"Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it." - P. J. O'Rourke
For a while, I tried to live by this quote. I tried to only read the books that would make me look good if I were suddenly to stop being able to read, as if the first thought in anyone's mind if I were to die or fall into a coma or some other tragedy would be "what book was she reading? By this, is she a good person?"
Of course, I have a small mental list of books I'll never read for the sole reason that I may die of embarrassment if anyone ever learned that I'd read them or was currently reading them.
But that list is small. Maybe four books long.
Well, the fact of the matter is that the first thought in any loved-one's mind were I to drop dead in the middle of a book would not be what book it was but rather what had killed me and why we hadn't caught it sooner.
No one would care if I were reading science fiction, or fantasy. No one would care if I wasn't reading a classic. They would care that I was dead.
And perhaps my middle school mind took this quote too literally, as I was prone to do. But it does beg the question, what does your reading do for the image you're portraying to the world?
I think of this often when I find myself tempted to pick up a book about mermaids or reread an old favorite. I know what I ought to be reading. I know I need to read more books in the genre I write, especially books published in the last five years. I know I ought to read at least one classic novel every year by societal standards, because how can I want to be an author and never have read [insert classic book here]. I know I ought to read books on writing craft and books on marketing and business and grammar.
But in all of this, where does the self indulgent "I just want to read this" fall? Where is there time for it? How do you keep reading as a romanticized thing when there are so many things that you ought to read and so many things you desire to read and the list of potential crossover titles is so extremely slim you can keep it in your mind?
Read the self indulgent book anyway. What good will it be to make reading your work if it means you can no longer enjoy reading a good book?
So if you're in the same boat as me, I give you this advice: read your obligations, but between every obligatory book read at least one book you want to read.
This can also help keep you out of a reading slump, since those often happen when books are no longer fun to read and you've been forcing yourself through them because you have to.
You can also try out a different format. I've found that audiobooks have been a huge help in getting reading to not be the work it's become in my mind, because the medium of the story is different than the work I do every day.
J. J. Hanna graduated from Taylor University with a degree in Professional Writing. She's currently working with literary agent Cyle Young as a literary scout. In what free time she has left, she also works as a freelance writer and editor. To hire her for editing, writing, speaking, or consulting, see the services tab. She can often be found cuddling with a cat, reading the latest suspense novel, or filming YouTube videos about the publishing industry.
Follow her on most social media @authorjjhanna