Remembering How to Read

Confession time: I forgot how to read for over a decade.

This is especially disturbing since I was completing my BA with a major in English Literature when it first happened.

Sure, I still absorbed the required texts. I eyed the pages of books and registered their content. I regurgitated their themes and deconstructed their verbiage in essays, supporting my arguments with bits and chunks from the text floating throughout my words.

I filled bookshelves with classic English novels, American literature, Canadian texts, Slavic and French translations, Greek Tragedies, poetry anthologies, plays, and philosophy, all eyeballed (mostly) from cover to cover.

In the years that followed my BA, my book collection grew. I added books that I’d always heard about, but had never ended up on my course syllabi. My collection of classics multiplied, eventually spilling off the shelves of my sizable IKEA bookcase. I flipped through the books slowly, in spurts, telling myself they were books that I had missed out on, that I had to read them.

But this wasn’t reading. I hadn’t read in years. I’d forgotten how.

Sometime between Plato’s Republic, Richardson’s Clarissa, and Beckett’s Fin de partie (yep, in French), it had slipped my mind that I could actually enjoy the act of reading, that its endgame wasn’t just about checking books off a list, being able to say “I’ve read it,” or turning in the latest in a series of dry papers.

But I’ve remembered.

I’ve remembered that reading can be something that I want to do. I’ve reverted to my childhood ways of checking out an armload of books from the library, taking them in one after another, like a chain-reader. Because reading isn’t about being able to say you’ve read it. It’s about being able to say that you’ve been there.

If only in your imagination, you get to go places you ordinarily wouldn’t. You get to see sometimes familiar situations through someone else’s perspective. You get to travel, to experience the world from your living room couch. You get to meet new people and broaden your understanding of how things are and how they “should” be. You get to meet new friends whose sole purpose is your pleasure.

Because reading isn’t about the words on a page. It’s about the warmth in the spaces. And I’d forgotten that.

For ten years, I collected books. But I didn’t read them. Not really.