Literary Lady is on vacation this week, but here’s a favorite question from the archives!
Dear Literary Lady,
I hated reading in school. I was a slow reader, I didn’t do well on book assignments, and I always felt dumb when I didn’t understand what was happening. A lot of my friends read for fun now and I wish I could enjoy it, too. Any advice?
–SecondChances, Austin, TX.
I love your question because it’s courageous. We all think we are “bad” at something, but few of us are willing to give it another try.
Nothing takes the joy out of an activity like being forced to do it, and I can understand how school may have left a bad taste for literature in your mouth. The books you read in school, however, are an infinitesimally small fraction of a vast literary world. There are so many books out there that are light years away from what you experienced in class. I’d hate to see you write off reading and miss out on them.
Learning to love reading takes experimentation and it takes confidence. Experimentation is the easier task. Ask your friends for recommendations, check out our blog, or just browse a bookstore. Think about your interests—do you love animals, music, or worrying about zombies? There are great books on all these subjects. Try reading novellas, short stories, graphic novels, poetry, or plays. Different formats might be more enjoyable for you.
What’s harder, and ultimately more important, is building your confidence. You are not “bad” at reading. You may have read more slowly than others in class, you may have struggled with class assignments, but you are not actually bad at reading. You read every day. You read texts, emails, work documents, nutrition labels, blogs, and directions. You’re great at reading, you just don’t connect with certain material. And that’s perfectly okay.
Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t “get” a book or have trouble getting through it. Books were not written to stump you, test you, or judge you. Writers write to connect, to illuminate, and, as Ray Bradbury said, “to let the world burn through.” If one book doesn’t speak to you, trust that another book will.
Lastly, change how you think of yourself as a reader. Don’t think about your shortcomings or your inexperience, focus on your taste and your preferences. Don’t let your time in school dictate your experiences with books, go forge your own. Don’t worry about what everyone else is reading, become an expert in your chosen genre of books. As Haruki Murakami said, “If you only read books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Love and paperbacks,