When Reading Becomes a Job

Listen to this story via the Coffee Time Reviews podcast:

The pressure to take everything we love and monetize it is a massive side-effect of the side-gig economy we live in. Because so many of the things we consider hobbies could be careers, many of us think that they should be.

As someone who loves books and reading, who is also a writer, it felt very natural to me that I should start writing for the bookish websites I loved. So, in spite of assuming I’d be rejected, I applied.

To my utter astonishment, when I received the response, it was… yes?

And so, I got what I believed to be my dream gig — writing for a prominent bookish website. The first few story ideas flowed out of me naturally, but soon, imposter syndrome kicked in. Hard. Who was I, to be writing on the internet?

Then, slowly but surely, books began showing up in my inbox and mailbox, review copies for me, and my suddenly widespread potential influence on readers.

I had dreamed of exactly this, of putting my words into the world and of having publishers send me free books. Of getting paid to write about books.

Except that I didn’t account for how it would feel to turn my love of books and reading into a job, with expectations and guidelines to meet. Suddenly, I had to come up with regular, consistent ideas for writing about books and reading.

And all these free books came with the expectation that I would read and review them, or feature them in some sort of listicle, even if some of them were downright bizarre.

Yes, technically I had no obligation to respond to unsolicited books showing up on my doorstep, but as a chronic people pleaser, I struggled to set this boundary inside my head. I felt so guilty any time a book arrived and sat on my shelf unread.

To top it all off, this exciting new opportunity came at a transition period in my life. Within a few months of accepting the gig, I moved to a new city, started grad school, and found myself experiencing grief for the first time.

As the unasked-for books piled up in my grad school apartment, it became apparent that reading had started feeling less like fun and more like a chore. Weighed down by grief and intensified imposter syndrome thanks to being both a sudden internet book person and an MFA student, my brain couldn’t latch on to books or to new ideas for writing about them.

The earnings from this particular contract weren’t enough for me to sustain my living expenses, so I was also working part-time. The hours in which I could read for fun were few, and writing about books began to feel a lot like lying. Could I still call myself a book person when I wasn’t actually reading outside of my coursework?

Never before had books become burdens. I couldn’t resell them, since they were Advanced Reader Copies, and I didn’t know how to get rid of them. They sat in stacks on the floor, judging me.

Eventually, I knew I’d come to a breaking point. I could not maintain this pace, working two jobs and two side gigs while in grad school. Something, my new therapist and I agreed, had to give.

I didn’t want to walk away from the clout of holding this position, but I understood that it was not making me happy. I liked saying I had the gig far more than I enjoyed doing the gig itself at this particular time in my life.

And so, I stepped away from this dream job and, for a long time, felt overwhelming guilt and despair. Sometimes, still, I wonder if it was the right move, wondering how different my life might be if I’d found something else to let go of back then.

Then I remember how miserable I felt, how much I knew in my gut that this was the thing it made sense to release.

Yet, here I am again, writing about books on the internet. Years after making this hard choice and simultaneously shuttering my personal book blog, I found my love of reading and reviewing, and writing about books again.

I finished grad school, started a stable job with steady hours and pay, and processed the difficult emotions that played a bigger part in my sense of overwhelm than I realized at the time.

I am tentatively stepping back into being an internet book person, a semi-professional book nerd if you will. I’m writing about books again because I love sharing the passion of reading with the world. I’ve even started a Bookstagram account, which has been a great source of joy and connection with other bookish types.

I haven’t yet returned to any contractual obligations because I’m afraid of just how much I can allow my passion for books to become a job. Yet a piece of my brain is once again wondering whether I might have the chops to be a professional book nerd after all.

But before I could let myself start writing about books on the internet again, I had to forgive myself for the choice I made back then. Secretly, I’d been holding myself back, telling myself that my ship had sailed. I’d let one opportunity go due to circumstances, so that was it. Over and done.

I’m still not sure to what extent I want my hobbies and my work life to overlap. As my NetGalley account fills up with digital e-arcs, and my email inbox begins to show outreach from publicists once again, I am cautious about taking on too much. I can feel the same old guilt and overwhelm creep in.

Maybe being a semi-professional book nerd with obligations only to herself is the right path forward for me. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a happy medium to be found.

For more content from Amanda Kay Oaks, visit her Medium page and subscribe to her newsletter, Amanda Reads, for weekly reading recommendations and a Tarot card read.

Published by AmandaKay

Amanda Kay Oaks is a Pittsburgh based writer originally from Cincinnati. She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Chatham University. Currently, she works in Student Affairs and as adjunct faculty. When she's not working, writing, or curled up with a good book, Amanda can usually be found in the kitchen whipping up something delicious, sprawled out on her yoga mat, or off on a run.

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