Have you heard about the concept of a fantasy self? It’s the person you sometimes think you are even though reality says otherwise. My fantasy self looks like this:
- She wakes up early every day for yoga and a healthy smoothie
- Her spaces at home and work are always tidy and perfectly organized
- Her closet could be on Pinterest
- She’s a minimalist who only buys what she needs
- She’s always stylish and never just throws on the first article of clothing she sees of a morning
In reality, I prefer sleeping in, my yoga mat has dust on it, I struggle with clutter, my closet is overflowing, I like shopping way too much, and sometimes I just want to wear a baggy sweater and leggings.
I have a fantasy self when it comes to reading, too. She looks like this:
- She’s read all the classics and loves them
- She thinks Ulysses is a masterpiece
- Literary criticism is her lighthearted bedtime reading
- She’s unafraid of 800-page Russian classics
- She loves Proust, Woolf, and Pynchon
- She finished Infinite Jest in a week
In reality, I prefer Liane Moriarty to Faulkner, gave up on Ulysses after 10 pages, own some literary criticism that’s been sitting on the shelf unread since college, and donated my one and only Proust book.
Today I want to discuss how my fantasy self has damaged my reading life, and how I’ve tried to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality.
As I started to build my personal library, I bought books that looked interesting, but I also bought books I thought I should read. I was an English major in college and I’ve been working in libraries for over a decade. I thought a good English major needed to read as many classics as possible, so I filled my shelves with classics even though I usually prefer contemporary books. I thought every library employee needed to read the Harry Potter series, so I got it even though I’m not interested in fantasy or magic. Not only did my fantasy self cause me to spend money on books that I didn’t genuinely want in my library, but that book buying led to crowded shelves holding books that didn’t inspire me.
I’ve decluttered my shelves a couple of times over the past few years, and I purged a lot of the stuff my fantasy self bought. Now my shelves are full of books I’m excited about. There are still a lot of classics, but they’re classics I truly look forward to reading someday. If you have books on your shelf you can honestly say you don’t want to read anymore, let them go. Be honest about what you genuinely can’t wait to read.
Sometimes when I browsed my bookshelves pre-decluttering, I’d feel a pang of guilt when I glanced at the books I thought I should read. It was as if I wasn’t completing a critical assignment. When I saw the books I left unfinished but was convinced I needed to like to be a “real reader,” I felt as if I wasn’t as smart as the people who raved about a particular book or author. Reading is something I love, and my fantasy self made it feel more like a chore than something I do to relax and enjoy myself.
If you feel as if you’re less than because you’ve read Twilight and not Finnegan’s Wake, I implore you to let go of the idea that you’re less of a reader. Don’t let your fantasy self make you feel guilty for reading what you like.
I kept a lot of the books I read in college. Some of them I kept out of love, but others I kept because they were like trophies. It made me feel good to see an anthology I read, even though I knew I wasn’t going to read it again. It wasn’t a book I treasured, but something that validated me and made me feel smart.
I also bought books for Future Andrea. I thought, “Someday I’m going to read The Madwoman in the Attic because it’s an important work of literary criticism. Someday I’m going to read The Feminine Mystique because it’s a feminist classic.” Notice how I wanted to read these books because they matter, not because they looked especially interesting to me.
Now I try to only buy books I want to read today. I’ve gotten better at letting go of the books I kept around for the wrong reasons. What books are on your shelf that represent the past or future you, but not necessarily present you? It might be time to set them free.
Acknowledging your fantasy self takes honesty and vulnerability. It’s not easy to admit we’re not the people we think we are or wish we were. It’s important to think about the future and to set goals, but learning to see and value ourselves in this moment, just as we are, is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.
Have you given any thought to your fantasy self? If so, how has it shaped your reading life?