There was a time where I used to be completely enraptured by reading—not just the act, but by the mere thought of a book. There was nothing that brought me pure joy like having the weight of a brand-new hardbound in my hands or cracking open an untouched spine to reach in and feel the tooth of the page beneath my fingers as I turned the first, unworn pages. And the scent. The scent of a new book was almost better than the inky words on the page, removing me from my reality for hours at a time.
I was an incredibly bookish child. I don’t recall a day where I didn’t bring a book to school. I went through cycles, usually alternating between non-fiction (I loved reading about dinosaurs and claimed once that I would become a paleontologist to my Nana because of it,) fantasy, and horror. I grew up on Harry Potter Chronicles of Narnia, had an extensive Goosebumps collection and a stack of classics that would make my current bookshelf envious. Library days were my favorite in school, and as I moved from middle school to high school, that didn’t change. Christmases and birthdays were marked by the number of books I received, and holidays I challenged myself to read as many of my new treasures as I could, and I would often get through one or two books a day only to pick up another one right after.
I loved to read—more than I loved to write.
I’m not sure exactly when I stopped being able to read books like that, or when the passion for reading shriveled up and died like an ill-nurtured potted plant. I do remember that the last book I read that I absolutely loved was in 2012. I had gotten Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini, for Christmas. I devoured that book by the New Year and had felt such an earth-shattering satisfaction in having finished it and the series, that I had never experienced with any other book.
After, I kept reading.
I kept enjoying books, in general.
And then I just…
There’s this cliché that adulthood sucks out all the enjoyment of life. Once you hit 18, that’s the end. It’s taxes, bills, and jobs for you now. The no fun zone is real, and the things that you enjoyed as a child are things that, as an adult, you are no longer allowed to love as you once did. I call bullshit on this because damn—18 years isn’t enough time to fully enjoy everything fun and exciting in the world. But it’s hard not to blame adulthood for taking the thing I loved most and turning it into a chore. Whether it was lack of time or my brain being so heavily saturated in reading for academia and not for pleasure, the thought of picking up a book, sitting down, and reading—just reading—became unfathomable to me. I hated the idea of having to turn page by page, combing all those ugly, inky words I used to find beautiful. Where 700, 800, 1,000, pages would have been Heaven to me, I balked at the idea of having to dedicate that much time and energy to a book. Just the word, book, was dirty.
There was a block of time where I didn’t read books at all. If it wasn’t for academia, then it simply wasn’t happening. My old, lovingly worn books began to gather dust on my shelving and while I loved the aesthetic of simply having them in my presence, I didn’t touch them. Somewhere between my academia-induced hatred of reading, I rediscovered reading through other forms: manga and comics. My interest piqued again, though… less fervent than it used to be.
Today, my love for reading stays caught between saved and completely abandoned. I don’t loathe the idea of picking up a book, which I consider a good start.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s the pressure I’ve found as an adult to be this overly critical machine who analyzes and debunks and critiques all that is consumed—forgetting along the way that at some point, I read because I loved to read. There’s this thing that looms behind me every time I think about picking up a book now, that tells me that I’m no longer allowed to read just to read, but that I must read to critique. I must read to analyze. I must read to—
And it’s so, so tiring. I want mindlessness and escape. I want reprieve. Childishly, I want to delve into a book for once and enjoy it just for having words printed on wood pulp and somewhere along the way I’ve come to feel like that’s an impossibility.
I love discussing books. I love critiquing books. But as a child, as a teen, I never went into a book feeling like I had to do those things once I was finished with it, however. If I did so, it was because I wanted to. If I didn’t, it was because I didn’t feel the need to do so. At some point in my meandering back around to becoming a reader, that idea that as an adult I couldn’t just read for the fuck of it has become my norm. I see it everywhere, from YouTube, to blogs, to personal social media—the art of simply reading is lost under the need to only consume that which you mean to critique and analyze, and if you’re not doing just that, then what is the point of your consumption of that media?
I miss being able to read a book just to read a book. I miss escaping into fictional realms and getting lost in adventures that are not my own and being able to leave it at that. I put in my 18 years of childhood to earn the right to do whatever I want, and I feel like I can’t even do the thing that I love most.
I should probably slide a disclaimer here, that I’m not bemoaning the idea of critique or of analyzing books; but I do hate the idea that it’s a requirement attached to the process of reading.
I’m not sure what’s had more of an influence on my precarious relationship with reading: my academic slip into adulthood that made reading repulsive to begin with, or this newfound apprehension with balancing reading for pleasure and reading for a purpose. What I do know, is I want to read like I used to. I want to not give a damn and dive into a book for 8 hours and enjoy myself in it.
I have a whole self as I type, dedicated to the books I want to read. It’s my TBR shelf, of books I’ve seen that look interesting to me, pilfered lovingly from my partner’s extensive book collection. YA, fantasy, horror, probably some romance. I have a little bit of everything and they’ve been sitting there for months because the want is there, but the idea is still so damn daunting it’s hard to sit and commit to a book for longer than a few chapters.
I’m still going to try.
There are a lot of things people tell you are like riding a bike—once you learn how to do them you never stop knowing how it’s done, even if you have to figure out how to get back into it. I like to think of reading as the same thing.