Last week I finished the first book I’ve read for pleasure in a very long time. The experience was cathartcic in a way, but in order to explain why I have to explain to you my relationship with reading.
I used to love to read. From the moment I got off picture books, I devoured everything I could get my hands on. At first, I liked it because it was a new skill I had just learned and it made me feel intelligent. The world seemed like it opened up to me. But as my taste developed, I started to like to read because of how it stimulated my imagination. The shallow prose of a book was a thin layer that shielded endless depths of imagery and fantasy that you could just get lost in. I loved it.
Reading in school at this that time was all about encouragement. I grew up during the formation of the digital age, and it seemed like kids were reading less and less. Teachers were all about convincing students that reading was fun and awesome, and all their energy and lessons about it were devoted to this ideal. Any reading was great, as long as you were reading.
So, this was great for me. I loved an activity and I was encouraged to get into it more and more. Reading meant pleasure, and that’s why I loved it.
Then, all of a sudden, all of that changed. Overnight, reading went from an endless chasm of imagination to a flat, boring myriad of over analysis and undermined opinions. And I’m pretty sure I know why.
By High School, reading stopped being encouraged and started being expected. This was a job now, a chore. And that seems fine when you just hear it, you’d think “yeah this is high school now, you have to start taking on some responsibility. You’re not going to love everything you read but that’s part of growing up.” And I’m fine with that. But it’s the attitude that bothers me.
All of a sudden, reading has become a much less general term. When they refer to reading in high school, they’re talking about “classic” literature. Blank and outdated text ripe for over analysis. Reading for pleasure now implies that you need to read books other than these “classic” novels, and these are scoffed at by English teachers for not being up to their standard. I once lost an entire letter grade on a book report because I did it on a graphic novel (Watchmen, which by the way is listed in Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels of All Time). A woman who taught at an SAT course of mine repeatedly would put down students for whatever popular teen novel they were reading because they were apparently “pieces of fluff literature.” This kind of dissmissive attitude is what makes students resentful of reading, which should just be another medium of communication like film or television. Instead it gives people my age this negative stigma because they associate it with pedantic lessons on themes and diction. And teachers reinforce this.
Reading went overnight from a bottomless pit of imagination to a shallow layer of prose. It seems as though every layer of analysis added by a teacher just makes the work seem thinner and thinner. Reading just becomes about preparing for essays, and then why even read? Most students just use Sparknotes and get important quotes about the book from the internet. If they enjoyed reading, they wouldn’t do that. The essay is even worse. Students just spit their teachers’ opinions back on to the page, opinions they clearly dont agree with. You can just feel the apathy bleed through the page when you read an 11th grade thesis paper on themes and symbols in “The Scarlet Letter.”
This is why, for the past few years, I haven’t been able to read for pleasure. Because reading is now an ugly, pedantic, head-ache inducing activity. The layers upon layers underneath the prose were evaporated long ago.
Reading can be fun. It should be fun. And I want it to be fun again. If nothing else, I just wanna recapture what made me love it so much.