So, here’s a confession that probably compromises a significant part of my identity:
I don’t like reading.
More specifically, I don’t like reading books.
When I was a young kid I blossomed as one of those “early readers”. As a child under the burden of extreme social anxiety and multiple phobias, reducing my world to the space between two pages was a great relief of stimuli. And then, around high junior high-school or so, I just… stopped reading. There were a bunch of factors; I had just gotten access to cable TV for the first time in my life, as well as a computer connected to the internet. It was also right around the time when adolescents were realizing that reading was only “cool” because the adults were incessantly telling them so… Which, by ironic contrast, made it definitely “not cool”. I fell into that line of thought and never really rebounded even after my ego was no longer endangered by the cruel machinations of socialization though public schooling.
I’ve tried to get back into reading several times, and I would usually manage to get through a few books before the next one would sink beneath the tides of clutter that swept across my bedroom floor. After my initial determination burned out, there was no habit formed to help me keep it up. (I’ve already made peace with the fact that I am not a person to whom habitual actions and routines come easily or naturally).
Probing more deeply, I realized these attempts were based around my desired self-image as an “avid reader”. Back in the days when you either strived to belong to a particular social group, or got lumped into one by the judgment of others, I figured I blended well with the “geek/nerd/gamer” species. Thus I spent a lot of time interacting with people who were still voracious readers. And since that trait earned you “cultural capital” as a geek, I just sort of naturally assumed that’s who I was as well, even though I didn’t walk the walk. For the majority of my teenage life, my literary palate was confined to well-worn staples (re-reading the entire Harry Potter series whenever I got a few sick days off from school), whatever books we read for English classes, and the very occasional pleasure read that traditionally excluded anything but indulgent fantasy and “popular classics” like Sherlock Holmes or 1984. Anything outside my genre comfort zone, or anything that might pose a challenge to my literary comprehension skills were not up for consideration (thus excluding most of what would have made me grow as a reader and as a person).
And now I’m at that point where I want to start reading again. And this time I don’t want to stop. But first I have to gain a better understanding of my relationship to reading, which is part of why I’m writing this post. It took me quite a while to realize that there isn’t one “correct” way to read a book. I never gave much thought to how my method of reading was in mindless emulation of others. I thought this was the “right way”, and it might be for some people, but it just made reading feel like a chore to me, and I was constantly distracted by seeing how far I was from being a quarter-way, part-way, finished with the book. I thought I was supposed to be one of those people who stacked up titles in the double-digits each month. Now I see that behavior is becoming of a “literary-jock” type, analogous to someone who values the number of points they scored in their last sports game. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; jocky types get an unfair rap from the geek crowd, with resentments bubbling up from the drawing of territory lines in high-school days. If that’s how you enjoy books, that’s totally cool. And if not, that’s also cool.
So, a major goal of mine is to figure out how I want to read books. I’d like to experiment a bit with reading styles and techniques I had never seriously considered before and seeing if something feels more natural to me. For example, I never kept a journal or took notes while reading, mostly because it seemed to slow down the process of trying to finish a book. But maybe doing that will help me get more out of the writing. Conversely, I’ve put a lot of books down because I hit parts in the narrative that I just didn’t care about. So… why not just skip them? This was one of those light bulb moments that makes you ask “wait, are you actually allowed to do that?” I mean yeah, why the hell not? Are the reading police gonna come stop you? It’s your experience, you can do whatever you want. Go ahead and skip over the boring parts, if that works for you. Open a new book to random chapter and read that first, and then skip around as you please. (Reading a linear book non-linearly was an idea I’ve wanted to try ever since finding great enjoyment in shows that present their narrative in the same way). I’ve also wanted to try “live-blogging” a reading, something that I’ve seen grow in popularity ever since twitter and online blogs provided an accessible platform for it. I have a couple friends who do this already, and one can even gain quite a following, seeing the popularity of blogs like Muggle Hustle.
I have many more thoughts on the culture of reading that don’t quite fit into this post; this post is meant to be an admission, and a declaration. I want 2018 to be a year in which I read more widely, more regularly and more efficiently. It’s going to take a lot of patience and persistence on my part, and something that helps me is accountability. Letting myself down is pretty harmless, but the perception of letting other people down is a powerful deterrent for me (thinking back to my days in undergrad when sometimes the only reason a paper got written on time was to not disappoint my professors). And finally, there’s some very meaningful advice that reading a lot improves your writing. In light of all that, I’d like to try and publish some updates on this resolution of mine in the coming months, letting folks know of my progress (or lack thereof, if it comes to that), what I’ve learned about myself, and what I can do to improve. I’m also hoping it might be motivational for people who find my story familiar.
If you have thoughts on this post, feel free to drop me a line on our social media channels, or directly to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org.