This is an essay by Williesha Morris.
“The DaVinci Code” was my omen.
The hugely successful novel that everyone insisted I wouldn’t be able to put down? I put it down and never came back to it.
I promised my niece I’d get through the “Harry Potter” series before the final movie. That flick has come and gone. Her half-read copy of the third novel in the series, “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” is in my room.
While some folks may have a handful of books on their shelf they have yet to read, I have dozens. The saddest part is that I wasn’t always this way. I adored reading and writing as a child. My earliest memory of reading was the Golden Book “Little Bear.” I was five years old and didn’t know how to pronounce the word “thought.” I asked one of my parents and kept on going.
Books, magazines, encyclopedias. I ingested anything with words on a page. I took several facts from the encyclopedia about San Francisco and turned it into a love story about two lawyers. Years later, I still had a copy, and I finally saw in person what was depicted in those unsatisfying thumbnail photos.
My love for the written word sparked a career goal. After editing my sixth grade newspaper (since my classmates didn’t need my “Dear Abby” advice) and visited the local paper, I was hooked. I stuck with that goal and became an editorial assistant for that paper many years later.
However, I stopped reading for pleasure consistently around age 12. Here’s why:
My first year of required reading for honors English was the summer before the 7th grade. I was disappointed I couldn’t read the normal fluff books I’d read like “Sleepover Friends” or “Sweet Valley High.” I ended up donating a lot of books to my sixth grade teacher.
I had to read “The Yearling.” The monotonous 1938 exposition and the tragic ending left a terrible taste in my mouth. And since English was always my strongest subject, I’d be doomed to this type of reading through college.
It is a simple but torturous process: Read several books. Write several boring expositions on them and be tested later. Discuss. Repeat.
Though without these classes, I may have never enjoyed the rich literary experience of authors such as Shakespeare, Morrison and Barrett Browning. But I also trudged through Garcia-Marquez, Steinbeck and Dostoyevsky – all legendary authors that bored or confused me. When I focused on journalism and literature in college, I could never make time for fluff. I had to dive into historical autobiographies and non-fiction texts. By then, my love for reading and writing for fun had dwindled.
Opening a book became totally associated with studying.
Web browsing is the bad habit I can’t break. Like many people who grew up in the height of the computer age, the entertainment value of the Internet far exceeded what I had experienced. Simply sitting and reading wasn’t nearly as interesting. It has become so difficult to focus and digest what I’m reading, I get frustrated, particularly when I see friends getting through meaty novels in days.
Though it has useful benefits, it also became a source of social fulfillment. Ironically, I still haven’t embraced e-readers. I still believe nothing can match the feel of an actual book and listening to the turn of pages.
Yet, I still have a difficult time with sticking to it.
- Join or start a local book club. This has been effective in the past because of the social benefit to it. There is still pressure to complete the book before the next meeting, but it’s nothing like it was in school.
- Reading for a few minutes at a time and taking breaks in between. No matter how slow I am, I will continue.
Much like eating healthier and exercising, I really do think reading often should be a vital part of everyone’s daily life, especially writers. But like most healthy habits, it’s very difficult to maintain. What drew me to this blog is the hope that I will return to my old ways. Plenty of people enjoy the web and endured summer reading but still make time to read before bed, during work breaks or on vacation.
Even if my reading habits never fully return to a passionate hobby of mine, I still have wonderful memories of reading from my youth and later in life.
How do you balance other pastimes with reading? How has your level of reading changed over the years? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Williesha Morris is an administrative consultant and freelance writer in Alabama. Her focus is partnering with business owners. When she’s not browsing the web or blogging (you can read her here), she enjoys spending time with her husband playing games or watching Big Bang Theory.
I found your post to be interesting as it allowed me to see why all things written are not necessarily for all folks. good post.
Thank you so much for reading! It was tough to write, because honestly I’m a smidge embarrassed by it. However, it was cathartic and I hope others can relate to it.
Reading is essential to a healthy, well balanced and focused life. I certainly agree that many of the attitudes adults have toward reading were shaped throughout adolescence, especially if they were raised by parents who had neither the leisure time nor the hungry minds to incorporate books into a regular routine. And yes, there’s still no shortage of teachers who are joy-killers when it comes to assigned reading, especially if students can’t see any relevant correlation between reading Dickens and becoming a better soccer player. Whether or not adults purposely make the time to immerse themselves in a book depends entirely on how important this exercise is to them, not on whether society perceives them as lazy rubes if they don’t. If they want to learn to be better writers, for instance, or to familiarize themselves with other cultures or business practices in order to advance in their jobs, they’ll find a way to get up half an hour earlier, go to bed half an hour later, or always carry a book in their backpack or briefcase so as not to let any “waiting time” go to waste.
