I’m writing this as an official declaration to all my family, friends, neighbors, business associates, acquaintances, fans, foes, elves, orcs, pets and anyone else I can’t think of to put on this list. This is my official declaration that YOU ARE OFF THE HOOK when it comes to reading my book(s). You don’t have to read it to be my friend, family, acquaintance, etc. And you certainly don’t have to apologize or feel guilty or do that awkward excuses thing when you see me for the first time in a while. I can see how uncomfortable people are, and it’s frustrating, because, well, nobody should feel awkward just because I wrote a book. I don’t feel awkward about not visiting you at your job. So you don’t have to feel awkward about not participating or visiting my work, so to speak. And I know it happens, because I see it all the time. I know that in your head, you just know the book is going to come up somehow, and you still haven’t gotten to it yet, or you really, really don’t want to read it at all, but saying so seems mean or something. It’s not mean, nor should you have any guilt about it.
So don’t. Breathe. Seriously. It’s fine. I swear on all that is craft brewed and shipped in misty bottles of pilsner-toned happiness with mountains on the label that turn blue at 44º Fahrenheit that I truly don’t feel offended or let down if you haven’t read it yet. Nor do I mind if you have no intention of reading it at all. I don’t even mind if you started to read it and thought it sucked and couldn’t bear to turn another page without risk of suicide. We are still friends. I still love hanging out with you. And I get it.
First off, let me say this: just because I like reading doesn’t mean you do. You probably like to do lots of stuff I don’t. It’s normal and perfectly cool. And if you do like to read, that doesn’t mean you have endless time to read, or that you read at meteoric speed and can burn down countless books every week, month or year.
Secondly, as a writer, I get that last part on a few levels: one as a reader for pleasure, and another because I write. I am supposed to read. A lot. That is like the central tenet of all writers. Read and write. Okay, so it’s like half of the central tenet, but whatever. The point is, I am a reader. Which means I know how reading works. Reading takes time. Reading is a thing of joy. For some it’s joy in escape. For some it’s joy in learning. For some it’s joy in, well … some stuff people read I have no idea how there can be joy in it, but there clearly is because they keep reading it.
There is sooooo much stuff out there to read. In science fiction and fantasy alone there is more than I can possibly ever read. Much less all the great literature across time. And history books. And all the cool scientific stuff. Oh, and I like psychology and anthropology too, including anthropology of religions and stuff like that. Like fifty lifetimes full of too much to read. Maybe a 1000 lifetimes full.
The point is, given that there is all that stuff I’d like to read and can’t get to, and also given that there is even more stuff that I don’t really want to read, I completely understand how hard it can be to jam even just one more title into your reading list. And even if you do put it on there, it’s hard to make yourself want to move it to the top, when there is all that other stuff you really want to read rather than just read because you are doing somebody you know a favor.
Reading stuff to do someone a favor is like homework. It’s a chore. If you are my friend or someone in my family, I don’t want to give you homework or chores (well, except for my kids). I hate homework and chores. Why would I wish that on people I care about?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not above guilting people into doing stuff. I love guilting my kids into taking out the garbage or doing dishes or something—“Your poor mom was in labor for all that time, driving you out of her body like passing a watermelon through a coffee straw, and you can’t be bothered to roll two garbage cans out to the street? Why, in my day, garbage cans didn’t even have wheels. We had to carry them on our backs while flies laid maggot eggs in our ears and giant condors tried to peck out our tongues and eyeballs to have as snacks.” So I’m totally into guilt. But I don’t want my friends to feel guilty about not reading my book. If I want you to feel guilty about something, trust me, I’ll find a way. But reading my books ain’t one of them.
And if after reading this you still feel a little guilty anyway, think about this: You are feeling guilty about not spending hours and hours and hours reading a book I wrote when I don’t even stop long enough to click “like” on Facebook for everyone’s dog pictures or snapshots of their kid’s birthday party a lot of the time. I mean, sometimes I do, but sometimes I don’t. I’m pretty hit or miss on that, if we’re being honest. But we’re still friends. You have disowned me from the family. So, you know, if I’m not on your shitlist for that, for my unwillingness to make the simple movement of one finger to click, you really shouldn’t feel bad about not having put in the hours and hours it takes to get through my books.
And moreover, I’m not one of those needy, whiner artists who gets all butthurt and sniveling if I don’t get approval right away. I know there are some out there who take it all personal and fancy their wounded pride the sign of their truly sensitive artist’s side. And that’s all fine, but to those folks I will point out that all the great artists drink heavily, and if you are feeling down because your mom, your uncle or your sister didn’t read your book yet, well, then you aren’t drinking heavily enough to get over yourself. Pour some more shots and keep drinking until you lighten up or pass out, at which point you can wake up tomorrow and try to get a grip.
So that’s my point. There really is no need to feel bad about it, because I understand how it works. Don’t get me wrong: I really do want you to read them. Of course I do. Who wouldn’t? I love hearing what people think, especially people I care about. It’s good for my ego if you like it, and if you don’t, it helps me improve my writing to get honest input. And I really valued the encouragement I got early on and that I still do, so my point is not to dismiss the time people spend or have spent on reading my books at all. I love when people read my books. It’s literally the whole point of writing in a way. What good is a book that never gets read? Nobody writes in a vacuum, even people who say they don’t care. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t be writing it down in permanent form. But I only want people to read my stuff on their own time. Their own terms. Not out of obligation or guilt. Whether you read it or not, I know you love me. Or at least like me. Or possibly only tolerate me because of how awesome my wife is. But whatever; I get it. You really are off the hook.