On Reading

I became really sick on Sunday night with what was likely food poisoning (possibly the stomach flu, but after talking to my dad, who is a doctor, he said food poisoning was more likely), and I’ve spent every day since then lying in bed, feeling like crap. My normal amusement is usually video games (handheld or console) or app games (on my phone), but trying to do anything that required any movement made me feel more nauseous, so I ended up reading books instead, which is something I don’t often have much time for.

When I was a kid, reading was like breathing. My mom taught me to read before I was in kindergarten, and I read books as fast as I could get my hands on them. I was always way above the average reading level for my age, and my mom had to limit the number of library books I was allowed to bring home, because I’d try to check out huge stacks and then not read them all before they were due. I got lost in books, too. My older brothers and I all had the ability to tune out the world when we were reading, to the point that sometimes our mother had to come tap us on the shoulder or practically shout in our ears to get our attention. I read everything, but I especially loved fantasy, and sci-fi once my older brothers introduced me to it. I read the first Harry Potter book when I was 11, the same age as Harry (just a year or so after it was published). I remember reading the Dragonriders of Pern books around 12. Every time we went on road trips, my parents would buy or rent books on tape from the library, and they almost always got Star Trek or Star Wars novelizations, so I remember listening to a lot of those. Neither of my parents had much time for reading, with three kids and their jobs, but they loved reading too, so they encouraged us with pride.

When I reached middle school and got into English classes, I was often frustrated by how slowly other kids read. When we had to read aloud, I would cringe at how halting they were, and always volunteered so I could show them how to do it right. When we were supposed to read quietly, I’d get finished way before most everyone else, so I’d read other stories in our textbook. When I got to high school and we started reading whole books as a class, I’d usually finish the book in the first week, and then frustrate the teacher when they asked where we thought the story was going, because I already knew how it ended.

Before I got really involved in choir and theater, I sometimes felt like English class was the only place I could be myself. I distinctly remember reading “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe in 10th grade, and our teacher gave us an assignment to represent our soul, as a physical representation of the soul was a part of the culture in the book, and an important plot point. Everyone in the class made cute little panoramas with pictures of themselves and their family and friends, maybe them doing a hobby they liked, things they saw as being “them”. I brought in my childhood teddy bear, with his mouth and eyes taped shut, and his arms and legs bound, and told everyone that I often felt that way, that no one would allow me to be myself, that society wanted me to be quiet and polite instead of who I was. The whole classroom was silent as I sat down, shaking slightly, and the teacher (who disliked me for constantly questioning his authority) gave me an A.

It was after college that I stopped reading. It wasn’t a conscious choice, I didn’t sit down one day and say “I’m going to stop doing this thing that I love.” It just happened, gradually. During college, I’d gotten used to functioning without much sleep, and I would usually read before bed, which ended up with me staying up very late most nights, especially when the book was good. Once I’d graduated and was working a crappy retail job, and even later when I got a desk job, I was usually too tired to think much, let alone enjoy a book, and I definitely didn’t have time to stay up super late reading. So my reading went from “seldom” to “none”, and even though I missed it, I didn’t see how I could make time for it. When I wanted down time, I’d knit and watch TV, or play video games. I was often too “ramped up” to just sit and read, usually feeling like I wasn’t doing something else that I should be doing, or missing something else I could be doing. Rarely, when I had a really quiet vacation or weekend, I’d manage to read a book or two (I still read pretty quickly), but the rest of the time I’d mostly just read things online, blogs, news sites, and so on.

Things are pretty much the same now, unfortunately. In grad school I read a lot, but it was academic reading, rarely pleasurable (although sometimes it was). I don’t like the “academic tone” very much, it reads as insufferably stuffy and self-important to me, so even when I’m reading about things I’d normally be interested in, I get bored of it easily. So having a few days where the only thing I could do was read or sleep was a nice vacation. I hope I can manage to do more of that, going forward. Maybe I’ll make it a goal to read one book a week. We’ll see. 😉

The books I read this week are (in no particular order):

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones (re-read) – Love this book and its sequels, highly recommend them. It’s very different from the Miyazaki film, though, if you’ve seen that. I also love the film, it’s just very different.

Castle in the Air, Diana Wynne Jones (re-read)

House of Many Ways, Diana Wynne Jones (re-read)

Bloodchild: And Other Stories, Octavia E. Butler (re-read) – I love Octavia E. Butler. Bloodchild is her famous “male pregnancy” short story, which is really fascinating, but not for the squeamish, like most of her work.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl (re-read) – Roald Dahl was a particular favorite of mine as a child, although this one wasn’t my favorite. My favorite was Fantastic Mr. Fox, followed closely by The BFG.

The Giver, Lois Lowry (first time) – I had never read this before, I was prompted because I was intrigued by the movie trailer, but wanted to read the book before I saw the movie. I liked it, although I felt it ended too soon. I know there are sequels, not sure when I’ll have time to read them.

The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins (first time) – I’d seen the first two movies but hadn’t read the books, so I figured I’d read them before I see the rest of the movies. I felt that the first two movies were a very faithful and strikingly good adaptation. I’ve heard that a lot of people really dislike how the trilogy ended, but I actually thought it was a good ending. Not a happy ending, but a good one.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs (first time) – I read this because a friend of mine was losing his mind over this trilogy a few weeks ago. It’s decent, but it didn’t grab me the way it grabbed him. I’m not sure when I’ll read the other two.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling (first time) – Despite having read the entire Harry Potter series, I hadn’t read these (other than the tale of the three brothers, of course). They were okay, nothing to write home about. I would’ve liked a longer book.

The Family Tree, Sheri S. Tepper (re-read) – Sheri S. Tepper is a starkly feminist and environmentalist fiction writer, and this is one of her best books, in my humble opinion. In some of her books she can be militantly anti-man (and I don’t say that lightly, as a feminist myself), basically writing every single male character except the female main character’s love interest as an inhuman monster. In other books she just portrays most men as idiots. This book is thankfully a bit more balanced, and has a strongly environmental message.

The Margarets, Sheri S. Tepper (re-read) – This is my favorite of all her books, I’ve read it several times already, and I really love it. The premise is unique and the execution is complex and beautiful. I recommend it for anyone who likes science fiction with a spiritual or magical twist. 🙂

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One thought on “On Reading

  1. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! I feel they’re sometimes universal to bright kids or kids who think a different way from how adults expect. It’s true of all the early readers I know (myself included). The bear story made me well up a bit (not a normal feeling, I assure you)

    Like

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