These days, I feel like my children, a middle schooler and two high schoolers: I have to read certain books by certain days. Each of them had to read certain books over Passover break, and I had to nag them to read their daily page allotments. Nevertheless, I myself let reading deadlines come dangerously close while I read what I want to read, all the time calculating how many days are left on the book I have to read, and how many pages that amounts to per day.
So I wonder, is it a good thing to have to read a book? And why am I in that situation in the first place, when I’m not in school, college or graduate school? Shouldn’t one be able to leave that having-to-read-a-book-by-a-certain-date behind as an adult? Or is some of that pressure inherent to reading?
Why do so many of us join book clubs? Surely it’s not only to read and discuss, with others, books we like. Surely, there are often books on the agenda that we don’t like, and wouldn’t read if we didn’t have to?
Are we just eager to further our education? To be able to say, I have read this, and I have read that? We join book clubs, take classes, or in my case, take on writing book reviews and teaching a class for which I have to read a book per month that my students decide on. Honestly though, rarely have I had to read a book I didn’t like, and even if that was the case, that experience was, perhaps, more educational than reading a book I ended up liking.
So, to sum up this rumination, I do resent having to read a book, particularly by a certain date. I wish all the time that I could be reading something else from the ever-growing stack of books I want to read. But then again I appreciate that I otherwise wouldn’t read one of those assigned books. Perhaps I will continue to have to look at this having to read a book as “education.” I kept telling myself that when, during my first MFA semester, I had to plow through the 1,000 pages of Normal Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. Thanks to that having-to-read experience, I can now wax smartly about that book, but I certainly would not have read it, had it not been for an assignment and a deadline.