When I was a kid, I devoured books. Even after my mom told me to put some back, I’d leave the library with a tower of books. Getting in the car meant quality reading time – even if we were just making a trip to the grocery store. I read and re-read books like Maniac Magee, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, The BFG, and plenty of Nancy Drew.
As my homework load increased, “fun” reading time decreased. Rather than reading before bed, I went right to sleep. One day, I found myself in a Literature class (literature – so fancy) reading books like Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, and plays from Shakespeare.
Suddenly, reading no longer felt familiar. Talking about the chapters felt like trying to speak a language that I’d never been taught. It was all about finding themes and symbolism. My teacher expected me to analyze characters and their motives. But I was lost.
The deeper connections, analysis, and critical thinking aspects of each of these books went completely over my head. It didn’t make sense to me. I still wrote the essays and pieced together connections (thanks to Cliffs and Spark Notes). But I was just feeling my way through the dark, and all I found was the realization that I was not meant to be a literature buff. Any interest I still had in picking up a book outside of school disappeared – poof.
Maybe if I tackled some of those required reading books now, I’d get something (anything) out of them. And I am curious to find out. But that looming expectation about reading between the lines still hovers like a shadow. I feel it even now.
It wasn’t until after grad school that I realized that I had regained some free time. And no more textbooks meant no more books at all. What was I going to do with all this time? Scroll through social media on my phone, of course.
Well, for a little while. Eventually, all that scrolling and screen time turned into looking for more productive ways to use my phone – and my time. Enter podcasts.
I stumbled across a bookish podcast and listened to a few episodes before I started making a list of books that I was interested in reading. Not for any other purpose than because I wanted to.
This was unfamiliar territory for me. These books weren’t textbooks, and no one expected me to write a paper or book report. So I read one. And then another.
Slowly, I started to relax into books. I still stayed away from the classics or anything that reminded me of “literature.” With so many options, I could choose exactly what I wanted to read. Which meant I also had to figure out what I wanted to read. No syllabus meant it was up to me.
Books had made a comeback for me, and I started keeping track of what I had read. In 2018, I kept a simple list. In 2019, I realized that I wanted to get more out of what I was reading (and remember something about the book later on). So I expanded on my list-tracking-system and added a short blurb after finishing a book.
So what does this all mean? Looking back, I can see now that I probably wasn’t alone in how I felt about literature. We don’t all consume books the same way, and my reading experience will be always be different from yours. But there is no right or wrong way to read a book. And just because what you choose to read (or even the way you read) doesn’t match up with how you think you should be reading doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. No one can tell you otherwise.