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Recently, I finally bought a book that had been on my TBR shelf for three years, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. I read it in about two sessions, and although I enjoyed it and started looking forward to the sequel, I thought to myself “if I had read this book three years ago, I would. would have liked so much more “. And then came the reader’s guilt.
I bought the book three years ago, and as the hindsight is 2020, I knew this book would have had a much bigger impact on me had I read it right away. I started to think that maybe if I had been able to get myself together sooner, I would have had a better time reading the book. By letting it sit, was I unfair to the book? Was I a bad reader? How to rate this book? Should I give him the four I thought it was now? Am I giving him the five I would have given him two years ago?
Presumably, I am not the only one to have had this experience or to ask these questions. This spiral of guilt over reading the right book at the wrong time happens to me more than I would like to admit. Most of the time I just tried to forget about it and decided to pay more attention to my TBR in the future. Despite this determination, however, life is busy and the TBR lists are long.
This time it was different. I couldn’t tell if I was working as usual, or if it was me who realized I had a big problem when it came to reading.
Determined to feel better, I watched what I was reading three years ago. As I looked through my Goodreads, I realized that three years ago this was the first time that I had exceeded my reading goal. I wanted to read one book a week for a total of 52 books. I ended up reading 56 that year. This is not to be despised. The year before, I had only read a total of 26 books. That’s a 30 pound jump year over year, that’s huge.
When I looked at the books I read that year, many of them were highly rated. It has been a great year of reading for me. Some of the books I have read have become essential to my continued development as a reader and writer. There were a few flops of course, and several of the books I read were requirements for my undergrad, but the vast majority of what I read for fun that year was top notch. In fact, a book I read, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green, is now in my top five of all time.
If I had read The Raven Boys and the rest of the series when I bought them I should have released other books that I loved that year. And while I know I would have loved to read it, was I willing to give up five of the other books I read that year? Not really. Especially not knowing which of these books should be “traded”.
Once I had it framed in my head like that, I instantly felt better. While a book might have meant more to me earlier in life, I was not prepared to sacrifice the books I had read by then. In the end, I realized that if I always tried to read “the right book at the right time” I would miss out on so many accidental happy reads. Ultimately, I would rather have books that I read and liked by accident, rather than books that I was constantly trying to program to fit right in.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, especially when it comes to books that would have helped me feel more comfortable with my sexuality earlier. However, it helps to remember that a book that I wish I had growing up always helps tons of other people at the right time for them.
Just as we as readers must accept that we will never read all the books, we must accept that not all the books we read will be the “right” book for us. This is one of the things that makes reading beautiful. Each book will mean different things at different times to different people. And who can say that in ten years I will not reread a book that I find more relevant then than when I first read it.
Once we gave up reading something at the “right time”, we let go of a lot of guilt. Not all reading roadmaps will be the same. And often, no matter how hard we try, we’ll likely have a longer “to read” list than a “to read” list. This is precisely what makes us readers.