Recently, I was listening to a book podcast where the host described reading as their primary hobby. I was shocked. The host makes money off their podcast (thanks to Patron supporters) and they have to read books in order to talk about them on the show—that sounds like a job to me! And yet, I loved that they (the person who gets paid to read) perceived reading as a hobby.
A hobby is something we do for fun during our free time, and often with a sense of curiosity. We might be beginners, novices, or masters.
In the same way that I want writing to be taken seriously, I also want reading to be taken seriously, even if the books people chose to read aren’t always considered ‘serious’ (i.e., commercial vs critical success).
For me, I’ve often thought of reading as a habit. Every day I brush my teeth, make the bed, walk the dogs, do something related to writing, and read a book. In fact, reading is one of the items I track on my daily habit tracker. I also keep a reading journal as a way to record and reflect on what books I’ve recently read. Writing and books are such a central part of my life that calling them a hobby feels—not only diminutive—but inaccurate.
Perhaps some of us, myself included, frame reading as a habit rather than a hobby to give it more credit. I want the people around me to recognise that reading and books are something that I value! I am protective of my reading time and when I’m deep into an amazing audiobook or paperback it can be difficult to convince me to do things IRL. The bonus of audio, though, is that you can ‘pretend’ to be attending to the administration of life when in fact you’re only walking the dog or scrubbing the shower as an excuse to keep listening.
To me, a hobby is something you do now and then whereas a habit is something you do often, perhaps even daily. For many of us, myself included, I can’t fall asleep unless I have read—even just a page or two. According to Collins dictionary, a habit is something that you find difficult to ‘stop doing’ and reading before bed has become so closely tied to my ability to sleep that it has become a biological and physiological need. I can’t stop it.
The problem I have with the terms habits and hobbies is that both lack emotional charge. I make my bed and brush my teeth out of habit. I don’t feel anything about these activities and I largely do them on autopilot, but I love books. I love reading. I value them.
Describing my reading life as a hobby or habit fails to represent the love I have for literature.
Perhaps, then, it would be more accurate to describe reading as a passion? We feel compelled to read. We read with feeling, enthusiasm, and eagerness. We choose reading over sleep, other people, and the need to pee.
Books and writing are two of my favourite things to talk about. They are also just about the only subjects I can speak to with any authority. I listen (mostly) to bookish podcasts, follow authors online, and have made a YouTube channel dedicated to the writing life, which also includes the reading life.
At this point, my relationship to books and writing probably sounds more like an obsession or addiction—wow! We’re really covering all the labels in this post!—but the difference between passion and addiction is whether the activity has become a barrier between you and real life.
If you’re addicted to reading then it’s because you’re using it as a numbing device, in which case, it is unlikely that you will recall with great detail what you have read. If you’re reading every opportunity that you can, that could also be a sign that things have become unhealthy. As much as I am a proponent of reading in sips and big gulps, it’s also important that our brains have meaningful downtown when we are not stimulated by, or engaging with, input from others.
It doesn’t really matter whether you see reading as a habit, hobby, or passion, but it is interesting to become aware of how you conceptualise reading and why you perceive it in that way. If for no other reason than to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your priorities.
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