Ever since graduate school, I seem to have lost the capacity to read for pleasure without great effort. It’s the only thing I regret about my education.
Until entering college, reading was a huge part of my life and my education (and in my case life and education were even more closely related than most people’s because I was taught at home until college). My mom had a degree in literature, and my dad was well versed in the classical history and literature, so I was well steeped in books.
Then I got to college. Suddenly, reading was “assigned” rather than suggested. But I got through it. Every summer I’d take the first two weeks of summer break to read what I termed “mind-candy”… that stuff that’s fun and engrossing but has very little literary merit. That’d kick-start me into loving to read again.
Studying literature in graduate school was fun. There were so many nuances, so many implications, so many connections, so many EVERYTHING, and all the people in my seminars came to class ready and able to discuss our readings in depth (which had decidedly not been the case in undergrad). But there was so MUCH of this reading (3-5 books every week, plus all the other work of graduate school) that I began to associate reading with a tiring activity, something to be gotten through before I could get to the analysis part of things. That was the first fatal blow to my ability to read for pleasure.
The second fatal blow came when I moved away from my family. I was just too raw and vulnerable to open myself up to the fundamentally empathetic experience of reading.
I’m still mostly unable to read at home. I don’t know why that is, but it just never seems to happen unless it’s a very special book (and I’m apparently VERY picky about what makes a book special). But I’ve begun to set aside at least an hour every Sunday at a coffee shop. And there, devoid of the pressures of Things To Do or the siren’s call of my laptop or TV, I’ve rediscovered the ability to read.
And this week I’ve found The Book, the one that reminded me that amazing writing still happens, still stirs the deepest corners of my imagination, and still tugs at my thoughts when I’m prevented from reading (like when I’m at work but would like nothing more than to close my office door and snuggle in a corner with that book). Even better than the joy of experiencing this book is the joy of proving to myself that I haven’t been deluding myself into remembering a power that never existed.
P.S. I’m assuming that since you’re most likely a librarian, reading this, you’ll probably also want a reference to the book itself. Well, I don’t like to recommend books that I’ve really enjoyed (an aversion that started when working in a bookstore, ironically enough), so I’ve come up with a workaround. Here is the short list of my 7 favorite books. It’s one of those.