It’s mid-2007, and I was standing inside a bookstore for the first time in my life. I was there for two reasons. 

First, two years earlier, my fifth-grade teacher told me I should read English novels to help improve my vocabulary. 

Second, my classmates were turning into readers with the boom of Harry Potter and Twilight. Seeing everyone carrying fat novels in their already over-stuffed school bags made me feel left out. 

So here I was, inside a bookstore with my mother. I was not looking for Harry Porter or Twilight (they were out of my budget and interest) but for a book that looked less intimidating than the two.

That day I walked out with my first book purchase — The Adventures of Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie.

This is where my love affair with books and reading began 😊 | Picture by author

A simple Google search will tell you of the benefits Reading can have for you. So I won’t tell you that generic stuff. Instead I’ll share how it helped me.

  • I didn’t know this then, but I am an introvert (and selective extrovert), so books became my companion.

  • I also came to realise that books are far interesting than real life. That’s because it gives you drama where you are not the main character, therefore, giving you a break from your real-life drama.

  • Fictional characters feel more real than actual people.

  • I found my fictional best friend in books — Hercule Poirot, who is probably the greatest detective in the world. (I didn’t say that, he did.)

  • I formed many friendships with real humans because we had books and a love for reading as a common denominator. I also found my human best friend because of it.

  • Books saved my life when I went spiralling into depression during college.

  • Books make me lose track of time and problems.

  • The bookstore is where I find peace. (Of course, accompanied by coffee from the next door cafe)

  • My bank statement will prove to you that I want to be left alone with my books.

When I look back, I find it funny that 2007 Rubina had no idea what she was getting herself into.

(*gesturing towards the bedroom bookshelf, which now houses 350+ books)

And this is where it has led — my safe haven | Picture by author

And then, about a decade in, I went ahead and ruined my most cherished hobby.

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

 — Mason Cooley

What went wrong?

I joined Instagram. That’s what happened.

On my friend’s suggestion, I joined Instagram in the late-2016. It would be fun, she said. And it absolutely was. A whole new world and new experiences opened up to me. One of the biggest and loveliest revelations I came across was the existence of Bookstagram.

Bookstagram is a community of book lovers, just like me. Here readers were sharing their book hauls, their favourite reads, the books that made them cry, the books that made them laugh, their favourite bookstores, and coffee (lots of coffee!). As a result, I found people who are just as crazy as I am about books and reading. It helped me make friends all around the globe with whom I could talk on both bookish and non-bookish topics. Bookstagram also introduced me to new authors and genres I wouldn’t have ever come across or read.

I was also enjoying the concept behind Instagram. I loved setting up my book and my coffee mug, and take pictures from every angle I could possibly think of, and then share them with the world. I was enjoying myself.

And then two things happened.

The Classic Social Media Booby Trap

“Why don’t I get likes like her?”

“Why aren’t people following me?”

“Do I have to post daily?”

“Long caption?” “Short caption?”

“30 hashtags?”

“Maybe I should add props in my pictures?”

“Or maybe I am just wasting my time here.”

“I am not good enough. Neither are my pictures.”

Before I knew it, I fell into the classic social media booby trap. I never started off Instagram with the hopes of gaining followers, nor did I want to be an “influencer”. I simply wanted to share the joy I get from books with other people. And here I was, without realising, crushing myself with self-doubt by comparing myself to others. I was trying to “make it happen”, and the funny thing is I didn’t even know what I was trying to make and why. I wanted to keep things simple and, unknowingly, I turned it into something complicated. That’s the influence of social media.

Social Media Influencers

Some of the accounts that I followed started to turn into “influencers”. Now I am not saying that if you get an opportunity to turn something you do for leisure into a side hustle, you don’t take it. If that’s what you want to do, then do it. But when almost everyone started influencing, well, I got “influenced”.

The two of many ways that these bookstagram influencers had a hand in ruining my hobby were -

1)bookstagram aesthetics and

2)book-buying habit.

