I remember the first time I was captivated by a book. It was in first grade, when I checked “The White Cat” out of the library. It was a large, thin book with beautiful pictures and a fairytale plot. I checked it out every week that year and completely lost myself in its pages at home.
My early affinity for books turned into a voracious habit. I tore through my class libraries for the rest of elementary school, my teachers often had to expand the difficulty of their reading levels to accommodate both my skill level and the pace with which I would read books. I also used to read three or four books at a time so that I could read for longer periods without getting tired of one story. I started writing, too, and decided that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. In middle school, I stuck to this dream and refused to build castles and pyramids, instead opting to write long reports on chivalry, Horus, and the underworld.
When, in high school, my parents went through a horribly messy divorce and my life crumbled around me, reading was my escape. I read ahead in English class, under my desk in math class, and went home at lunch to sneak an extra chapter during the day. Books gave me something to focus on when I couldn’t focus on much else, a sense of control in a world where I felt none, and a space to be alone without dwelling on my own thoughts (I am, unsurprisingly, an introvert.) When I got into a highly selective liberal arts college, I couldn’t have been more excited to continue my education; I loved school, learning and reading. I wasn’t expecting what would happen next.
Freshman year was my learning curve; my public High School in Southern Wisconsin hadn’t quite prepared me for the rigor of an East Coast Private College. Still, I did well enough in my classes and met a lot of amazing people that I still call my closest friends (and hopefully always will.) Going forward through my sophomore, junior, and senior year, however, I noticed something that started to concern me: I stopped reading for myself.
Part of this was a logistical problem. As an English Major and someone who took mostly Humanities classes, I had a lot of assigned reading to do. And, because I was/ am/ will always be a super nerd; I actually did most of the assigned reading. I know you are all probably rolling your eyes at me and thinking ‘what a liar,’ but I’m not lying. I did almost all of the assigned reading when I was in college. Guess what? It sucked.
I was reading hundreds of pages each week and taking copious notes to retain the information I was given to be able to contribute to class discussion. Most of the time, I wasn’t very interested in what I was reading. This made reading an incredible chore, when it had always been a luxury. Part of this is my fault; I took too many classes in college because I felt that I had to, not because I wanted to. I was afraid of dropping classes that I didn’t like and trying to get into better ones, and that definitely made some of my semesters less tolerable than they could have been.
Secondly, the reading I was doing wasn’t always discussed in class. Because many of my peers did not do all of the reading, conversations often strayed into areas that weren’t covered in readings, making all of my hard work for naught. This wasn’t only incredibly frustrating. It also made me angry and disappointed in my classmates. How could these students not take college seriously? I had little to no patience for laziness or cutting corners after working so hard to get in to such a prestigious institution. While I continued to be a diligent student, speaking up more in class so that I at least could discuss the reading, I became bitter towards my peers who I perceived as skating by and having fun while I was glued to a textbook.
But, my peers weren’t the only problem. In my junior year, I decided that I was not going to pursue academia as a profession, and thus many professors had little advice for me as a student. What I was interested in talking about, learning about, and contributing to was outside of the work they had dedicated their lives to, and thus they didn’t really have a lot to give to me anymore. This is not to say that I felt failed by my professors, it was just that our interests no longer aligned. I thus felt even more frustrated by classes; I no longer saw as much value in writing long critical papers and hypothesizing about theory as I previously. Instead, everything felt like a pointless exercise, building towards nothing. I wanted to be out in the world working to change something, anything, instead of sitting in a room talking about things that are ‘problematic.’
Now, about three months after graduation, I’m trying to do just that. I’m reading for pleasure again, and trying to bring my critiques of texts out into the world. I started this blog to share my experience, my perspective, and my voice, things I felt were sometimes stifled at school. I’m not always interested in every academic lens, and I’m probably often narrow in my reviews. These are things that I accept about myself as a critical reader. What I hope is that my unique look at the world of literature is something that others can relate to or at least find interesting, and that together we can create a lasting discussion that extends into space, outside of the walls of a classroom.
To reading, to living, to merging the two!