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.