How to kill a natural born reader

Maggie Toole


(October 19, 2015)

I have stack of books on my bedside table that has been slowly growing for months. They are books that I bought in the Barnes and Noble in the mall or in the airport on my way home. Stuck inside some of them are scraps of paper with titles of novels that “everyone should read”. The only problem is I don’t read for fun anymore. As a kid I loved reading, I would fly through books quickly, passing the hours absorbed in the story. But I don’t read for fun anymore, and it’s not because I have lost interest, but rather because I have lost all the time. I don’t think that I have read a book that wasn’t some form of a school assignment since I started high school. That’s just sad. It’s truly a pitiful statement.

I was recently completing one of the many supplementary portions of a college application and was forced to pause when a question asked me for a favorite book that I read outside of school in my high school career. I could not think of one. Such a book simply did not exist for me. But the question made me think, when did schoolwork become so life-consuming that I stopped being able to supplement my education with outside reading?

I know that some of my peers are still able to find time to read outside of school, and I have the upmost respect for them. But I am also in awe. As I go through my typical day I find little spare time to curl up with a good book and truly enjoy the story. Last year I set a goal for myself, to read a book every month. This was quickly modified to every three months, because let’s face it, at the rate I have been going if I read one book outside of school in a year it would be an accomplishment. I am sorry to report that I have already failed at this challenge, one month into school and I have not even touched the daunting stack on my bedside table. This is not an argument against school-assigned literature or homework, but rather an argument for the acknowledgment of ‘free reading” and its benefits in and out of the classroom. I agree that reading the books assigned in school is a beneficial learning experience. But I strongly believe that being able to go into a bookstore and pick up a book that truly interests you is an even stronger learning tool.

In my fifth grade class each student was given a reading notebook. It had been designed for the average elementary school student, with wide lines and colored tabs. The green tab denoted the section dedicated to books read that year. It became a competition in our class to see who could compile the longest list come the end of school. The pages were designed as a chart. One box for the title, one for the author, the type of literature and whether the book was read at home or in school.

If I were asked to compile this same list today, it would be lengthy and maybe even impressive in caliber. But, the glaring difference would be where I read them.

This year I was happily surprised by the assignment of an independent reading book in my AP Lit class. We were asked to choose from a list of books whose titles filled the scraps of paper in my room, books I had been told were a must-read. I eagerly embarked on this assignment, ready to find what I had lost so many years before. But as you may have guessed this assignment came with some strings attached. Each week we are asked to write a journal entry discussing an aspect of the 100 pages we were to have read the week prior. While these entries are provocative and often interesting they require a level of close reading that I do not associate with leisure reading.

So what am I going to do about my lack of outside reading? Beats me, currently I just look at the stack and fantasize about the coming summer when summer reading will not eat away my time. There is not one solution to this problem. If you blame the homework – and as a result it is reduced – what guarantees that you are going to use every extra minute to curl up and read a book? If you are like me, you blame yourself. The idea of spending less time on the computer and being more productive in my studies with the hope of leaving enough time to pick a new book from the stack is, let’s be honest, unlikely. We are the postponers, always making an excuse to push it off, and I want to be better, I do, but in truth will I actually close my computer and pick up one of the many books on my nightstand? Probably not.

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