The bookstagram aesthetics made me believe that I need to have props and a theme to talk about books, and my “just a coffee mug and book” won’t do the job. Next, I have to credit the bookstagram influencers for my over-flowing TBR. They made me believe that I need every book they say I need, even though most of them aren’t even available in my country.

This resulted in me -

  • buying more books than what my wallet could handle,

  • others dictating what I read, and how I read,

  • picking up books based on what would be trendy enough for social media,

  • the pressure of building a personal brand that could be useful in the future for profit,i.e., turn into an “influencer” myself,

  • questioning my self-worth because I wasn’t getting as many likes and followers as I would have liked to, and

  • feeling guilty because I wasn’t reading and reviewing books at the speed other bookworms were.

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” 

— Haruki Murakami

Yup, I have an overflowing Kindle TBR as well.😉 | Picture by author

What am I doing now?

As with many things, it was the onslaught of Covid that made me realise that I needed to change something about my reading hobby.

First, I unfollowed all the influencers I wasn’t resonating with anymore.

Motivational speaker Mel Robbins preaches the “Unfollow Friday”. Here she suggests that we take an inventory of the social media accounts we follow every Friday, and see which ones are not working for us anymore. We might have followed them because they provided us with some value — education, entertainment, information, an outlet — but are they still doing that? Or does it feel like an obligation to double-tap whatever they post?

It is a natural process where we outgrow people, and staying with them will stagnate us. This same applies to the accounts you follow. They made you laugh, cry, helped you learn something, but are they still doing that job? Are they now making you feel insecure about what you lack in your life? If the answers are no and yes respectively, then click unfollow.

With the unfollow step, I also unfollowed the idea of having a theme, or aesthetics, or likes and follows. 

Now if I have something I’d like to share, I take a picture, write the caption, post it, forget it, and sleep peacefully.

That’s what I tackled next — making reading a part of my daily routine.

There was a time where I could sit in one place and read 45–60 minutes a day. Sometimes I would do double of that. But with Bookstagram dictating what I read, I stopped reading the genres I enjoyed the most. This led me to lose the fun I used to get out of reading.

I now pick up a book that I feel like reading at the moment. Next, I would carry my current read wherever I went, which (during the Covid times) means carrying the book from one room of the house to the other.

Since I have lost my reading strength and endurance, I am starting small — reading a few pages for 10–15 mins. Anytime I felt like picking up the phone to scroll (another lousy habit Covid made me do), I would instead pick up the book and read till I am full.

The final step was to curb my book-buying habit.

I am the kind of bookworm who doesn’t leave the bookstore empty-handed. I can’t help but go to the bookstore, once a month, to regain my sanity. Also, I am a slow-ish reader. My reading books to buying books ratio is 4:10. I know! I know! It’s not good, it’s out of hand.

So here’s how I am controlling my book-buying habit -

1) only buying the books I know the author of (therefore I already know if I’d enjoy the book or not),

2) no book buying on Amazon (it doesn’t even feel as enjoyable as it is to browse a bookstore and find a new friend to take home),

3) no cash or card on me (no money, no buying),

4) I can visit the bookstore only once a month (out of sight, out of mind),

5) if I wish to buy a book, instead of buying it immediately, I’ll add it to my wish-list (treat for future).

This isn’t fool-proof (Hey! I am a mere bookworm. Give me a break!), but I am happy to report my reading books to buying books ratio has changed to 3–4:6–7. I count that as an improvement.😁

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” 

— Ernest Hemingway

If you already couldn’t guess, Agatha is my favourite 😊| Picture by author

Moral of the Story

Don’t let anyone dictate your hobby. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do with your hobby, or how to do it. 

You’re already getting something useful out of your hobbies — It can be a place to escape to, a way of relaxing after a day’s hard work, to learn a skill and surprise yourself, to find yourself a safe haven. These benefits are not something you can count or measure. These can only be felt.

When we turn our favourite hobby into a chore, it loses its charm, and we lose the love of it. And we don’t want to do that. If you have a hobby that makes you happy, make sure you guard it and your happiness at all cost.

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