Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Reading First Thing in the Morning

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Why are we so skeptical of the things right in front of us? “Turns Out It’s Pretty Good” is a series that examines the path from resisting the well-known to wholeheartedly endorsing it.

Like pretty much every other writer-editor type, as a kid, I read obsessively before bed: everything from A Series of Unfortunate Events to Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist to Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging lived on a pink Pottery Barn shelf above my bed for easy access. In a routine that fellow childhood book obsessives know well, I’d pretend to be asleep for the bedtime check, and then I’d use a book light (no cell phone yet, hi early 2000s) and would read for as long as I could manage before passing out. In the morning I’d wake to my Hello Kitty teapot alarm clock, and, surely, whatever book I was reading smashed under my face or my arm. Lather, rinse, repeat. I did this for years.

As I’ve gotten older — and more easily distracted, hi TikTok — this routine has become more difficult. I can hardly stay up past midnight, let alone dive into a novel and give it any real part of my brain. Plus, my girlfriend goes to sleep at ten or eleven most nights, meaning that if I want to read, I have to squint to read the pages of my book while using, yet again, a book light (something much trickier since my eyes aren’t what they once were). I would also rather spend the hours before bed talking her ear off than doing pretty much anything else, reading included. Sorry, Holly.

As I approach 30, reading has become something that I really, really want to do, but that doesn’t seem to fit in to my life as an editor and freelance writer. In some ways, it’s been crushing, not only to my ego, but to my sense of self. My mom, grandmother, and I have always been huge readers. Our dog is named Olive after Olive Kitteridge. My grandmother worked at a library and would bring me whatever books I wanted, and my mom has well-stocked bookshelves all throughout my childhood home. There were things that I wanted growing up, but books were never one of them; instead, they were everywhere, and I was free to read them whenever I chose to. Books taught me about race and sex, and helped me realize I was queer. Reading was the biggest freedom I had.

Losing that as an adult hurt, and so came a goal: find a way to read that could actually become a reliable routine, one more akin to what I had as a kid.

In the last few months, I’ve found an unexpected solution: reading first thing in the morning. I set my alarm for 7:30 a.m. and allow myself an extra hour to read. Before I brush my teeth, before I can turn to Twitter or panic about the state of my inbox, even before coffee, I grab whatever book tops the stack on my bedside table and sink into it. In this disgusting state in which all I can taste is the inside of my own mouth and I can often smell my own sleep-sweat armpits (cute!), I read hungrily. Krys Malcolm Belc’s The Natural Mother of the Child, Forsyth Harmon’s Justine, Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, and Jonathan Parks-Ramage’s Yes, Daddy have become my version of an espresso shot and a sunrise stroll. Instead of taking in caffeine and fresh air, I take in stories of nonbinary parenthood and burgeoning lesbianism and twisty-turny racist white bosses and queer horror.

It took practice, but I’ve read so much more than I did when I was trying to read before bed. I don’t fall asleep while I’m reading; my apartment, other than my two cats, is empty; there’s no girlfriend distraction since she’s at work for the day. Because I’m not exhausted from a late night or the day to come, I can really focus.

In the same way that reading those books as a kid while I was half-asleep seemed to have pushed them deep into my memories — to this day I could recite the lesbian kiss from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, or Georgia’s hilarious failure of a false-eyelash experience reading these books as an adult while still groggy implants their narratives into my brain. It feels like being told a story as a child when you’re all cozy and nestled. There are no meetings to prepare for or edits to make or emails to answer. My phone is still just far enough away that I’m not yet sucked into its compelling clicks and taps and scrolls. It’s just me and the words on the page, and the characters’ worlds overwhelming mine in a morning distraction that, These Days, is all too welcome.

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Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Reading Early in the Morning