Summer vacation is the time when most English teachers can finally put up their feet, lounge by the pool, and read for pleasure. The time when you can finally make a dent in that never-ending stack of bedside books. When you get to travel the world through books from the comfort of your backyard deck.
And with the boys at summer school every morning from 8-12, I’ve got what I almost never have during the school year―a few hours of happy, sacred quiet.
I’m in a slump. A reading slump, that is. We’re halfway through the summer, and I’ve finished three books. While three books is certainly better than no books at all, if I were reading at my usual pace, I should have probably finished twice, even three times that number.
It’s not for lack of books, that’s for sure. As I wrote last week, I’ve been on a recent tear at local used book sales as I’ve been stocking my classroom library and a few of my colleagues’. I’ve picked up books I think my students will love, but also many that I’ve been eager to read as well. And then there’s the Game of Thrones series. I finished the first book in June in a little under a week, but I’ve languished in the second book for the last month, barely halfway through.
I’m also in and out of several professional books. Reading or rereading the work of Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Kylene Beers has been keeping me engaged, and my head―and my notebook―are filled with ideas to try out for next year. It’s exciting and energizing in the best kinds of ways.
But it’s also not the type of reading I think I’m yearning for.
I want to get lost―lost in a story, in a character’s life, in another world. When I texted my colleague that I was “working through Game of Thrones,” she replied that it made it sound like reading the book was work, and work was the last thing I should be doing in the summer. I guess my choice of words might have been telling. I have been working through the book, but not because I haven’t enjoyed it. In fact, every time I pick up Clash of Kings, I find myself transported to Westeros, transported in a similar way I was lost in Hogwarts many summers ago when I devoured the entire Harry Potter series.
But I haven’t been able to fully escape in a book the way I want to. As reluctant as I am to admit this―I really wanted to love Game of Thrones―I think part of the problem is that George R. R. Martin’s series switches between so many points-of-view (at least a half dozen) that by the time I get invested in one character’s arc, I’m thrust into another’s. As compelling as each character is, the overall plot moves in a methodically slow way, which I suppose is the point.
I can’t blame the book. It’s also how I’m reading it―in snippets, here and there, and in between three or four other books. On my Goodreads shelf right now, for example, I’ve listed five books I’m currently reading. Some I’ve just started, others I’m about halfway through. But because I have my head in so many different directions, I’m finding it hard to dive into one, to find that one immersive reading experience.
Of course, seeing Twitter posts with so many of my colleagues finishing #bookaday challenges doesn’t help.
My other problem is one of abundance. I have so many books to read that I’m starting to feel discouraged. I want to knock off some titles on my YA list, but don’t want to start anything until I’ve finished what I’m reading now. At the same time, as I read this book, I’m acutely aware of all the other ones I’m not reading. Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz referred to this feeling of dissatisfaction as both a paradox and a tyranny―the more choices we have, the less satisfied we are with the choices we make. It comes down to opportunity cost. If I only have two books to read, I’m only “losing out” on the opportunity to read one book when I choose to read the other. If I have, as I do, a massive stack of books, well… that’s a much higher opportunity cost.
And because I can’t turn my teacher brain off, every time I enter Westeros, I worry I’m not reading my professional texts. What new ideas, lessons, bits of wisdom am I missing out on while I follow Jon Snow out on the Wall?
Maybe that’s the real problem: teacher brain. I haven’t been able to fully unwind yet. I spent the first few days of vacation at the ISTE conference, overwhelmed with too many ideas for how to use technology in the classroom. Then each week since then, I’ve been doing presentations at our local writing project site. And then there’s been my book rummaging, Twitter PD, and this week, the Teachers Leading Teachers online conference. In her latest post on the PA Writing Project’s website, Nerdy Book Club blogger and high school teacher Cindy Minnich mentioned the idea of FOMO―fear of missing out. It’s what I feel every time I pick up a book.
So instead of being deep in the waters of Westeros and other countless worlds, I’m stuck wading along the shores.