Is Reading Selfish?

Mary TeckYear of the Pilgrim

By Rachel Digman

As an avid reader since childhood, I was the type who was never without a book and felt a little bit lost whenever I finished a great book. Even after having kids and encountering sleep deprivation, busier schedules, and more people demanding things from me, reading was one habit in my life that was unalterable, until this spring.

When our family said yes to a new job for my husband in a town four hours away, putting our house on the market and looking for a new home ate up most of my spare moments. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t reading regularly. There was so much to do that I felt as if stealing moments away just to read a book was not helping my family in any way. In this new set of circumstances, I wondered whether my reading habit was a bit selfish.

Particularly now that I have children who watch my every move and ask everything of me, this hobby of mine has become more and more costly. Just today as I settled down to power through Frankenstein, encouraging my 5-year-old to find something quiet to do while I read, he responded, “I just want to talk to you.” How can one say no to that?

In this interaction, it was clear how every choice we make is a yes to one thing and a no to another, and reading is no different.

However, Well-Read Mom has helped me see that there is a difference. The literature that is prescribed through this group gives us recourse to something larger. It opens our minds as mothers and women to something greater than our daily battles and successes at home and at work. When I take time during the day and put off other chores, other good things, and even the demands of my children for the sake of reading, I am making space for my own growth.

The mother who makes time to run each day or to her nails or hair done or to write is commended for making time for herself. Taking the time to read and to read something worth reading each day should be held in the same regard. But it is not. It is not valued in the same way since it is a physically passive, interior action that doesn’t “produce” anything in particular. Running produces a healthier body. A haircut produces a better look. But what does the consumption of Shadows on the Rock produce? Perhaps a better understanding of the settling of Quebec, but still that is contained only in my mind.

The commitment of our Well-Read Mom group in Madison, WI, is a testament to the outcome of reading good literature. I see several of the other members of our group at various play-dates and co-ops throughout the week, but when we gather for our monthly meetings, our conversation is lifted to a higher level. We encounter each other and our friendships on a different plane, a place where we work together to grapple with the larger issues of the world and our lives.

None of this is a product of our reading, but reading enables it to happen. We are reluctant to spend time on an endeavor that doesn’t end with a direct and measurable outcome. But my experience in Well-Read Mom demonstrates to me that I must persevere in reading and that it is not selfish to do so.

Consuming an entire cake by myself is selfish. Sharing a cake with friends is much better. Well-Read Mom invites us to the table, clears a space for us, and serves up a delicious plate of dessert each month, one that is meant to be shared. Consequently, I share the pleasure of that dessert with my family, my friends, and, probably to their annoyance, almost every person I meet who brings up a topic remotely related to any book we’ve read.

This article was originally published in “The Year of the Worker’ Newsletter.

Rachel Digman is a stay-at-home mother of four children. She and her husband live in River Falls, WI. Before raising her own kids, Rachel spent two years with a bunch of other people’s kids as an 8th grade language arts teacher. Now she pours that energy into homeschooling her own kids.