Followers of my Instagram account may have seen some reading-related content this year: in January, I committed to reading 52 books in 2018, and I’ve been documenting my progress on Instagram. One book per week; one #bookstagram per final page.
Thirteen weeks into 2018 I’m six books deep. It’s not going well.
Which means it’s going very well.
I set this goal for a couple of related reasons: one, because I wanted to read more; two, because I wanted to return to the practise of reading before bed instead of scrolling on my phone; and three, because I wanted to challenge the strict perfectionist part of my mind that wills me not to start anything lest I achieve anything less than 100 per cent.
I got the idea from the newsletter of the writer, journalist and entrepreneur Mridu Khullar Relph, who shared late last year that while writing books is her favourite type of writing, in the 15 years of her writing career she’s only produced one. At that, she set a wildly ambitious goal to publish 90 books in a three-month period — a goal she of course didn’t hit, but as the three-month-mark passed she was sitting on something like twenty books finished: 20 times as many books as she’d ever written in her career previously.
Set a goal so big even failing is a success, she wrote.
For many years I’ve identified myself as a reader. I was a bookish kid who stayed up late reading novels and who used to ignore friends on playdates by getting stuck into a book. My best birthday present ever was a carton of 100 secondhand paperbacks. I read widely though high school and then stopped, suddenly, in the first year of my degree. I used as an excuse at the time that my degree was reading-heavy and I lacked the brainpower for anything else, but I suspect now that the timing of my reading drop-off lining up with my turned-up perfectionism and blooming eating disorder was no coincidence. I told myself I wasn’t really a reader because I hadn’t read Austen or the Bronte sisters or Mark Twain or John Steinbeck or any of the novelists name-dropped by the bookish show-offs in Ian McEwan books or the skinny, handsome men smoking rollies outside my politics tutorials. I couldn’t really get my (self-created) reading license until I’d checked off an enormous list of should-reads.
Perfectionism is poison because it masquerades as a tonic.
Perfectionism is the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, judgement and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty-tonne shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.
Brené Brown on perfectionism in her book Daring Greatly.
So, this year, I decided to reclaim reading from my perfectionist self and give myself permission to read what I wanted, to enjoy it, to practise it, and to set a goal that feels so lofty to me that even hitting 50 per cent of it will be more than I read last year.
And now, of course, I must step out from that shield and proceed with my plan, even though a very loud part of my mind is telling me I’m not up to 13 books, it’s too late, I won’t hit 52, and I should quietly just call it quits now, maybe no one will notice, you can start again in 2018.
Nine months away.
I’m of course looking at the fact that I should have read seven more books than I have this year, rather than the six I’ve read, loved and shared. Two-ish thousand pages scoured and turned and relished. New-to-me writers read and loved and followed. Books traded between friends and carried in bags and four-wheel-drives and up mountains and to the sea.
A reader, a worrier, a perfectionist. A fan of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (who spell-checked that caption 15 times before posting book six). The things that define us.