I’m not going to tell you how to read. Most of us have been told how to read, what to read, and when to read for all of our academic lives, and that’s why we hate reading.
Try to remember the experience of reading when you were a child. I’m willing to bet that you loved to read at some point before you entered into public education (if you did). Many of us asked our parents to read the same book to us over and over again, night after night. I remember being read Clifford is on the Farm Today until I could recite it myself. Some had a collection of fairy tales or a series of picture and chapter books, like Hank the Cowdog. I devoured series chapter books as a kid: Harry Potter, The Mysterious Benedict Society, A Series of Unfortunate Events. For many of us, our introduction to reading was joyful and fun… how it is meant to be.
However, the older I got, the more required reading I had to do for school. As any logical person will know, as soon as you remove the ability to choose from a human, bitterness and resentment will arise. Unless you had a rare, exceptional English teacher in high school, this is where most of us abandoned that joy for reading. I barely hung onto my reading life through high school, and was bored to death with the ways I was taught The Scarlet Letter, Beowulf, and Shakespeare. Like many, I began to hate reading.
Now, as adults, many of us have a warped idea of what reading is meant to be. Many know that we ought to read, but those negative experiences keep us from doing so. Many don’t know how anymore. Not in the sense that they don’t actually know how to read, but they don’t know how to choose a book and enjoy it without someone telling them what the boring theme of the book is, or what you were supposed to glean from it.
I went to college to become an English teacher, because despite everything, I still had a passion for writing and reading. My Teaching Reading teacher during my undergrad was incredibly liberal, but to be fair, she was liberal about the right thing in this instance: reading.
The first day of her class, there was a cart of books at the front of the room. She said nothing except, “Find a book on the cart and read for 15 minutes.” The dozen students in the class all browsed the wide selection of books in her cart. We found one that piqued our interest, and sat down to read it. I found a Baxter Black book of poems and thoroughly enjoyed the silent quarter hour. When the time was up, the teacher stood at the front of the class and said, “I didn’t have to show you how to find a book you liked or walk you through how to read it. You just did it. So why don’t we teach reading like this?”
Fair point. She got that one right, and bucks the system of modern methods of teaching reading. For all her flaws, she helped me salvage my childlike passion for reading books.
That semester, her assignment was to read 40 books. For most of us, that was the most books we’d ever read in our lives. To my own surprise, when I was given a choice and could read freely, I couldn’t get enough. I read 142 books that year. Now, I average around 50 books per year, and have a healthy, vibrant reading life, even with my busy schedule.
To help you love reading again and to show you how I read so many books each year, allow me to bust a couple of common myths surrounding reading, that I may free you from the common bondages placed on us during our high school experience:
- You have to finish every book you start.
- I detest this myth with my whole being. If you do not LOVE a book, put it down. Seriously. I give you permission. Abandon the heck out of that book. If you do not enjoy the book, then what’s the point? There are far too many good books out there for you to waste your time on something you aren’t sucked in by in the first few pages.
- Only kids can read picture books, graphic novels, and young adult literature.
- Absolutely not. A common experience among parents of young children is that they rediscover the wonder which comes from reading children’s books. In fact, picture books contain some of the most profound reflections, historical content, and human experiences that I have encountered. Graphic novels are so cool, and young adult literature is an amazing genre, too.
- “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty… the only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.” –C.S. Lewis
- You can’t read more than one book at one time.
- This is also a myth I aggressively denounce. Hard as I try, I cannot NOT read more than one thing. In my case, I usually have spiritual reading (lives of the saints, spiritual exercises, or devotions), and a mystery book or other novel going at once. In addition, there are those “constant” books that I don’t ever really finish, like the book of essays by G.K. Chesterton and the Bible (Psalms in the morning and Gospel in the evening).
- You hate reading.
- No, you don’t. You’re reading this, aren’t you? And there is some part of you that wants to return to the child who loved being read to and loved exploring picture and chapter books. To employ my favorite age-old maxim, “You don’t hate reading, you just haven’t found the right book yet.”
- You have to read every word.
- Scott Hahn once said that some books are like going into a store. If you’re going in for one thing, why would you need to look at every single thing in the store?
- “It is a very silly idea that in reading a book you must never ‘skip.’ All sensible people skip freely when they come to a chapter which they find is going to be no use to them.” –C.S. Lewis
- You can’t reread books.
- Noooo. All of the best books deserve to be treated as old friends. I can’t remember if it was Lewis or Chesterton who said that a good book is like a place that you can make a home in, to be revisited.
- “Clearly one must read every good book at least once every ten years.” C.S. Lewis
- You must be careful what you read.
- “In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.” –C.S. Lewis
- Be as careless as you like, especially if you are a “sound atheist”! In all seriousness, even if your reading choices drive you down the dark path of nihilism, atheism, and modernism (such as Lewis above), it is often at this point that one finds that the truth is found in the opposite, for sometimes it is only by going to the South Pole do we know where the North Pole is. God is the Truth that none of us can escape.
To conclude on a deeper note, if you are displeased with the direction of our culture, there is truly nothing so counter-cultural as picking up a book and reading it. Big Tech, Big Business, and Big Government would love it if we all stayed on our phones in an endless scroll. It suits them very well that we have no ideas of our own, never learn after college, and never seek out wisdom and truth. We are more suggestible, compliant, and eager consumers that way.
“The first use of good literature is that it prevents a man from being merely modern. To be merely modern is to condemn oneself to an ultimate narrowness; just as to spend one’s last earthly money on the newest hat is to condemn oneself to the old-fashioned. The road of the ancient centuries is strewn with dead moderns. Literature, classic and enduring literature, does its best work in reminding us perpetually of the whole round of truth and balancing other and older ideas against the ideas to which we might for a moment be prone. The way in which it does this, however, is sufficiently curious to be worth our fully understanding it to begin with.”–G.K. Chesterton