One of the big reasons why I went this direction with my writing is to become a better reader, so this week, I’m going to focus exclusively on reading. Today, I’ll discuss why I stopped reading (and why you probably did too).

Reading and reading comprehension came naturally to me, as far back as I can remember. Since the age of 4, I read voraciously. My mom enjoys telling the story of when I taught myself how to read one of my favorite books at that age, and since then, I consumed as many books as I could.

I could read quickly, and I understood what the book was talking about. That made reading fun for me.

My mom would take me to the library almost every week, and I would excitedly run to the children’s section of the Mill Road Public Library, where a small, red wooden bookshelf in the shape of a barn held the keys to imaginative worlds and the funny antics of everyday kids.

I see a lot of kids today who sit in the back seats of their parents’ cars on long road trips staring blankly into a flip-down TV screen playing DVDs. There is no effort. No imagination.

When I was a kid, a camping trip meant a long car ride with a collection of books and comic books (I was always fond of the Archie* line of comics throughout grade school – they still hold a soft spot in my heart to this day). It meant that I could sit on my bunk in the camper with a bag of Skittles, a bottle of water, and some reading material and pass the time if I wanted to.

In grade school, homework came pretty easily to me. I’m not saying that to brag – it was just a fact. I completed my homework assignments quickly and did what I wanted to afterwards.

But reading gradually started falling by the wayside.

Then, in high school, it screeched to a halt.

As high school wore on, the list of “required reading” grew by leaps and bounds. Suddenly, teachers gave us homework that took hours to finish at night. We were pounded with books by older teachers who, while knowledgeable, didn’t know how to talk about these books in today’s terms. They didn’t know how to connect us (the audience) with the content.

Along with that, I had no time to consume any books that I wanted to read in my spare time. At various times throughout the year, I was spending my after-school hours singing in a vocal jazz group, running cross country and track, acting in school plays, working late hours to have a little bit of money, spending time with friends, working on homework, and trying to date girls with varying levels of success.

Who has time to read “for fun” with all that going on?

So I, along with plenty of other people my age, began to associate books and reading with boredom.

College made it worse.

As an English major, I found myself constantly in literature classes. But the problem with college courses is that, while the material they are choosing is great from a literary standpoint, you’re not taught how to enjoy and learn from them – you’re taught how to read them on a schedule determined by someone else, with a bunch of people who may or may not want to read the same book, so that you can all come to the same conclusions that the teacher wants you to come to at the deadlines that they want you to see them.

You’re not trained to read and analyze a piece of literature using your creative strengths – you’re trained to share the opinions of the teacher.

Instead of letting myself get inspired by classic pieces of literature like Lucky Jim and Pride and Prejudice, I was reading to find the answers that I thought the professor wanted me to see. It completely destroyed how I read.

Repetition caused problems as well. In consecutive semesters, in the same English program, at the same school, I wound up with the same professor, and reading Pride and Prejudice again. Seriously? Of all the books in the world, we’re doing this again?

Frustration = Slamming on the Brakes

So I didn’t read – for years. Heck, I didn’t even read the stuff I was supposed to read for class. Like so many other classes and the way they were taught, I didn’t comprehend the material. I just memorized what answers the teacher was looking for.

It happened in science classes. It happened in health classes. It happened in math classes. It (sadly) happened in history classes.

And now it happened in English classes as well.

Instead of working to improve my life and my brain, I worked to improve my grades. So I just skimmed and reviewed main points. I BSed papers because I could, and I didn’t have time – I was working 60 hours a week just to pay those tuition bills, make rent, and put food on the table. It burned me out, and it completely removed me from the literary scene.

So what are the solutions?

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about how I’m trying to fix that in my life – because I assume many of you suffer from the same problems. There aren’t any easy answers, nor are there answers that work for everybody.

Thing is, just like there’s no one way to teach literature (even though many professors believe there is), there also is no one way to re-learn how to read. It’s a struggle we all have to go through.

Me? I’m easing my way back in. I’m not diving into hard works that will challenge me too much. I’m reading things that are enjoyable, and gradually building my reading brainpower back up.

At the end of the day, you need to find joy in reading. I think that the school system is broken in a lot of ways, but the biggest is that it breaks the joy of reading. It forces creativity into a box and removes the freedom of choosing what books to read, and creative minds who want to get lost in literature are forced to follow somebody else’s path, along with a bunch of other people at the same time.

It’s the wrong way to read – I’m trying to find the right way.

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Do you have similar memories of reading in high school and college? Share in the comments.