If I Wanted to Read, I’d Go to School

Yesterday, I was the featured writer on the Studio30 Plus community blog. It’s a great community of writers that used to be for people 30 and older, but now is open to anyone who wants to connect with other writers. As promised, here is my featured post.


Writing advice often includes a recommendation to read more. But these days…

It wasn’t always this way. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. In kindergarten my classmates and I sat in a circle on the floor. We took turns reading aloud from a Dick and Jane book.  When some students struggled to sound out the words, I blinked in confusion. The words somehow made sense to me already.

I read so quickly I had to rifle through my Mom’s bookshelves for reading material. As an innocent 12-year old attending Catholic school, reading The Thorn Birds was an ironic way to learn about sex.

So what happened to my love of reading? I’d like to take a moment to thank my high school. They took my youthful love of reading and stomped it into the ground, set it on fire, pissed on it, then buried it while it still had a slight pulse so it could suffocate and die a more painful death.

Here’s a helpful hint for any educators out there: there is such a thing as too much required reading. Maybe I shouldn’t complain about the volume of reading I had to do in high school. It exposed me to so many classic books I probably would not have chosen to read on my own.

But my teachers were more interested in trying to verify we’d read every word in the books than whether we understood them. That is the only way I can explain the bizarre questions on our tests.

Take this question about The Red Badge of Courage, for example: “How many pairs of socks did Henry have in his bag?”

Dude, seriously? Presumably the teacher asked us this question because we couldn’t answer it having read only the Cliffs Notes. But no one needs to know this detail. I resent the space the answer (eight) takes up in my brain.

In addition to random details, they also liked asking us to reproduce entire quotes. One teacher tested us on the number of lines we could remember from The Merchant of Venice. I still laugh over trying to get her to count “My daughter!” “O my ducats!” as two quotes.

This type of testing required committing as much of the text to memory as possible. In response, I forced my eyes to stop racing ahead, sometimes using a sheet of paper to isolate the lines as I read. If I thought I hadn’t really absorbed something, I’d go back and read it out loud. My speed plummeted, but I aced the tests.

Soon I could read no other way. Whether I read Moby-Dick or an article in Cosmo, I read it laboriously.

If high school killed my love of reading, my job hammers nails into its coffin. I get paid to read and edit a lot of stiff research writing, which doesn’t motivate me to look at more words in my free time. Other people seek me out to read yet still more technical writing because of my attention to detail…ironically, the same attention to detail that made reading so maddening for me in high school.

I’ve tried several things to reignite my love of reading. Years ago, I joined several book clubs. Now I have one rule about book clubs:  I don’t like book clubs. Reading books that other people select (does any book club use a democratic process?) is too much like school, thank you very much.

I’ve tried carrying books with me everywhere I go, including taking seven to the beach last year. During my week-long vacation, I read about seven percent of them. I had trouble absorbing the words. Watching the waves crash onto the shore was much more soothing.

Starting my blog has helped me more than anything else I’ve tried. Through writing, I’ve pinpointed what I’m most interested in reading. I’m giving myself permission to read what I want.

There’s nothing wrong with my preference for non-fiction (take that high school and ex-book clubs!). Not everything I read has to be “literary,” or even a book. I love reading blogs. I’ve found exquisite examples of memoir, poetry, and fiction, as well as writing that makes me laugh out loud. Blogs are worth reading.

So much of what I’ve read during my life has been chosen for me. Now it’s my turn.

By the way, I do still occasionally finish a book. Sometimes I even read fiction…taking it back full circle to my childhood days…

Yes, I read this. Shockingly, it wasn't very good.

How have your reading habits changed throughout your life?

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9 Responses to “If I Wanted to Read, I’d Go to School”

  1. Stephanie Chase
    Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    I am so sad that you feel VMA ruined your love of reading. I don’t remember all the testing, but I do agree…it should be about understanding and interpreting…not those trick questions on meaningless items. One think I did take away that was positive are all the books that I wouldnt’ have read…the classics. Today students are taught to “abandon” a book if they dont’ like it. I don’t think that is such a great idea either. They never feel like they have to finish anything if it doesn’t grab their interest right away. Enjoyed your blog though.

    • Tracy
      Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

      Hi Steph! Thanks for visiting. Don’t be sad! I was exaggerating for comic effect. The focus on random details is accurate (at least according to my memory), but I don’t think the consequences of not memorizing minute details were that great. But I was always a perfectionist, so if they asked some trick questions, I wanted to be able to answer them. Those trick questions and my personality were a perfect storm. I’m guessing most of us were like you…and that missing a few questions rolled off your back.

  2. idiosyncratic eye
    Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    I think I have the same trouble! :)

  3. Stacey
    Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    I still love to read, but I tend to read more blogs than books nowadays. My favorite books are memoirs, so it makes sense.

    • Tracy @LogyExpress
      Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

      Yeah, I feel pressure sometimes to keep up with Oprah on the best selling fiction or to read more classics, but I prefer memoir, non-fiction, blogs, etc… Although I just read a non-fiction book that was about applying evolutionary biology to literary criticism. That made me want to read some of the books they wrote about.

  4. Ladygoogoogaga
    Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    It’s just hard to find a good book!!!! But Stephen king says, “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.”

    • Tracy @LogyExpress
      Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

      I have a huge stack of books I want to read, I just read so painstakingly slowly that sometimes I give up. I’m about to finish a book that I started reading several years ago and lost track of for awhile.

  5. Erin
    Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 1:32 am #

    Huck Finn ended my straight A career. I was so busy trying to get through it and whatever other VMA reading we had the last time we went to FL to visit my mom’s dad that I spent very little time with him. I have a vivid memory of being in the car there driving back from someplace at night, and holding Huck Finn up to catch the light from the headlights of the car behind us so that I could keep reading. Then when he died a couple months later I realized that in the grand scheme of things Huck Finn was a big old waste of time. Instead, I began to identify with this saying attributed to Twain: “Don’t let your academics get in the way of your education.” Alright, I just googled to make sure that really was by Twain, and looks like it usually is attributed to him but erroneously. Instead, it should be attributed to Grant Allen or Henry Rutgers.
    See http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/09/25/schooling-vs-education/
    And it’s not even that exact quote. But you get the gist . :)

    • Tracy @LogyExpress
      Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

      Well, dog my cats and shet the do’! (see, I remember book quotes!!!).

      I remember carrying books everywhere–trying to read while scooping a bowl of ice cream, taking them into the bathroom…anything to finish the G.D. thing so I could move on.

      I faithfully read every book assigned…except The Grapes of Wrath. I read the first page, closed the book, said “no fucking way,” and bought the Cliffs Notes. I don’t know why (maybe it was the same year they made us read The Good Earth, Nectar in a Sieve, and Things Fall Apart), but I just didn’t want to read about dust and destitute people. I’m sure there’s some important lesson about humanity I missed, but I don’t care.

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