Rediscovering Reading

For an English major, I sure didn’t read much. Of course, I did before becoming one, in my childhood. It was sophomore year that I donned my English major cap, but I would say that it’s been years since I’ve read quality literature of my own volition. Obviously, I loved to read—why else would I have taken on such a text-laden journey? But those books that I sped through in high school and college were guilty pleasure Young Adult reads or repetitive romance novels. I know, romance. novels. I still pick up one occasionally, but the urge to devour corny love story after corny love story four hours past my bedtime doesn’t overwhelm me anymore.

But after graduating, I was hardly able to finish a book within three months. Hell, it took me 3 months just to finish Crime and Punishment, and most of it was read within the last three days, during which I read over half of the book. As I finished, I breathed a sigh of relief, having slightly salvaged my title of reader. The feeling was like no other; this is what it felt like to finish a book. Although I still wasn’t able to keep focus for a period of time needed to truly “get lost” in the pages, I figured I should take it one step at a time. And I did.

The first thing I had to do was to break the habit of whatever was holding me back. In this case, Netflix, delaying instant ending gratification, and the post-work exhaustion.

Rediscovering Reading Breaking the Netflix addiction

Let’s be honest, we all have it. Luckily, for homebodies like us everywhere, it seems to be the “in” thing to do right now, to prefer staying in and cozying up to Netflix rather than heading out with the girls or guys and hitting up the town. And coming home, breaking out the laptop just to lie in bed until bedtime is just too tempting…

However, for the first few weeks, I tried to substitute just one episode of Parks & Recreation for a block of reading. And what I found is that once you get started, it’s so easy to just continue. 20 minutes is about the time you need to immerse yourself in the book you’re reading.

Too often, before I made time each day for reading, it would take 10 minutes to remember where I left off because there was such a break in between times I would pick up the book I was “reading.”

Beating post-work exhaustion

Another reason that I would use to justify the Netflix addiction was that after work, my eyes were just too tired to read. I mean, reading means focusing. That’s like watching a brain-stimulating show right before bed! At first, it was a bit difficult immersing myself in the story—again, because it had been so long since I picked up the book—and I found myself being distracted at any odd noise. Meowing outside the window, let’s check that out even though I’m 100% sure the last time I checked, I can’t see in the dark. Roommates talking up some gossip, sure, let’s half listen. The most distracting thing I found, however, was my own mind.

Countless times during the first week, I’d find my eyes scanning the pages intently, thinking man, I still got my speed reading skills! but understanding none of the words that whizzed by. Instead of picturing what was happening in the book like I used to, I’d be reliving what I did at work today or laughing again at the funny joke I made during that one meeting (good job, Michelle).

Reading is a muscle that requires repetition and practice in order for it to get easier, like anything else in life. It took practice to stay in the moment and comprehend what my eyes were seeing. Once I got over that by speaking the words aloud in my head, I tried reading without reciting it silently so that I could read faster. 

Being satisfied with extended storylines

This, out of anything, was the most difficult part. TV shows and movies are so addicting simply because you can reach a conclusion within a day. You get to find out what happens when the protagonist is pitted against his biggest rival, you get to know if the girl ends up with the guy or if she dies a bitter, painful death.

With a novel, however, you work through the storyline much more slowly. If your eyes get too tired, you may even find yourself closing the book in the middle of an action scene. In those cases, at first, I was so frustrated. This wouldn’t happen if I were watching a movie! I yelled to my cat.

But, as I progressed in strengthening my reading muscles, I found myself able to hunker down and finish the exciting scene. And, I found a certain beauty in the slow unfolding of a book. Books allow so many nuances to be present that may not exist in movies because of the time constraint. Because you’re able to properly absorb the storyline, characters, and subtext, you start to feel the emotions in the plot a little more. And I find that books stay with me much longer than movies do… unless the movie adaptation is better. I’m looking at you, Hunger Games. 

It’s all about patience…

Defeating all of these roadblocks that stood between me and being a reader took some time. I wasn’t able to conquer all of those within a few days… or even a few weeks. It’s only a month later that I find myself habitually cracking open the spine of my most recent read and diving back into the storyline easily.

The first book or two may not be easy. No matter how good a book they are, they may not hold your attention enough to find yourself reading like a “reader” does—seeing the plot as a movie in your head, reading so quickly you forget you’re reading. But by the third book, I was doing exactly that a little more and I found myself looking forward to another book as soon as I finished the last.

