy template. It seems like there was a time when reading was rewarding for you, it made you feel good, but now it doesn’t, so somehow you need to get the good feeling back into it, if you really want to do it. But you need to convince the negating part of yourself to ease up. Either awareness, as with the archetype work, or direct retraining, as with DNRS might address that. In my case, both were really helpful. Hang in there, keep trying, and go ahead and enjoy all the attention and sympathy you’re getting right now, if that’s what you’re after!

  106. Over the first three years of Covid, I lost a lot of my reading. I really missed it, but couldn’t seem to restart.

    At the beginning of this year, I decided to try reading the Miles Morales Spider-Man comics. I’ve never been a frequent comics reader, but this was just what I needed. I got through most of his story line by checking out the collections from the library.

    Now I’m back to reading more novels and short stories.

    I hope at least one of these suggestions here work for you. I wonder, though. In my case, I don’t think it was finding the right material to get me back into it, I think it also needed the right combination of other factors, and I’m less sure of those.

    Keep trying and good luck!

  107. First, if you have read all of these comments, congratulations! You’ve just read a novella! There have been some wonderful suggestions here, and some pretty judgy comments, so ignore those.

    The only thing I would add is that you might enjoy rereading old favorites. I also have watched my reading habits certainly change, if not plummet, since the advent of Instagram and IMDb and the internet in general. But I do love going back and rereading books for the second time. In the last couple years I have read several series that I love from start to finish. Examples include the Master and Commander books, the Rivers of London series, and the Elly Griffiths Norfolk mysteries. This reduces the friction of starting a NEW book to almost zero, and reinforces the pleasure of favorite characters and settings. A little dopamine from a story!

  108. Athena, I’m sorry you aren’t currently able to read the way you used to. I hope some of the advice from other commenters helps, or that you’ll find other strategies that do.
    Meanwhile, in case microfiction interests you (and in case you don’t already have this bookmarked), here’s a small collection: https://universeodon.com/@MicroSFF@mastodon.social . (With thanks to https://universeodon.com/@evilrooster@wandering.shop for sharing the link that led me there.)

  109. Here’s a hack I just remembered that helps me sometimes – there are types of music designed to help you concentrate. Have you ever tried listening to that sort of music while you attempt to read? Usually it’s advertised to help with studying. I used to listen to certain types of music when I was studying or writing essays in college and now I still do it when I need help tuning out distractions while I work. I think it’s especially helpful because the Internet has programed our brains to be constantly switching between different tabs and websites so we’re really used to having multiple forms of stimulation at once. The right type of music can give your brain a secondary thing to focus on in the background but if there are no lyrics it doesn’t distract you from the primary thing you’re focusing on.

    If you’re interested in trying that you can go on YouTube and try searching for keywords like:
    – study music
    – music for concentration
    – music for ADHD
    – isochronic tones

    Etc. It can take some trial and error to find a song or playlist that works for you, I don’t mesh with all of the ones I’ve tried, but a few work for me. You might find it more distracting instead of less but I personally find it helpful when I feel especially scattered.

  110. Yet another shout-out for audiobooks! Quite apart from all the usual advantages–you can listen to them while doing something else, use them to help fall asleep, etc.–they have, at least for me, another plus: I’ve been addicted to reading since age four, but I read “wicked fast”–much faster than the normal pace of speech. Listening to an audiobook prolongs the pleasure. (I might add that I used to make my living delivering light aircraft worldwide, and the two greatest technical advances to that profession were (a) GPS–prior to that I sometimes had to use a sextant–and (b) audiobooks.)

    Might I add a shameless plug for anything written by Jhn Scalz* and performed by W*l Wh**t*n? Brilliant! Including Starter Villain, which got me through the first bad night of COVID.

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