WRITING LIFE: My Reckoning with Reading by Maryam Keramaty

My decision to subscribe to The New Yorker mid-pandemic was short-sighted. When I clicked on the Facebook ad (such a deal, how could I pass it up?), I felt a familiar dread in the pit of my stomach. Subscribing to prestigious journals was something I often felt compelled to do, but that decision was always accompanied by a wiser voice. Don’t you know better by now?

As a writer, it troubles me that reading doesn’t hold my interest. I get bored. I can’t concentrate. I rarely get to it in the first place. How could this be? I write with fervor and passion; it is something I must do. To not have a burning desire to read, well, that’s not how a writer should be, at least that’s the common belief held by the writing community.

The New Yorker deal was all the sweeter because it included a canvas tote bag. I wanted the tote bag, so people would know I was the kind of person who read The New Yorker. Being a New Yorker reader would mean I was among the best readers and writers. I imagined myself carrying my tote bag heading to the library, proud, about to write my next great essay.

When I was six, my great aunt read to me, gifted me bookplates, and taught me the proper way to turn pages. The children’s librarian stapled small circles of construction paper on a wall, one for each book I read that summer. My early teens were about feeling lost in Mrs. King’s English class, studying Shakespeare, and not understanding a word of Othello. A high school social studies instructor tutored me out of a D minus by helping me read TIME magazine articles. In college I switched majors, from political science to communications, because the reading assignments overwhelmed me. I recall napping on my biology book.

In the years that followed, I joined a book club, but I couldn’t keep up with reading an entire book a month. I hosted a book swap at my house, listened to an NPR podcast about new books, and even borrowed themed bags of books when libraries were partially closed during COVID. I visited Little Libraries in front of churches and community centers, trading in my unread books for new ones. I looked forward to my town’s library book sales. But there was always something to reckon with about reading.

After I subscribed to The New Yorker, an issue came in the mail each Friday. The excitement and anticipation! Looking at the amazing art on the cover! I flagged a couple articles of interest and began reading them. And yet, most were long and too dense for me. The issues piled up at home. In public, I felt self-conscious when carrying books in my tote bag. I was The New Yorker Fraud. I realized I couldn’t advertise myself as a New Yorker reader if I didn’t read The New Yorker. I no longer felt like an intellectual, but rather an imposter.

Despite this, my interest in literature continued. I sought out the Boston Book Festival, a Read-a-thon, and kept a Goodreads profile. I bought books at the Festival—and read and enjoyed a couple of inspiring memoirs, my favorite genre.

Multiple readers I met at the Read-a-thon gobbled up fifty to seventy books annually. Meanwhile, I received an email from Goodreads reminding me I had read zero out of my five-book goal for the year. They informed me my Goodreads “friends” were on the mark with their goals. I wasn’t motivated by their comparison game, but instead felt furious about the Goodreads email and myself. I experienced a blend of “I’m not good enough” and shame, the kind that makes you want to hide forever.

It was the books and all that they stood for that I loved: ideas, stories, learning, discovery. I loved the idea of getting lost in a book, reading on the beach for hours or reading under a tree. But once I opened the cover and my eyes hit the type, something deflated inside me. A restlessness set in. Through it all, I felt dumb in a way that didn’t seem fixable. While at times, I enjoyed reading and did finish books, the writer and the reader inside me just weren’t getting along.

I realized then: I have a love-hate relationship to reading. And yet, my relationship to writing is all love. Is this sustainable, given I want to become a better writer?

Since I wasn’t reading them myself, I cut out articles of interest from The New Yorker to save for friends. My mother enjoyed the cartoons. I read articles here and there. When the excitement of the early issues wore off, The New Yorker became a burden. Eventually, I gave away or recycled all my issues.

Relieved to get an “Expiring Soon” letter, I began to loosen my grip on expectations for myself. I now realize that there is nothing wrong with me. I will allow myself to collect books even if I don’t read them. I’ve decided it is okay to read a chapter and let go of the book completely. As far as my writing goes, I am a keen observer and take mental notes on my experiences, reflecting and extracting meaning from them. Sure, being a voracious reader could help my writing, but I am not that person. Finally, I have accepted the facts. I love to write, and I love-hate to read.

Meet the Contributor

Maryam Keramaty is working on her first collection of personal essays. She is a student at GrubStreet in Boston, where she studies memoir and the personal essay. Her work has been published in Boston Art Underground, The Manifest-Station and Pangyrus. Her other creative pursuits are nature photography, mixed-media collage, and cooking. She lives in Medford, Massachusetts. Connect with her at www.maryamkeramaty.com.

Share a Comment