a mediocre horoscope

powells books e.v. de cleyre 2012

Reading productivity hacks thwarted any attempts at productivity. Instead of writing, I read about how to fit writing into a busy day. Instead of responding to e-mails, I read about how to effectively deal with what can seem like an endless onslaught of e-mails. I say “seem,” because the reality of my inbox is crickets. I check and double-check the spam folder, thinking that job offers, correspondence, and congratulations-your-essay-was-accepted notifications were accidentally sent to the trash.

I harbor an infatuation with the genre of self-help, the full scope of which might render you suspicious. I both naively and idealistically hope that to help the self is to help others. A long list of articles regarding productivity hacks brought me to my local library, this new thing, maybe you’ve heard of it, where I can borrow books I couldn’t otherwise afford. I find myself reading books I wouldn’t buy but feel would be good for me to read.

Self-help-slash-business books, for one. Volumes about discarding traditional means of employment and creating your own opportunities. Seeking a rough road map to financial security and creative freedom, I read a book that espouses the lack of any one road map, and thereby provides no guidance, only vague encouragement that is barely specific enough to feel relevant, like a mediocre horoscope. Seeking a way to work less and make more, I read a book by an individual who advocates for stepping out of the oppressive office culture for more meaningful projects, but unfortunately falls into the trap of utilizing oppressive language and principles.

Recently, I weeded my bookshelves, which I am inclined to do each time I return from a house-sitting gig. Confession: I buy too many books at once and hang on to them all with the intent to someday read. I’m trying to be more realistic, somewhat against my Piscean disposition. I’m trying to create space. I’m trying to be more generous, an attempt at magnanimity undermined by aspirations for meaningful connections.

A slim volume of poetry, purchased at a literary event this summer, lifted me from the spell of purging and I slipped into the spaces between each line. After a month or so of self-help books, I had forgotten what literature felt like: the heat of it, the heart palpitations, the immovability of a body whose usual state is near-constant fidgeting. There exists within me a deep longing to integrate the words I read with the life I lead, hoping that I will remember each line and forever imprint it on my memory, like one yearns to recall every crater in a lover’s iris. 

Making small talk at a poetry reading, dropping off a resume at a bookstore–somewhere someone asks me about my reading tastes, and I resist the urge to joke that I find Tolstoy easier to digest than expected, and Schulz a little chewy, and Krauss to be bittersweet and addicting. I once told someone I liked Salinger, and they seemed crestfallen, as if their opinion of me had been shattered by a negative association they had to a certain assigned reading from high school.

Edward Snowden recently described metadata as analogous to “a record of every book you’ve ever opened.”

What do my bookshelves belie? What does my library queue say about me? What kind of online dating profile would it write? Aspiring minimalist, addicted to self-help, who occasionally supplements soulful business books with dark and depressing nonfiction narratives seeks like-minded bibliophile to discuss essentialism, privilege, surveillance, travel, and relationships?

As if sensing this, I neglect to update my account when I change my name. I continue to borrow books as someone else, an odd and hopefully harmless form of fraud.



  1. “There exists within me a deep longing to integrate the words I read with the life I lead, hoping that I will remember each line and forever imprint it on my memory, like one yearns to recall every crater in a lover’s iris.” – Simple beautiful, great post!

  2. Great article! What if we can’t resist reading because of that genetic love for stories and the emotional involvement they trigger in our brain? And of course the chance they give us to learn new things. Learning by reading, sometimes, still is the best way!

  3. Very intriguing! I love the Snowden quote as it really is something of the times we live in. I sometimes too wonder what kind of “personality” comes out of my selections of literature and music as i tend to skew eclectic choices while sticking to some old favourites like comets in orbit.

  4. It seems like it’s every writers urge / problem to go through those depressing business self help books which actually help many a times.
    Enjoyed the article and whole lot of sarcasm in it.

  5. I love this post! Even its format, jumping around slightly and simply yet elegantly listing off all of the perceived follies of the way we procrastinate, appeals to the point you seem to be making. The post is so relatable, it’s almost a little sad. Even at this moment, I probably should be writing, but instead am scrolling through posts and reading. And I’m so glad I did! “I continue to borrow books as someone else, an odd and hopefully harmless form of fraud.” Spot on. Great post.

  6. So interesting. I have a few unread books lying around that I haven’t gotten to. After realizing I shouldn’t buy anymore until I read them, I decided to start putting books on my Amazon wish list or on my Goodreads to-read list. That way, I feel like I am at least acknowledging my attraction to them, though I know I will not read all the books I want to. Actually, I’d rather write one someday.

    1. I love that you decided to list all your books on Goodreads as a way to acknowledge them. I do find that helps. Hope you find the time and energy to read all the books you’ve ever wanted, and that you someday write one! If you do, please let me know if you need anything.

  7. This reflects the messiness of my mind right now. Sometimes we are so blind to our own needs that we need others’ eyes to look at the obvious. We know what we all are doing or are capable of doing but still sometimes we wait… Wait for what others have to say about it. Very inquisitive post.

  8. Have you listened to the Tedtalk by Ann Morgan in which she reads a book or piece of writing from every country in one year? You might really enjoy it! It touches on the question of, “What does my bookshelf say about me?”

  9. This is simply amazing. Only today I was speaking to a friend about books, and how they can tell more about a person than anything else. I choose to read books that bring happiness and wound deepest crevices of my heart.
    At the end of the day, books are precious. It does not matter what choice of genre, as long as you read what you enjoy it, that matters. I loved your article

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