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Reading, rekindled

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JUNE 23, 2016

As a child, my nose was always in a book.

My passion for reading was unparalleled. It allowed me to escape into another realm, where I could indulge in a world so alien from mine that I felt adrenalized just turning the crisp pages of a new book. It sparked my imagination and guided me through a wide range of emotions, as I sympathized and resonated with characters ranging from toad princesses to spiders.

Spending hours cooped up in my room, I laughed alongside my childhood inspiration, Matilda, as she outsmarted her dimwitted family, oftentimes fighting sleep to finish that remaining chapter. As I kept turning the pages, my love for reading extended past consumption — it developed into production.

I became inspired to write my own “books” with a close friend in elementary school. We would exchange our stories we wrote on Microsoft Word, drafting probably nothing more than 10 pages of some random plot. Even though my story of an awkward teen wizard-in-training was mediocre with its underdeveloped storyline and poor grammar, writing it was still thrilling.

But a noticeable shift occurred once I entered middle school, becoming even more apparent when I reached high school. With higher education came higher levels of schoolwork — in other words, school became a burden. As I was assigned to read Ernest Hemingway’s excruciatingly dull “The Sun Also Rises, the literary acclaim of which I couldn’t have really cared less about, and write half-assed literary analyses, my passion for reading and writing seemingly dissipated. They didn’t feel like hobbies, but rather chores.

Writing didn’t feel like an open outlet anymore. My writing was now reduced to the emotionless critique of hastily scribbled percentages and illegible notes scrawled in the margins. I didn’t have time to be creative in my timed essays — I just had to be as analytical as possible, preferably adhering to my teachers’ own analyses of the assigned texts.

Reading felt like an errand. I dreaded opening my boring, slowly developing novel only to forcefully scour for the symbolism behind something as mundane as a rug. I hated having to highlight a quote that I bullshitted for an annotation requirement, instead of simply reading the book all the way through with an uninterrupted flow.

And as my resentment toward my reading and writing assignments grew, so did my disinterest in reading and writing in general. Those passions faded away, and the dust on my stagnant book collection accumulated.

For a while, I convinced myself that it was perfectly reasonable to blame the education system for devouring my once fulfilling passions. I did so much reluctant reading and writing at school — why would I be attracted to doing those things in my spare time? A text post I had seen on Tumblr that had collected hundreds of thousands of notes resonated exactly with my thoughts: “I stopped reading because I was being forced to read books I wasn’t interested in, and now I’m being forced to read 200 pages a week from textbooks to not fail my classes. I stopped reading because school killed that passion.” That only reassured me that I was right to feel this way — and clearly, other students felt the same.

But it’s foolish to think this way. I will never enjoy reading something that’s boring as hell or love cramming a 12-page paper last minute (which I’ve done, literally to the last minute). That’s just factual; I didn’t need to experience either of those things to know that. But because I’ve experienced both scenarios so often, especially in college, I’ve convinced myself that reading and writing can never be as enjoyable as it once was.

Passion is gleeful willingness — the beauty of it rests in not just the desire to perfect a craft but the light that craft kindles in the heart and soul. Reading 30 pages of history and cramming a 10-page paper can still feel like chores during long nights in the library, but they can never be reduced to just that. Reading and writing are still forms of escape and relief — it just depends on how I use them to achieve this catharsis.

Maybe I’m not quite like that geeky, pure elementary school child I once was, but I’m not that cynical anarchist pitted against the education system anymore either. I’m just a lost yet ambitious student hoping to rekindle her old passions and explore new ones, one article at a time.

“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.

Contact Caroline Lee at [email protected].

JUNE 23, 2016

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