In University, I took a class on 19th century literature. I’m not sure who I was trying to impress. I think I had the idea that since Jane Eyre was my favourite book, I could totally handle other texts from that time period. Maybe I was trying to be a show-off. I learned exactly one thing that term: nothing kills the desire to read faster than a class on 19th century literature. Except maybe a course on Shakespeare (oh yeah, I did that too *facepalm*).
I finished exactly one 19th century text that semester. One. It was Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I didn’t understand half of it and the only reason I ended up surviving that masochistic marathon was because I was stuck at my grandparents’ house for the weekend – in a town of maybe 30 residents. I really didn’t have any other options.
I was 19 years old and I knew very little abut the modern world that I happened to inhabit – never mind the intricacies of 19th century life. Some of you are saying, “So what? It couldn’t be that bad” so let me give some perspective: Middlemarch by George Eliot (actually Mary Anne Evans) was on the list of 10 or so books. Yeah. That’s a special kind of torture for someone who is basically still an adolescent.
The consequence of my early forays into “classic” literature was severe and longterm – I didn’t pick up a book for the next decade that I didn’t absolutely have to (except for The DaVinci Code, but that doesn’t count). I certainly wasn’t expecting this transformation – I had always been a reader. That’s basically what I did from age 7 to 18. Books were my entertainment, my friends, my family (and yes, I did have real friends too). So all of a sudden, I understood what it was like to be a non-reader. And it suuuuucked.
I don’t need to waste space extolling the virtues of reading. A quick Google search will satisfy your curiosity on the subject, if you’d like. I know that for me, reading is a stress reliever, a way to learn about different people, places, and perspectives, and a total mental boost. But how can we reap the benefits of reading when we don’t do it? How do we go from a non-reader to a reader?
I’ll give a few suggestions and you can take them or leave them. Or let them inspire you to come up with your own solutions to this problem.
1. Read what you want. Does it matter what everyone else is reading right now? Does it matter what is at the top of every bestseller list? Are you going to be less of a person if you don’t consume a particular text with the appropriate level of zeal? The answer to all three is a resounding NO! because it doesn’t actually matter what you read as long as you do it. Facebook and Twitter don’t count here, but articles and blog posts may be a good place to start.
I also highly recommend going straight to your local library and grabbing a few of the books that are New, Staff Favourites, or have been singled out for another reason. Get both fiction and nonfiction. Book blogs are great, too (gee, I wonder where you can find one of those??) and I especially love BookRiot for TONS of suggestions on every topic imaginable.
Try a little of a few different types of books, BUT give yourself permission to abandon the book if it really isn’t doing it for you. This is key. I’m certain that forced reading was at the heart of my decade-long reading slump.
…Except when it’s not…
2. Watch the movie first. You would be surprised to learn how many movies are based on books. I am continually surprised each day by this. Now, despite the fact that many hardened readers just let out an audible gasp at my suggestion (did you hear it?!?), there really is no rule about reading the book first just so you can talk about how much the movie SUCKED later. “It just didn’t measure up to the book. Blah blah blah.” Shut up.
I’m as guilty as anyone on this point as I have done this numerous times. Recently, though, I’ve come to the realization that OF COURSE IT DOESN’T MEASURE UP TO THE BOOK. IT’S NOT A BOOK, IT’S A MOVIE!!! The two forms of entertainment are mutually exclusive, which means that one can’t ever BE the other. Of course there are adaptations that are better than others, but that doesn’t matter in this context.
By watching the movie first, you are going to be introduced to the characters and plotlines so that the book will simple layer on the character’s thoughts, as well as the author’s interpretation of setting and events. WAY less scary and FAR more manageable. Think of it as using Cliff’s Notes.
3. Let the book do the work. I actually have to give credit for this one to Andy Miller, author of The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life, which I am absolutely devouring right now. It doesn’t matter that you don’t understand every word on every page. Maybe whole chapters are going to confound you. That’s okay. If you keep at it, eventually you are going to get something out of it. It’s when we focus too much on reading every word on the page and thinking ourselves silly that reading becomes time-consuming and overwhelming. Miller said,
“…the more I read, the more I understood – or rather, understood that I did not need to understand. If I let it, the book would carry me instead.” – The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life, p. 30.
Set yourself a page limit per day. Do it. Move on. It’s really as simple as that.
Look, I read tons of books per year, but there are sometimes whole weeks where I go without reading anything at all. (Report card time, that’s one that’ll suck the reader right out of you.) Some days I try to get through a few pages and my phone is just too tempting. I HAVE to play my Words with Friends and Dice with Friends games, right? People are waiting for me. There are notifications on Facebook and Twitter, wonder what that could be?
I’m not going to tell myself that I can’t have these little slips because I’m reading. That’s like telling yourself you’re not hungry when you’re on a diet! Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself with half a chocolate cake in front of you, guiltily consuming that which you would strive to deny yourself. You’ll find yourself inextricably lost in the Facebook Vortex.
We’re human. It’s just how we roll. Don’t do that to your reading. Check the notifications. Play the game. Have the phone conversation. Watch the TV show you’ve been waiting for. Then once you have the proverbial monkey off your back, get back to the book.