While working among books has always been a dream job for me, it isn't without its difficulties. What we do at The Bookshelf isn't nearly as simple or as easy as it looks at first glance and the personal requirements, both mentally and emotionally, are sometimes unexpectedly high, (of course this is also due to my introverted personality.) Don't get me wrong, I love my job. And I'm talking about the head-over-heels, Nat-King-Cole-crooning, twitterpated kind of L-O-V-E. But as with all healthy relationships, room for personal growth is often revealed and The Bookshelf and I are no exception.
When you work in a bookstore, one generally assumes that you are a reader. And not just any reader, but the kind that greedily devours everything from Russian literature to the latest Patterson thriller, eagerly staying on top of the hottest new releases and constantly discovering talented and obscure debut authors. This expectation can weigh heavily on those of us whose time or tastes are slightly more limited. I consider myself to be a fairly well-rounded reader and enjoy many genres and authors, but there will always be that book that I haven't read. The one that everyone is shocked I haven't picked up yet. The trouble with this is "that book" changes with each customer that walks through the door.
I have to admit, the pressure got to me . . . just a little. I started picking up books I wouldn't normally be interested in to compensate and the results were less than thrilling, let me tell you. Now this isn't to say that I don't advocate stepping outside of your literary comfort zone, but it's much more successful when done in the spirit of personal development and not job-related guilt. As I started and stopped several books, (something I detest doing,) I lost my grip on my reading mojo. Yes, it was devastating. Too tired to face my mounting failures, I shelved reading for a bit. And by “a bit” I mean three weeks, which for a reader is an eternity. This pause, this re-centering breath, gave me time to think. My ruminations lead me to the following conclusions.
I find that certain hobbies and interests lend themselves to elitism. Books, art, music, and food all carry an intrinsic hierarchy based on the quality and exclusivity of one's personal tastes within that category. For example, as many of you may already know, Ruth Graham recently criticized the adult population for delving into the popular young adult genre, saying that we should be embarrassed about choosing to read books written for children. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I always believed that these things we consider enriching and cultured such as books and music and the like, have no other purpose than to enhance the enjoyment of the individual. To reduce a book to a status symbol denoting intelligence or "finer tastes" is to completely undermine the purpose of the thing. Reading a book is not about how this world sees you, it's about how you experience this world. Whether you read to escape, to learn, to laugh or to cry, it should always be personal. Reading under a self-imposed sense of public expectation is the quickest way to kill the joy.
I'm sure I'm not the only reader who has fought their way through a dry spell. For me, the key to cracking open the pages again was remembering why I love to read in the first place. It's about the way a story sweeps me along and holds me in its grip, just daring me to try and put it down. (Move over, Lay's one-chip-challenge, am I right?) It's the admiration I feel when an author executes the perfect marriage between an original story and a creative narrative. Or sometimes even better is the familiar tale retold in an unfamiliar way. In all probability, my criteria for a good read differ from yours. And really, that’s my point. Reading is about the individual finding a personally satisfying experience, not about proving you’re better than young adult fiction or staying on top of the best seller list. I stay educated about what’s going on in the literary world because it’s important to me to be a contributor to the unique experience that The Bookshelf provides for its beloved customers. But when I read? It’s just for me.