On Reading

I have a problem.

I don’t read books; I devour them.

It may seem like it’s an exaggeration to call this a ‘problem’, but I assure you, it is very much a serious issue. Let me give you some context.

From the age of about nine up until serious exams kicked in, I was a voracious reader. I still am, of course, but back then I strived to reach the edges of possibility that the term suggests. It reached its height during the start of Year 7 when, being shy and slow to make friends, I would go to the library during breaktime or lunchtime- oh, what a newly discovered pleasure after the rigidly timetabled library times of primary school- and often read a new book a week. Looking back, all I seemed to do in my free time was read, and I ended up making my way through a significant chunk of the school library. It later became a running joke with my friends that I seemed to have read all the books in there, me always refuting that I hadn’t by a long stretch.

I think my insistence on emphasising the fact that I hadn’t read everything came from my never-ending desire to read more; I am always fully aware there is an endless library of books that I have not read, because I am always itching to read the next one.

I read a great deal in that time, criss-crossing over a multitude of genres, age ranges, and time periods- from Tess of the d’Urbervilles (read in an effort to seem impressively literary, didn’t like it until I picked it up again at the age of 16 and fell in love with Hardy’s use of language) to the Alex Rider series (explosive action/adventure about a teenage spy, very much recommended).

I read some things I probably shouldn’t have, things I didn’t understand and became obsessed with books that I now actively dislike (cough cough Twilight) as well as books that introduced me to authors that remain favourites to this day.

After this non-stop reading reached its peak, it slowly began to decline based on a combination of factors: I made friends, meaning that I spent breaks talking rather than reading, discovered the internet and its assorted distractions, and the arrival of the aforementioned exams and other assorted responsibilities which all cut into my reading time.

I now study English Literature at university, yet ironically the greatest drop in the number of ‘fun’ books I read came after the start of my first year. Of course, this space has been filled up by course books- up to four a week- most of which I find interesting and enjoyable, so I can’t complain too much.

However, I still look forward to holidays when I have some breathing space to read a few books for fun, books that I hoard for weeks and months waiting for this opportunity. But this brings me back to my original problem- I end up reading them too quickly. Deprived of reading on my own terms for too long, I start to mow my way through my stock of fun books, reading them one after the other until I run out.

This means that one, I deplete my stock irresponsibly until my next visit to the library arrives, and two, I am absorbed into these fictional worlds to a dizzying extent until I finish the book in two days and it’s ripped away from me, the source material abruptly running out and leaving me empty handed and with a sense of numbness. With especially good books it feels cathartic, that sensation Aristotle said should be the effect of tragedy on the spectator.

But, maybe I’ve been looking at this the wrong way. I wouldn’t really want to give up the intensity of my reading experience, of tearing through a particularly good book and being utterly overwhelmed by it, just so I could prolong the pleasure of reading them. After all, that’s what rereading is for.


Image Credits: Pixabay


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