Just start

One memory in particular stands out to me, for some reason. It was Read&Relax time, or as we so cleverly abbreviated it (because we’re the OGs), R&R. It was an hour that I cherished. It seemed like a magical hour where I was allowed free reign to do whatever I wanted; I wanted to read instead of going over the times table yet again. During this hour, everyone would sprawl out. We would fight over the pile of fish pillows in the corner, the rocking chair in the other; I would dive under my desk to maximize time I would’ve wasted walking over to any of these.

One day, I was digging the particular Magic Tree House book I was reading that day, when for some unknown reason I looked around. All I saw were feet and no one in any of the two coveted reading corners. The teacher was already back at the front of the room—she had been there for who knows how long. Tempted to stay below and continue reading until someone caught me, I sighed and looked longingly at the book pages, and then returned to my seat.

It was the first time that I was aware how much reading affected me; before I never had any obligations like returning to class to disturb my state; a state where I could hear and see nothing but what was happening in the novel. I don’t remember if it was a one-time thing, but ever since, I’ve been trying to find my way back to that level.

Slowly, but surely, I’ll get there.

What’s your favorite book? I’d love some suggestions!

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  • Valerie Price

    Such a great post! I struggled for awhile to get back into reading due to a lot of things you mentioned. But now I try extra hard to designate quality time with a great book…it is definitely rewarding. My favorite right now is A House in the Sky.

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Thanks Valerie! Yeah, I feel like we all KNOW how great reading is, it’s just so easy to NOT. It’s just that—a more rewarding use of our time.

      Thanks for the recommendation :) I’ll check it out!

  • Kerri

    I do enjoy reading, but after reading for university and reading for my job, it’s not that much fun anymore. I’m also a really really slow reader, chronically slow and even when I’m in the habit of reading, it’s still ridiculously slow. I tried to read more by reading on the bus to work and that, but I can hardly make in through about 5 pages in the 20 minute bus ride. So i gave up with that.

    In the end, I decided to try audiobooks. I used to listen to them when I was a lot younger and I thought ‘why not’. So I got a few and started to listen whilst at work, and I’m kind of in love with them now. I’ve listened to more books since October than I’ve read in a good few years. Plus there’s the added benefit of having something interesting to listen to at work when I’m working in the lab :)

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Yeah, I can see how reading would start to become a chore :( Hahah I can’t read on any moving vehicle unless I want to become a roving vomit machine.

      Audiobooks are THE SHIT in my opinion. I’ve been upping my intake of them recently because of the horrible traffic (“reading” for 1 hour feels a lot better than being in traffic for 1 hour). I’m happy you found a solution to your problems (and boredom). I’ve been really into funny girl memoirs via audiobooks lately because that’s basically their medium. Amy Poehler’s Yes Please was a great start to that pile :)

  • Lani

    Great post. I love reading, but I think it means different things to different people. Some folks devour books at an insane pace, while me, on the other hand, read as if I’m carefully licking all the pages. (I’m not. Cause that would be weird, right?) Folks who know me tease me about my slowness, but I don’t care. Reading is not a race and some times I’m in the mood for reading and other times I can’t get myself away from the Internet.

    But reading before bed is really grand and better than being glued to the tube/monitor. I bought a Kindle and I like the seemingly unlimited possibilities and it’s light weight. I think when you are reading something that doesn’t click, it’s okay to put it down and try something else. It’s actually be a very long time since I’ve decided to stay with a book “no matter what”. If it’s not connecting w/ me, then I just move on. Life is too short to waste it on books, movies or TV shows I don’t like. I mean, I can always go back to it later.

    I really liked The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, and Amy Poehlers’ Me First! was entertaining. Not the best, but easy to pick up and put down…it was good to read memoir (since I aspire to write in the genre) and it made me want to read Tina Fey’s. I’m actually in the middle of not finishing a lot of books, so I can’t really recommend anything else. See what I mean? If you lose me, you lose me!

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Ew, you’re weird :p yeah, I get what you mean. For me it depends on the book! If it’s one so well written, I do try to slow down and savor it a little more.

      I used to be of the mentality “finish no matter what” but really, it’s your time and you don’t want to waste it on bad books! Rock on, girl ;)

      I didn’t know Amy came out with a book before Yes Please (which I read recently via audiobook. You should check it out!). I’m reading Tina’s right now in audiobook too! Something just comforts me about their voice. Also they’re funnier when talking haha. You do you!

