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…
How have your reading habits changed throughout your life?