The first time I stopped reading

First Timers

As college students, we do not read enough. Hell, I barely read even my syllabuses — which is peculiar because growing up, I read books like no other.

My bookshelf is a sentimental haven. If there were ever a major disaster, like a flood or a heterosexual-zombie apocalypse or the election of any so-called “President Trump 2k16,” I would lunge for my paperback collection first.

I would rescue my paperbacks over thongs, report cards or my toothbrush, because my books are relics of my childhood and are therefore irreplaceable.

It started when I was 10 and was given a large cardboard tome about the solar system. In our blue overstuffed armchair, with a cup of tea, I read about the known history of the universe (rewritten into pseudoscientific terms for the consumption of 10-year-olds, of course). In the back of the book, there was a blown-up cardboard photograph of an ink-dark sky with an arrow pointing to Earth. Books taught me my place in the world, and even at 10, I began to learn that my life was very small in relation to our entire galaxy.

And at 10, the damn cardboard book about our really old universe introduced a discombobulating set of existential questions — What is the role of the reader in relation to a book? How many other people have read this book? — that stuck with me for the next decade.

Books were my paperback friends, and the authors my infallible crew. E.B. White, J.K. Rowling and Mary Pope Osborne waited with me in waiting rooms — along with my mother and a plastic pencil pouch of smelly crayons — for many appointments. Something about reading makes time go faster.

Books suspended my world and transported me to realms where I was empowered and agile. I read while I waited for my physical therapy appointments and on the freeway going home. I propped up my chapter books on a music stand so that I could read about adventures in faraway fantasy lands while I did toe raises on the mundane staircases of mortals.

As I flipped the paper pages from the right side to the left, my hamstrings would gradually loosen. Books taught me patience, and reading taught me how to pass time.

I slept with a book underneath my pillow until my freshman year of high school. I used to read before bed, and I don’t remember when I stopped. Suddenly, the Internet became more interesting, and instead of library books, I began to read my Facebook News Feed, texts from my friends and the bleepy-blue bubbles of Instant Messenger. Dogged-eared series, spines carefully aligned, stood neglected and dusty on my periwinkle bookshelf.

You could say that the death of leisurely reading is a side effect of growing old.

As college students and budding adults, we read primarily for information. In order to save time and maximize any small glimmer of hope for a good night’s sleep, we skim for the most important and absolutely indispensable information. Or we read CliffNotes 45 minutes before class, because we’re classy as fuck.

Earlier this week, I caught myself wondering when I last read a book “for fun.” I couldn’t remember, and that was slightly frightening. I recovered by binge-watching “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix.

Two hours later, I felt better. And I took a gander at the syllabus for my summer class, realizing that even in the books we read for class, we read only isolated chapters.

This skimming is not such a great idea. It’s kind of like eating only corn chips and ramen packets instead of a well-balanced meal.

Despite the frequent claims that reading is a dying art, I would guess that with Facebook, texts messages and Snapchat captions, we probably read now more than we ever have in our short and relatively unimpressive lives, much like I’ve eaten more ramen in the past year than in the last 19 combined. We are not, however, digesting substantive or thoughtful material.

Never do we really get a full story — nor are we allowed the time to mull over ideas. I find myself not annotating because I need to read faster for that essay that is due tomorrow. I am a serial procrastinator (as my editor and professors will attest). My reading suffers for it, and one day, I hope to change — maybe when my professors assign fewer books.

We are reading for a purpose instead of engaging in purposeful reading.

Reading is a lens through which we can examine humanity. By reading whole books and having whole thoughts, we can allow ourselves to empathize with other characters who occupy lives that are entirely different from our own.

Reading is a great escape, and by skimming, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to process thoughts and stories. We’re denying ourselves the ability to learn.

In short, read on, you Bears. Read on.

Jasmine Leiser writes the Thursday column on lessons learned from first-time experiences. You can contact her at [email protected].

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