I remember reading a lot when I was younger. I gobbled up books one by one, reading whatever took my fancy. Most of them were children’s classics, cozy tales with female protagonists.
Little Women made me want to be a writer. The Secret Garden inspired me to sketch the plans for my own secret garden, complete with a wall and gate I would somehow craft all by myself in my small-town backyard. Anne of Green Gables reminded me it was okay to be a little odd and poetic, even if people looked at you funny.
But then somehow, as I got older, it got harder to find time and energy to read, even when I still counted reading as one of my main hobbies. It’s hard to justify sitting down and reading for fun when you have a job, or laundry, or reading for a college class, or—let’s face it—when you’ve already wasted enough time on the internet.
A lot of adults have a similar story. We loved indulging in literature when we were younger, but now recreational reading seems just that—an indulgence we can’t quite justify.
Ironically, I think my nearly five years of undergraduate education made me hate reading for fun. And I’m the biggest nerd I know. I love school. I didn’t mind reading for classes at first. But that mindset of reading-for-credit really gets ingrained, even when you don’t think about it. And it turns on you. When I graduated, there was no one telling me, “Read this by that date,” no counting pages til I could be done, no direction, even, of what to read and what to look for in it. I found myself a little lost, and a little miffed that my long-time hobby had been taken away.
I soon realized that my motives and justification behind reading had become twisted. I had taught myself that reading was a chore. I had reduced literature into page numbers I had to get through. Sometimes books were on my reading list because they were “good books to read,” something that had been recommended to me, or worse, books which everyone referenced with ease and I still didn’t know about. And sometimes I didn’t read because it felt trivial to sit on the couch and read a book I wouldn’t get any benefits from besides inherent enjoyment and perhaps some useless knowledge.
But the truth is that any writer needs to read. It is also true that life is too short to read a book you don’t like (thanks Leonard). And finally, it’s incredibly smug to assume you have nothing concrete or useful to learn from a book. Any book.
So this summer I let myself read like a kid. I picked what looked interesting even if it wasn’t my genre or usual choice. I had books gifted and recommended to me, and I enjoyed them and let them lead me to new fields I’d never considered before.
And you know what? I’ve never read so much in a summer, not since I was a kid. Something about taking away the boundaries and expectations, of letting the imagination wander if it wants, makes you explore and soak in. You learn, and you have fun doing it.
This summer, I’ve read children’s lit, adult fiction, self-help, theology, and poetry. My reading has been like a hike: I’ve walked alone, followed along with a friend, run off the trail and darted back, and walked a few familiar parts of the trail over and over again.
My hobby has returned to me, or perhaps I to it.