Is Reading Selfish
A Look Back: A Well-Read Mom reflection from Year of the Artist
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. For instance, as I read Frankenstein, encouraging my five-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 to do her nails or have her 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 my own local Well-Read Mom group is a testament to the outcome of reading good literature. I see several of the other members of our group at various playdates 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.
In Well-Read Mom, women read more and read well. Our hope is to deepen the awareness of meaning hidden in each woman’s daily life, to elevate the cultural conversation, and revitalize reading literature from books. Inspired by Pope John Paul II’s 1995 Letter to Women, we select a theme for each year based on a woman’s life: mother, daughter, spouse, friend, worker, pilgrim, contemplative, artist, and sister. Our theme for our tenth-anniversary, 2021-2022, is the Year of the Family. The book selections for the year loosely correspond to the chosen theme. Learn more about Well-Read Mom here.