Myron Medcalf
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The other day, I got lost in a book — well, a few books.

I love to read, often multiple books at a time, but I fell short of my goals over the summer. One day would become two and then three and four without consistent reading. I blame the sun, the beach, the flights to fun locations, the friends and family members I had to see, the places I wanted to take my children and the reset I needed after a long spring. But whenever I'm reading less than what I planned, my life feels imbalanced.

A lack of consistency with reading, for me, means there is a gap somewhere else in my life. The time, I know, has to be created. But there are always other things. Always.

That's why I'm inspired by those around me who devour books. They have the same obstacles in their lives.

But their efforts are unyielding.

I told Angela Whited, community sales coordinator and storyteller at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, that she should have a new role: reading therapist. After our conversation last week, I felt empowered to keep going, despite the hiccups.

For Whited, the consumption of more books than most has not been a perfect path.

"Something I do when I'm like, 'I've got to keep reading' … I've been reading shorter books," she said.

"I've been reading more novellas or more books for young people and then I still did some reading, but I got to the end sooner. And so it's a confidence builder, right?"

She also limits Netflix viewing and occasionally joins friends, especially the one with the fancy patio, on "reading dates." She also advised that the concept of reading together with those around us does not necessarily mean we have to all read the same genres and titles.

"The thing you notice when you're at the bookstore is how very deeply different everybody is," she said.

"One of my best friends, the one with the elegant patio … I don't usually read the books she reads and she's like, 'You have to read this.' And I'm like, 'You read serious literary fiction and there are no jokes and there are no dragons.'"

Whited also revealed another secret about reading more books: If a book is boring, she'll quit.

I've always struggled with that idea. Quitting a book feels like defeat. I started it. Why not finish it?

But those books are a grind and the process feels arduous and less enjoyable.

Whited said that's OK.

"You can quit in the middle if you don't like it," she said. "You only will live so long. You would never read all the books you want to read. And so this is how we read so many books at the bookstore. We don't finish the ones we're not loving. You've got your to-be-read pile. Are you ever going to get through it? I'm not going to get through mine. It's OK if you don't love it. That book is for somebody else."

Last week, I implemented a new rule: I now start my workday only after I'm done with my reading goals. It has been an energizing endeavor.

In Thich Nhat Hanh's "True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart," I read this passage by the Buddhist monk: "If you are not able to take care of yourself, if you are not able to accept yourself, how could you accept another person and how could you love him or her? So it is necessary to come back to yourself in order to be able to achieve the transformation." Those words aligned with the conversations on self-acceptance and self-care I often have with my therapist.

Then I read Mary Oliver's "Devotions." On the concept of possibility, in a poem titled, "The World I Live In," she wrote, "You wouldn't believe what once or twice I have seen."

In Jonathan Eig's "King: A Life," I'm reading about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the people who shaped the civil rights leader's life, including a grandmother who once punched a white man who'd harassed his father and an alcoholic grandfather prone toward rage.

In my personal life, I'm trying to get rid of the extra stuff in my house. Christine Platt's "The Afrominimalist's Guide to Living with Less" has been my guide. And I have orange highlighter spread across the pages of "The Essential Marcus Aurelius," translated by Jacob Needleman and John Piazza.

Aurelius, a stoic and leader of ancient Rome, wrote, "You have the power to retire within yourself whenever you wish. For nowhere can a person retire more full of peace and free from care than into one's own soul." I prefer San Diego or the North Shore. But I appreciate his perspective and I am trying to digest it.

Overall, everything seemed better with more reading. I felt focused and productive.

And now, the hard part: to see if I can maintain this pace.

Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for Star Tribune and recipient of the 2022 Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award for general column writing.