When Did Reading Get So Hard?
On the last day of school in fourth grade, my teacher sent us home with a single piece of paper for our summer homework. Our job over the next eight weeks? Read for one thousand minutes this summer. The paper was printed with a spot for our name, grade, and a table for us to write the name and the times for books we read. If we read past a certain number of minutes, we were awarded the coveted Six Flags Ticket given to students each year that surpassed their reading goal.
I remember sitting on the kitchen counter with my mom using a solar power calculator to add up every last recorded minute of reading. I remember hiding a flashlight under my pillow to read past “bedtime”. I remember tearing through books in a single day, carrying full stacks in my backpack. I remember my sixth-grade teacher once said it seemed like I “ate” books.
However, since I entered high school, there’s been a drop in how much I read. It’s almost halfway through the summer and yet I haven’t finished a single book, despite being in the middle of reading four. This used to be the best time of the year for me to check out a book from my local library and just tear through the words.
It’s not just me experiencing this “falling out of love” with reading. Many of my friends are in the same position I am where we were avid readers in middle and elementary school, and after moving to high school our reading levels simply dropped. Some of us haven’t even read a book in years despite the desire too. Reading feels like work now, not unlike a chore. The books are draining and heavy and sometimes too daunting to even pick up.
When did this happen? And why? And how can we get our love of reading back?
Part of the problem is the reading we are faced with in high school. Only “classic” novels filled with depressing themes are deemed worth of literary praise and are given to us as the new standard of reading. I’ll be the first person to admit that I enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby and Farnehit 451, however nothing but overdone and out of date novels that are held on a pedestal for their cliche themes can get really old really fast. We are no longer allowed an escape or a happy ending in our reading, only a mirror to the grim reality of our society.
And that’s all well and good every now and then, but give class after class of children nothing but “classic” and revered novels that sacrifice an enjoyable storyline for pretentious symbolism and metaphor and they begin to associate all things reading with the horrors of a dialectical journal. The love, the passion, and above all the choice is taken away from reading once we enter high school.
A second and more simple reason is the lack of free time and the introduction of instant-gratification technology devices. Our free time after clubs and sports and homework after school continues to dwindle, and actively consuming literature opposed to aimlessly scrolling through Instagram is just too tiring for some of us to take that active step, and we prefer to turn our brains off for a while in what time we have.
So if the problem is ingrained in our school system and the digital reality of our world, how are we supposed to overcome it? If the root causes are so widespread and overgrown, how do we unlearn those practices?
You’re probably not going to be too happy when I tell you that I don’t know! I’m still trying to overcome challenges of an increasingly and overwhelmingly digital society, and I don’t know if I’ve found the answer. I don’t even think there will be a single answer, one-size-fits-all fix that will get you back into reading.
I think the closest thing to an answer is simply personal perseverance. Actively pursuing reading and making time specifically to read things that are enjoyable to you can and will help you rekindle your love of words.
Monitoring cell phone time and making conscious decisions to read instead of sit on your phone for hours on end is also a huge part of getting back into reading. I’ve personally deleted most of my social media accounts but one or two and am currently taking breaks from my remaining apps. When all that’s left to do on your phone is play helix jump over and over or get left on read by your mom, you tend to look for stimulus outside the digital world.
Procrastinating reading in favor of cell phone time is the biggest hurdle to overcome, and doing things like setting timers or enabling a timed “shutdown” of your phone can help refocus your need for stimulus onto something enjoyable as well as healthy, like reading. I’ve caught myself for hours at a time on my phone, staring at the pile of books on my desk and thought, “I’ll read later”. However, that time never comes. Finding that inner willpower to take control of your life is the key to making a change. Things like different apps or reminders can help you, but that real perseverance and dedication to change has to be there to drive you. You have to make that decision to change and to get into this hobby again, or maybe even for the first time!
I know change, in general, can be hard, and fear of change is what keeps us held back from doing a lot of things in our life that we’d enjoy. Yes, I know this is a little deep for an article about simply reading more books, but I had to say it. Sometimes you need to be a little deep or a little philosophical, because once you’re able to think deeply about yourself and your conscious decisions, well, forget about just reading more books, you’ll be able to do anything in the world.