It’s also important to recognize when to stop reading; specifically, if you stop reading at the end of a chapter, it becomes all too easy to make excuses to pick up the book again and start the next chapter. Stopping in the middle of an exciting passage – “Perplexed by who would be calling on her so late at night, and yet intrigued by the knock’s sense of urgency, Janine opened the door.” – will make you impatient to get back to the story as soon as possible. And, thus, a rekindled excitement for the written word will develop into a lifelong habit.
Those tips are great – I’ve always finished reading at the end of a chapter, because it’s tough to have my mind “catch up” to where I am if I’m in the middle of a passage. But if I’m having a tough time of reading, I will have to do this more often.
“Students can’t see any relevant correlation between reading Dickens and becoming a better soccer player.” — it’s so true. Because I wanted to be a journalist, I always appreciated the value of reading as a ways of bettering my career. It’s unfortunate it no longer extends to my leisure time. I’m hoping to change that!
Thanks for commenting!
The same strategy about stopping at a juicy juncture also applies to writing. Many of the aspiring authors I mentor are terrible procrastinators. I advise them that if they set a timer and have to move away from the keyboard when the buzzer goes off (sort of like a timed test and putting their pencils down), they’re much more enthusiastic to dive back into their work the next day.
As for relevance, I probably would have gotten better grades in Chemistry in high school if the instructor had introduced parallels to gourmet cooking or to ingredients in makeup and perfume. Since I couldn’t see any bearing on why being able to write chemical equations or create things that smelled like rotten eggs could possibly lead me to a career in theater and publishing, I’m sure it accounts for why I got a C+.
Hahahha Oh, wouldn’t that have been great. Learning how to create perfume in chemistry. I was always an overachiever, so even though I wasn’t great at math and science, I always did my best and performed well. But I do think that incorporating real life applications into all classes would be useful. I honestly still don’t think that my exposure to Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’ girl-losing-her-virginity scene in “100 Years of Solitude” was beneficial to my career as a writer.
Thanks for this honest post, Willi. I have to tell you that I couldn’t STAND The DaVinci Code and don’t blame you one bit for putting that one aside.
Continuing to read when I don’t like the story is tricky. I tend to get annoyed that I have to continue to read the book and that makes for an unenjoyable experience. I like your advice about joining a book club. I think talking with others about the story helps me appreciate it more. I’m in the middle of my MFA in Creative Nonfiction, and having others to “hold me accountable” stretches me and keeps me accountable. That’s helpful, too.
I really enjoyed this post! You have a great writing “voice.” Looking forward to reading more from you!
Thank you so much! I really appreciate your feedback. There is at least one other post on here about joining a book club. It really does help a lot!
The strange thing is that even if it’s a book I really love, I have a hard time finishing it. I actually really liked The DaVinci Code and I *love* the Harry Potter series. But yes, those other books that I had to read at school were so tough to get through. “Crime and Punishment” I think was the absolute worst.
If you thought “Crime and Punishment” was laborious, you should have been in my class the semester we had to read “Beowulf.”
Oh, dear Lord. I can’t imagine haha. Actually the same year I read “C & P,” (senior year of high school) was the “100 Years of Solitude” year. But, I also read “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” so it had its moments. 🙂
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Even though, on the whole, I have always been a pretty voracious reader, I’ve definitely had some reading “lulls” in my lifetime. Probably the biggest was when I was in college. I had to do so much textbook reading that I just was NOT interested in reading-for-fun in my off time. But when I graduated and found myself with less required reading time, I jumped right back into fun reading.
I also have a hard time when I pick up books for fun that end up not being…fun. I tried MIddlemarch last year and it was TORTURE. When I gave it up (about halfway through) I didn’t feel very motivated to read anything else…it had sucked the reading life out of me. So the next time I went to pick a book, I made sure it was one that my friends/fellow bloggers had RAVED about, because I needed a guaranteed win. After reading a few of those, I got back into my groove. 🙂 It is definitely different for everyone though. Sometimes I forget that it is harder for others than it is for me!
Jealous! That’s awesome you were able to bounce back. Because I’m such a slow reader, things have been frustrating. Hopefully, this post will help others feel better about their lack of reading. Someone suggested online book clubs, but that isn’t quite the same.
Very happy to report that I finished “A Christmas Carol” over the holidays and now working on “Sherlock Holmes” and another book! 🙂
Great read (pun intended), it took some of the edge that I’ve had about my god children not being as interested in reading as I was back in their day. One thing that I’ve started to do is only allow them to watch movies that are based upon a true story (they know WAY too many lines from the Medea movies) and then ask them the question, “So what did you get out of it?” If there’s a book version, I (attempt to-some are easier to convince than others) get them to read it as well. Or go to plays-something that shows them the art of writing, dance, acting, etc.
Personally, I’ve rediscovered Maya Angelou and I’ve become so engulfed that I keep a highlighter on deck to highlight clever phrases. It’s a great break from the self-help books. With that being said, sometimes switching up the types of books keeps up the momentum after a burnout.
Thanks for commenting – that’s great that you are incorporating lessons into other forms of media. It’s tough to get the attention of a child these days. I know you are making a difference.