      • Lani

        No, I was wrong. I thought her book was called “Me, First.” Hahahahaha. You are right. It’s “Yes, Please.” OMG. I’m an idiot.

        • Michelle @ Mishfish13

          HAHAHAHA I was like “hm, she really likes her two-word titles!” But what a turnaround she would’ve done if those really were the titles of her books hahaha.

  • Jordan Beck Wagner

    I definitely need to get back into reading more but just find it so hard to find time! Last year, I started reading every night before bed and I loved it!!! However, along the way I lost the habit and reverted back to my computer. Now I want to make a conscious effort to read before bed again!

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      You can do it!! The habit actually comes back a lot easier than you’d think :)

  • Courtney @ Adelante

    Girl, I feel ya! I used to be a huge book fiend, and now I’m having the hardest time getting back into reading. And I don’t even have Netflix!!! In September I decided to reread one of my favorite books, and now it’s January and I’m still not even halfway through it. Pathetic. I need to take your tips to heart! I miss books :(

    Also, I’m still laughing over your line, “you get to know if the girl ends up with the guy or if she dies a bitter, painful death.” LOL!!!!!! (insert crying/smiley face emoji)

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I know!! I think it’s because we’re that generation where suddenly Internet existed and the past 10 years have been a kind of “OMG! THIS IS STILL A THING!” haze. What’s your favorite book? (PS this is the second time I’ve had to ask, plz don’t keep me waiting :p). Do it!! And add me on Goodreads once you do :)

      Hahaha, those are obviously the two options romance heroines have in books ;)

      • Courtney @ Adelante

        I’m sorry to keep you waiting! My faves probably have to be The Great Gatsby (before the movie came out… for some reason I feel like I need to clarify that) and Dharma Bums. The Sun Also Rises used to be up there, but since that’s the one I’m currently rereading and having such a hard time finishing, it’s been demoted (sorry Hemingway).

        Also, I just saw your comment on my GF Travel page! Are you Celiac too?!?!

        • Michelle @ Mishfish13

          Haha, I have and always will be a “book hipster” (coined by me in this moment). Any time one of my books makes it onto the big screen, it’s like you have to start differentiating yourself from the people who read it post-movie. I should also read more Hemingway; I’ve only read The Old Man and the Sea.

          YES! I was recently diagnosed! Thankfully happened after devouring half of Europe, but now it’s like I have to renavigate how to travel with it! Any tips, mentor? :D

          • Courtney @ Adelante

            Book hipsters unite! I’m sorry to hear that you have Celiac Disease too, but at least you found out AFTER your Europe trip! And after France especially! When I studied abroad in Paris, they were so clueless about what’s gluten free and what’s not. Thankfully Spain (very surprisingly) has their GF act together.

            I guess my biggest tip for navigating your travels sans gluten is French fries. When in doubt, always go for the potatoes. (Life motto #1!!!!) You need to indulge on some kind of guilty pleasure when everyone else is stuffing their faces with croissants, baklava, or any other kind of delicious regional good that you can’t have.

            Also, I live by those Celiac travel cards from that describe your disease in every language. They’re total lifesavers!!

          • Michelle @ Mishfish13

            Haha, I KNOW. Especially since I had committed to study in France for 6 months… that would’ve been COMPLETE TORTURE. I wouldn’t imagine they get on their GF act until a good 10 years after everyone else does, knowing the French.

            Mmmm, like I need any more excuses to eat french fries. And ooh, I’ll check out that website! :) Awesome tips, yo.

  • Anna | slightly astray

    I used to read a lot too by stopped for a bit. I’m getting back into it though (probably because they don’t have Netflix for a lot of the places Im traveling in). I’m really like long, long books because I love character and plot development and I don’t want it to end too soon! Tana French has long been a favorite author for that reason. I also recently discovered Sarah Waters and I love her writing and books! Start with Fingersmith if you’re interested. You’ll get completely absorbed in the story! I Have a post on my recent favorite reads in the works!

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I think we all go through this phase in college (which is where you’re supposed to educate yourself… by abandoning books?) but haha traveling is one of the best ways to get back into it! My friend recently went to Guatemala and all she had were 5 books, which she finished within the week.

      Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll check them out along with your favorite reads post :)