Let’s Learn How to Read Again: Advice from the Once-Tortured English Major.

If you were to gather every book I have ever owned, from ‘Good Night Moon’ to ‘Cloud Atlas’, one could erect a castle as tall as the Empire State Building and as wide as the State Capitol. However, if you remove all the books I have read from this Empire State Building of Literature, you wouldn’t be able to erect something the size of Barbie’s Dream House.

Dear Reader, I have forgotten how to read.

Fortunately, I am still quite literate. What has seemed to vex me for the subsequent four years is my inability to read leisurely. After several pages of our book, I find my attention waning. I can easily be drawn into a book from the mere four sentence plot on the back of a book jacket, but once crack it open, it’s as if the illusion shatters. They have tried and (seemingly) failed to hold me.

As any English Major can tell you, we are relentlessly barraged by required readings of the Brontes, Baldwin, and Dickens and I feel it’s extremely difficult to recover from that. Especially if the only copies they have in the bookstore are hardcovers or anthologies. Now, that isn’t to say that I hated these books. In fact, I hold them up as literary masterpieces, forever to stay in the Golden Bookshelf in my future library.

I suppose what has “cursed” me (a term I use lightly; to be cursed by a book is actually a blessing in disguise) is how I came across these books. For every book in between semesters and after I had graduated, I feel there is an upcoming deadline to finish them.

I’m on a clock.

While that is somewhat the case (of course I want to finish these books. I’d be wasting money otherwise), I feel this academically induced pressure has attached itself to my brain. I still highlight and write in the margins of every book as if I have to refer back to them for a final essay. It’s like a twitch that appears on picture day or a zit before a first date. Something beautiful is about to happen, but stress and overthinking creates an obstacle to challenge you. It won’t leave me alone.

For instance, there’s this amazing book called ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara and it’s a literary behemoth, clocking in at upwards of 700+ pages. I wanted to devour this book. I wanted to lose myself and become enveloped in these words. But I’m so preoccupied with needing a highlighter, a pen, and to have to understand every last line as if I had a test to take. I put this enormous pressure merely because I feel obligated to.

The English Major has tainted my love of reading!

Now that I have my clickbait title built in I can go on to say that that’s not entirely true. It has enhanced my love of reading. It just takes more time to fully digest everything. Especially with works like Bronte, Baldwin, Dickens and Yanagihara, you don’t want to rush through them. You need to take your time (a man-made concept, but we’ll disregard that). I feel that’s what I need to get through my big, empty head; don’t time yourself, pace yourself.

Literature isn’t something to take lightly. Take it seriously. Fall with Alice and walk with Dorothy and at their pace. If you beat them to the end of the line, you might just spoil their own story.


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