For a long time, I forgot how much I loved to read.
Reading is supposed to be… recreational. It’s fun. It’s an escape. You can relax, disappear into other people’s stories, and learn about things you didn’t know before.
I used to read all the time on my own when I was a kid. I tore through series, hungrily read non fiction books, devoured literary magazines and fiction anthologies… I read at the dinner table, in the bathtub (this usually didn’t work out too well for the book), while walking to school, during lunch, while taking breaks when I was in dance class, literally whenever I could.
And then I got to high school, and all that changed.
In high school it’s necessary to read a lot, whether it’s literary fiction for English class or long chapters in history textbooks. Sometimes it’s stuff that we don’t necessarily want to read. Most of the time we are required to digest and reflect on what we read by writing academic papers or by outlining and taking notes or by doing projects or having intense class discussions about what we’ve read.
All of which are fine, and definitely helped further my understanding of what I read. But reading comprehension has never been my strong suit, which has made writing academic essays not all that fun for me. (I also kind of hate group projects, because I hate depending on other people for work and grades.)
I think that all of this made me kind of resent reading. I associated reading with the work that I had to do along with it at school, so I kind of stopped doing it on my own. It didn’t seem fun anymore, because the majority of reading I was doing went along with a lot of work.
I replaced reading with something that required much less effort– watching prerecorded television. I managed to get one of my friend’s Netflix account passwords (this was like 4 years ago and I’m still using her account… oops) and just mindlessly watched shows whenever I had a little bit of downtime. I downloaded the app on my phone so I could watch wherever I was, too. Instead of carrying a book or a magazine with me in my backpack or my dance bag, I just kept my phone with me and a pair of headphones. My first question when I went somewhere new was usually: “Do you have wifi?”
Even at college my recreational reading slowed to a halt. I was doing so much work for class and reading so much for school (usually anywhere from 50 pages to an entire book a night). Not only did it stress me out, it tired me out. Whatever small amount of energy and motivation I had to read on my own in the first place completely disappeared. Rather than read, I mindlessly watched Netflix to calm my brain down from whatever I’d done that day and take a step back from school work, clubs, and my social life.
Then, last summer I interned at Random House in a children’s imprint called Delacorte. I was handed manuscripts and told to go through them and see if they were any good, to compare them to other middle grade/young adult books I’d read, to evaluate character development and pacing, and to read fast. I read anywhere from one to four books a day. Because it was my job to read, I tried to get as much done as possible, and I was reading more than I’d read in years.
This might sound terrible, and extremely similar to my academic reading experiences in high school and college, but it was unbelievably different.
Last summer helped me remember why I loved to read, because I actually had to sit down all day and just concentrate on reading. Rather than focus on symbolism and setting, I had to focus on what made a book good and enjoyable for myself and what might be enjoyable for other young readers. I was reading again, more than before, remembering books that I’d read in the past that I’d loved, disappearing into new stories. And it made me want to read more.