If you love somebody set them free, as the saying goes. Except this time it’s a bit less poetic than that.
If you follow me on Instagram (again, not a plug, except absolutely totally maybe yes) you’ll know there’s a book I’ve been trying to read for about a month now: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humanity, by Yuval Noah Harari. I’ve made countless posts and stories about it, in an ill-concealed attempt to motivate myself to read further. And I kept reading… for a bit. I passed the 250-page mark (i.e. half the book) at the end of last week and since then I found I couldn’t make any more progress.
Maybe it’s because I hit a reading slump, I thought. Maybe it’s because I’m stressed and I’ve been spending way too much time reading for my dissertation and just need to take a few days off reading. The truth – that I know now and secretly knew back then, too – is that I actually do feel like reading. I just don’t feel like reading Harari.
What’s the problem? You ask. Just stop! Yeah, well, I wish it were that simple. The issue, at its most basic level, is twofold. First of all, I actually promised I’d read at least one nonfiction book a month. That was one of the rules I set myself before opening up my bookstagram profile and this blog, and anyway, I genuinely and actively want to push myself to read more nonfiction because I think it’s important to be informed and to read up on topics you find interesting. Granted, reading is first and foremost entertainment, but it can also be educational and informative. I’m not saying fiction can’t be educational or informative, but nonfiction is certainly a surefire way to learn more on a certain topic, and have a better and more complete view of the world we live in, while being entertained. And I want that, I want to be able to casually drop in a conversation how we (Homo Sapiens) were superior to other Homo species because we could work together in large numbers or how wheat actually domesticated us instead of the other way around. Hence, the resolution to read more nonfiction, a resolution that I’m reluctant to give up on.
Secondly, and this is the thing that actually bothers me the most, I’m actually liking Harari a whole lot. Okay, maybe I got to a section (about money and power), which I find a bit dull, and maybe its style and argumentation can become a bit repetitive after 200 pages. But it’s bloody Harari! One of the most brilliant minds of our generation! And what’s more, I’ve learnt more interesting facts and challenged my world view more often while reading the first 250 pages of Sapiens than in 5 years of high school (no, that’s maybe not true, but I did learn so much). The book is not faultless, but still a solid read: it’s approachable, thorough, persuasive and is able to both provide meaningful examples while still looking at the bigger picture at the same time. On paper, it’s the best nonfiction book a reader who wants to get into nonfiction could ask for.
So why stopping? Well, reading is, as any other hobby, not hard science, so 1 plus 1 doesn’t always equal 2. Meaning, sometimes even if all the right premises are in place, it just… doesn’t click. During this past weekend, I found that I was forcing myself to read something I didn’t want to be reading and that resulted in me avoiding reading altogether. In short, my stubbornness in keeping my resolution ultimately turned a hobby into a chore, which is exactly what I’m trying to avoid. As soon as I picked up the next book on my TBR (Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending) that feeling of obligation vanished, just like that. I read 45 pages in the blink of an eye.
Don’t get me wrong, I think pushing yourself to do things you might find difficult or slightly uncomfortable is actually a good thing, and indeed the only way you can grow as a person. That being said, if pushing yourself means living with performance anxiety about your hobbies as well, then thanks but no, thanks.
So did I fail to keep my resolution? Yes and no. I haven’t read and finished a nonfiction book in October, which is what I had promised myself I would do. On the other hand, though, this experience taught me a couple of things:
a) Even though I do struggle with nonfiction, I also very much enjoy reading nonfiction! Yay! This means I’ll still make sure to pick up at least one nonfiction book every month and give it a try. Which leads us to:
b) I just need to find a balance in pushing myself. I should’ve maybe eased into nonfiction with a shorter read, or maybe I should’ve diluted reading this book over a longer period. Anyway, it’s trial and error here, so I just need to give myself time and don’t get discouraged by a few bumps on the road.
So let’s put it like this: it is not a proper break-up. We’re just taking a breather. It’s not you, it’s me. Cheesy lines aside, the good news is that my local library recently bought Sapiens (the copy I was reading was an interlibrary loan), so here’s to hoping when I get back from the UK at the beginning of November it will be there waiting for me on the shelf, so I can give it another go. I’ll see you on the other side, Sapiens, and I promise I’ll be back for you.
This is M signing out for now ✨