I think being a fast reader helps, maybe doing a speed reading course could help.
I certainly don’t read as much as I used to but my life has changed a lot as well. When I was single, there was nothing to stop me from reading all weekend if I was really into a book, or a trilogy for that matter. Now I’m married and have moved to the country where I’ve got livestock and and orchard to look after I don’t have as much time to read. I still read for half an hour, an hour most nights before bed, I have to be very, very tired to give that up.
Lastly, I absolutely loved 100 Years of Solitude, I’ll always remember that opening line: ‘Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
Williesha Morris (@WillieshaMorris)
Wow! That is so awesome you remembered that! Sometimes I feel bad that I did not like some of the classics, but everyone has their own taste!
And oh my goodness! If you can make time for reading, anyone can. Well done. Thanks for commenting!
I used to read almost 25 books a year, but since I’ve started focusing more of my time on writing, it doesn’t even come close to that. I’ve found that I really miss reading and that my mind needs to be nourished by it. I have to set aside time for it and really have the intention. I’ve accepted that it might take me a little longer.
In your case I wouldn’t recommend joining a book club. It sounds like required reading is what killed your love for reading, and being in a book club can feel a little like required reading.
Yeah, I actually was really encouraged by the book club because it is informal, but it hasn’t been updated in a while. Alas, I’ve spent more time reading e-books and blogs for my business! Still pretty good. 25 a year!? That’s amazing.
I’ve never counted the number of books I read a year, but since I usually read between one or two books a week, I would guess that it’s about 80 a year. Before you get excited, some books are shorter than others…I have a hard time putting a book down once I start, which in the case of “The Amber Hare” was fortunate, but in the case of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was most unfortunate. I plowed through it because a friend recommended it, but unlike Darren, I just couldn’t enjoy it. (Afterwards my friend said, “You actually finished it? I only told you to read it because if someone asks what’s the last book you’ve read it’s a great answer… I could have throttled her.)
I don’t know how you’re getting along with your reading now, but maybe a return to good, shorter children books, will rekindle your love of reading. The Winnie the Pooh books are very clever, as is “The Phantom Toll Booth.” I also find reading on my kindle is very conducive to reading, as it’s lightweight, saves your place and can be taken anywhere. I even cook with it, reading it while I stir, or while waiting for something to boil, or whatever. Maybe if you use reading to fill the empty moments (like waiting for an appointment or a ride, commercial breaks, etc) it will seem less like a chore and more like… fun.
I still don’t read enough. I don’t. We don’t have a lot of room for books, but I maybe have a dozen ebooks to read…it took me 8 months just to get through one. I feel like that’s an accomplishment though! This one was Marianne Williamson’s latest, so it was very spiritual and offered some encouragement and practical advice. Thanks for commenting!
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This comment is a bit late, I know, but I only just discovered this post through your post on Be a Freelance Blogger, and I have to say, I suffered through some horrible reading experiences in English classes myself. I love, love the language. I love reading. I just had an aversion to reading things that were forced down my throat, and some teachers would think you were shallow/narrow-minded or not just smart enough if you didn’t truly enjoy the book. Luckily for me, I always knew how to show them that I read and understood the book perfectly. However some characters and story lines just didn’t click with my personality. The Great Gatsby? Sorry, I just don’t like that book. I don’t like or am intrigued by any of the characters. Catcher in the Rye? Nope. I hate it with a vengeance. I still remember one short story for a horrible, horrible ending. I’d wondered why it had ended up in a literature book. I still love Shakespeare, though.
Because of this, I didn’t study English in college. High school years of literature and analyses were enough.
Now, my “fluff”: (I actually think they are brilliant, but they are bestsellers and aren’t viewed as literary greats) John Grisham. I also love Dan Brown. I’ve recently developed addiction to Lee Child. I love the suspense. The thrill. The storytelling. And most importantly, I adore these writers because they don’t waste a single word (especially Grisham with his legal dramas.)
As for Harry Potter, I will one day have to read it for research purposes as I also write fiction and that series is massively successful. I want to see how she writes. The problem? I don’t care for witches or wizards…Really.
But the reasons I stopped reading or stopped enjoying certain books have become a series on my writing blog. I love trying to figure out what worked out and what didn’t:)
No worries on the late comment! I appreciate you reading it. I apologize for my late reply. 🙂 I will have to check out your blog. I actually enjoyed Great Gatsby but I swear, I got to the last 5 pages of Catcher in the Rye and stopped. I just did *not* want to continue even to the very end. Haha
And an update: Finally read the DaVinci Code and watched the movie. Book was WAY better. 😉
No problem, I love seeing reactions to my older posts/comments.
I feel that way too. My main problem with the movie was Tom Hanks. I like him as an actor, but he definitely wasn’t the Langdon I had in mind. Frankly, I wish Liam Neeson (or someone like that) played him. Thrillers and Tom Hanks don’t blend well together, in my opinion:)
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