A Return to Reading
how I regained my love of just picking up a book
I swear, I used to rule at reading. Like “Applies Strategies in Word Recognition” from Darmstadt Elementary rules. “Reads for Information and Pleasure” rules. (Yes, I did have my mother do some research.)
Then along came video games and TV and Lord of the Rings Edition Risk and finally: The Internet. My reading subsided. Heavily.
Through middle school and even high school I skipped out on required reading, sometimes for noble pursuits like outdoor adventures in the neighborhood and sometimes less-noble pursuits, like The Simpsons or StarFox. It carried on through college. I did more of the required stuff, but I still wasn’t that into just picking up a book and reading.
But then – maybe a year ago – I started to get the itch again. I had a new bookshelf – one here in Eau Claire – that was slowly filling up. I had a library card that was getting a little more exercise from books besides DVDs and CDs. Everything was turning around.
Now I consider myself a solid reader. Not voracious by any stretch of the imagination, but I am at least always working on one (or two or three) books at a time.
Why the sudden change? I still watch TV and play games and spend probably too much time on the Internet. There’s definitely a few things at work though:
I think this is the one word in the English language that immediately makes me want to do the exact opposite. I don’t know why. I’m generally not an anti-establishment kind of guy, seriously. But I just can’t bring myself to do required reading. In fact, some of my favorite novels were once required of me and I skipped them or skimmed through, only to read them years later and realize that ‘Hey, this isn’t that bad.’ Now that I don’t have any required reading, I’m free to take things at my own pace and not feel the need to rebel.
As I said, I still spend a lot of time online. It’s easy to get lost there, clicking from link to link until all of the sudden it’s been two hours and you feel terrible about wasting so much time. At the same time, I also do quite a bit of reading online. News articles, blog posts, web comics, you name it, I’ve read it. The problem with this kind of reading is that it’s jarring and epileptic. In 30 minutes, I’ll read four or five articles about completely different topics.
Reading a book or a novel gives me time to relax my brain a bit by digging into one topic for however long I want. I can take a time out easier by putting down the book without the distractions of more links and ‘Your Friends Read This’ widgets. I can just digest the reading for what it is.
I recently began joining in on a book club with a few friends. We’re reading an excellent book (Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman)and I can guarantee there’s no way I would’ve picked it up without the push of my friends. Reading socially like this makes the reading ‘required’ in a way that I don’t want to shake off, but still keeps a relaxed pace and atmosphere. Not to mention, it’s easier to get a lot out of a book when you’re able to share ideas and thoughts around a couple of beers each week.
I’m sure many of you are naturally great readers. I mean, you’re reading this, so that’s a start. But I don’t think people realize how easy it can be to read and read a lot. I mean, there were years when I might not have ever picked up a book and now I’m Mr. Read-a-holic over here. So if I can do it, you can too.
If nothing else, just think of how cool you’ll look with a full bookshelf in your living room.