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.
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.
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!