I don’t have any distinct memories of first learning to read. The earliest ones are fuzzy recollections of beginning phonics flip books with mind-numbing sentences like:
Peg runs. Peg runs to Bug. Bug runs to Peg. Run, Bug, Run.
But even at five years old, I recall thinking something along the lines of, “I’m gonna need material that speaks to me just a little bit more.” Give the kids some texts about Fun-Dip or Tic-Tac-Toe. There are distinct syllables in those words, too, and the topics are a little more relatable to a kid than a woman named “Peg.”
Over my 25+ years of reading, a lot has changed about the way I read and why I read. A big part of reading as a kid is doing it because you have to. Teachers assign you books as part of a curriculum, and it’s your job to understand their “merit.”
As the years passed, I realized that I am in control of assigning my own merit to literature. Some of the choices I was assigned in school I agree with, while others, I didn’t care about then and still don’t (I’m looking at you and your Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel).
None of this is intended to say one book is “better” than another. I truly believe most books offer something good to someone somewhere, and that’s a wonderful thing. I’ve simply learned several things about my own particular reading process that has enlightened my book choices and habits.
Who Are You Trying to Impress?
Another reading-related memory I have is one from middle school. The principal was coming into class for an observation lesson during our free reading time, and my English teacher didn’t want one of her students (me) to be seen reading something below her reading level.
Before the principal came into the classroom, the teacher swapped out my book (one which would now be dubbed a “cozy mystery” for kids) and replaced it with a comically large, oversized science compendium that better suited a 40-year-old’s coffee table rather than a middle school desk. I was essentially told the book I’d chosen was “beneath” me.
That moment was the first instance during which I became aware people may judge you on what you’re reading. This concept often comes up even in adulthood, and I find it strange.
At 31 years old, who am I trying to impress?
Even if I’m capable of reading something more complex, every now and then, it’s wonderful to relax with the equivalent of a Hallmark movie in book form. Sometimes I like to push the boundaries of my imagination with a clever sci-fi story. Other times, I want to learn all about the logic of survival situations. And sometimes, I just want to sip a cup of tea and see what town mysteries a 20th century, Irish, female detective solves in Brooklyn.
Independent Publishing is Great
Another thing about reading that I’ve learned over the years is that the publishing industry controls what many people read, how they read it, and sometimes even why they read it. 2020 saw the rise of #PublishingPaidMe, a hashtag started by YA author L.L. McKinney which sought to bring to light discrimination in the publishing world.
Many authors are choosing to publish independently to sidestep barriers of all kinds when it comes to cutting into the traditional publishing market. Previously, self-publishing had a negative reputation, but I now see the many merits of it. I try to be vocal about encouraging other readers to purchase stories by self-published authors because they have more control over their sales.
Opening myself up to the world of independently published books on platforms like Kindle and Wattpad has given me access to works by so many writers who haven’t wanted to jump through the countless hoops that traditional publishing entails. I never would have seen their work otherwise, unless years down the road, they did secure a publishing deal.
Reading is Tied to Many Factors
Another big revelation I’ve had about reading over the years is that my ability to concentrate is directly tied to my overall state of being. In my early 20s, I went through a period (which lasted several years) not understanding why I couldn’t sit and concentrate on books like I used to. I went so far as to wondermif I had an attention disorder because my mind wandered constantly.
I eventually learned that my mental state played a huge factor in being able to sit and read. It wasn’t ADD that was the problem; it was my anxiety. When I was experiencing periods of intense anxiety, there was no way I could sit and finish a book. My mind was racing, turning over at least a dozen topics at a time. Once I addressed my anxiety problem, it was like a magic spell. I could relax. I could enjoy reading again.
I am forever grateful for my ability to read. With it, I have access to other people’s thoughts and creativity, presented in a very intentional format, just as the author wants. I know much of our society is frightened about what will happen to writing and reading with all the technology changes the 21st century has seen, but I am actually excited.
I have no doubts at all that people will continue to use technology and our current social environment to keep finding ways to write their thoughts, and people like myself will continue reading them.
What have you learned about your own reading habits over the years? Have there been any people who’ve influenced your reading for better or worse? Leave a comment, and let me know!