I knew that I wanted to be an English major by the time I was 14. English was not only a subject that I did well in, but it was also one that actually held my attention. I was an editor and contributor for the school literary magazine, and I even came third in a school-wide poetry recitation contest. But I always had trouble saying, “I like reading.”
Let me first say that I love books. I love holding a book in my hands. Mid-size paperbacks with soft pages and flexible spines−man, they are the best. I like walking around knowing that I have a book in my bag, that I could close out the world and just focus on the piece of work in my hands. If I wanted to. I’m so comfortable in bookstores, and libraries make me feel the kind of excitement you get before you go to see a show. But I wouldn’t be 100% honest if I said, “I like reading.”
How could I say such a thing?
Part of me wants to put on a fancy blazer, sit in an armchair and peer at some observations I’ve made on a clipboard, try to play psychologist and analyze why it is that I don’t like reading when I’ve devoted so much of my life to it. But I won’t jump into a deeply interpretive analysis. Why don’t I like reading? I don’t quite know.
The better question is: “What is it that I don’t like about reading?” Well, I don’t like it when an author’s writing style doesn’t mesh with me right away. I’m not one of those people that says, “I’ll give this book 50 pages and quit if I don’t like it by then,” because instead, I’ll just read 20 pages and then let it sit on my shelf for two years after that. I’ll ignore it like a mistake I made that I don’t want to confront.
I have a hard time picking up a book once I start to dislike the protagonist, whether or not that is an intentional device of the author. I am also easily affected by disturbing or upsetting subject matter, though that usually just keeps me from starting a particular type of book in the first place.
What it really comes down to: I am very picky.
If I’m going to invest hours in reading a book, I want to enjoy it. After years of reading all sorts of books for school, reading became more of an obligation than a pleasure. My mind was trained to view it that way, even if part of me (that book-loving part that I detailed in the second paragraph) wanted so much to figure out how to like reading again. Every once in a while, I’d go to the bookstore or library, pick out a book and think, This is the one. This is the book that will make me like reading again.
Obviously that is way too much pressure to put on a book, especially when you’re someone with such specific taste as me. And naturally, I have not found a perfect book that has made me do a 180 and be a card-carrying, full-fledged avid reader.
My first step on the road to becoming a reader: figuring out what I like.
Being able to identify a niche that fits my taste has been immensely helpful in converting me into a bookworm. In the past 9 months or so, I’ve finally been able to put a box around what I like to read. I like reading books set in other cultures, usually in historical periods, in which relationships (platonic and/or romantic) play a driving role in the plot. Honestly, I really only need two of those characteristics to pique my interest, but all three is probably going to be a winner for me.
An example: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I am currently reading this book, and it’s ticking all the boxes for me. Plus, his prose is some of the most vivid and meticulously crafted that I’ve ever read. Disclaimer: when I say that I’m “currently reading” this book, I mean that I’ve been reading it for over six months and the last time that I touched it was in mid-August. This is what me reading a book that I love looks like.
Don’t get me wrong, when I’m in the act of reading a book that I like, I don’t view it as a chore. It’s just that this view keeps me from picking up the book as often as I should.
My second step: forcing myself to Just. Freaking. Read.
If you read my Work In Progress Wednesday post, you know that the goal I want to set for myself this month is to read two books. I need to retrain myself to not view reading as a chore.
I’m hoping that setting this goal will help me to foster a new perspective that I can eventually turn into a habit. Being a book lover who doesn’t love reading is very weird. I’m ok with being weird in other ways, but this part of me is some weird I’d like to do away with.
If you’d like to see if I can will this weird away, look for my next WIP Wednesday post on the first Wednesday in November.