Growing up, I read a lot. It started with the Nancy Drew and Baby-sitters Club series, and moved on to R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike before getting to school assignments . . . that I really didn't read. It's true. I remember reading only a handful of school-assigned books from beginning to end: Romeo and Juliet; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Color Purple; The Scarlet Letter; Alas, Babylon; Othello; and maybe Lord of the Flies. That's it. Oh, and that includes college.
I'll let the record screech for a second.
It wasn't that I didn't love to read, I did. I read a lot in the summer and when my family traveled throughout the year. I just hated being told how to read and when to read. I hated writing papers on how I interpreted the book, only to be told how I misinterpreted something. (I'm talking to you, TA from my sophomore English class at A&M, the only person to give me a C on an English paper, ever. And yes, I did read the whole thing, though the "whole thing" refers to a short story that I read from beginning to end.) I became a fabulous BSer as I navigated eight years of writing papers on things I had skimmed or read partially. It was a skill, a skill I was both proud and ashamed of because I knew I was missing out on some great literature.
So when I graduated college, before I even thought about getting into publishing, I sought to rectify this. Now I could read at my pace. I could interpret the book the way I wanted to. I bought many of the books I should have read by then: Catch-22, Fahrenheit 451, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, 1984, Slaughterhouse Five, etc. And when I decided to move to New York, I packed all these books, plus others I owned and wanted to read or re-read, in a box that my parents would bring up in a couple of months.
When my parents and my books arrived, I decided first up would be Pride and Prejudice, which I had tried reading at least three times, and just couldn't get into. I think I made it the farthest this last attempt, but still nowhere close to finishing it. (I actually think this is the book that prompted the whole not-reading thing in high school, because it's the first one I can remember not enjoying at all as we read and discussed it in class.) Anyway, tried that, and then got distracted with other things, for instance, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, so I felt the need to reread the first six books for the umpteenth time before reading the conclusion to the series. I can reread this series a million times and never tire of it.
And when I moved out of my grandparents' place, it was decided that I didn't have the space to take my new library with me. So, for "safe keeping," my grandfather moved the box to his basement, which is much like the Island of Misfit Toys—what goes down there rarely returns.
Two years into my job, I started freelancing quite a bit. I love freelancing. A lot. It allows me to read books in a variety of genres, some good, some bad. But it also creates some issues when it comes to time management (balancing a full-time job, a social life, and a side gig is hard enough, without trying to find time for more reading). When I tried to read a book for fun, I'd:
- get interrupted by a new freelancing job, thus having to put down the book I was reading for pleasure for at least two weeks, if not more (freelancing always comes in waves, I usually have two jobs at a time or none at all).
- have a hard time remembering I was reading for pleasure and would therefore look for things that I'd mark up as if it was a freelancing job.
- find that after reading at work, then freelancing for a couple of weeks straight, I didn't really want to read something as much as I wanted to watch TV.
Enter The Book Thief, which I started reading on the plane coming back from California. It was a long flight so I got through more than half of the book, a point in books that I wasn't getting to before without being interrupted. It took a chapter or two to get into it but once I did, I really liked it, and I knew at that point I might as well finish, so I slugged through it, even with freelance going on.
Then I started Before I Go to Sleep on my way to Mississippi. Again, enjoying it and getting to a substantial point before getting back to the daily grind of work and freelance. So I finished that one too.
And then I changed jobs and my commute doubled. Before, it took me thirty minutes to get to work, and most of that was on foot. Now it takes me an hour, most of which is on public transportation. With enough time to do some damage, I started reading Hunger Games. And if you've read Hunger Games, and liked it, I'm sure you know how quickly you can gobble that one up. (Ha, just realized I used a pun unintentionally, so now I'm going to leave it in.) While waiting for the second and third books to arrive, I read Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, which I didn't love, but didn't hate either. Parts were really good and interesting, and other parts felt like filler, but nonetheless, I didn't put it down like I had done with other books. Then came Catching Fire, which I promised myself I would not start until I had finished the freelance project I had. Oops. I wanted to read just two chapters, and ended up spending all night Saturday (the weekend of Irene), reading and finishing the book. Back to freelance, and then for the commute on Monday, I started Mockingjay.
It appears I have not only found my love of reading again, I've found a balance as well. I am now reading Stephen King's The Stand, which is going to take me the next month, at least, to finish (it's more than 1,100 pages and I have two freelancing jobs at home, so I'm reading on the commute only). And that's okay. I don't have to be a fast reader, I just have to keep all the stories/author's stytles separate in my head. I started this one because it's one of Mike's favorite books, and I figured after he read Harry Potter for me, I should read something of his—and I'm not quite ready to jump into the Dark Tower or Game of Thrones series. I haven't been able to completely bench my freelancer's cap, though I try not to intentionally look for the errors. (Once I spotted a typo four pages in, it was hard not to notice some other errors in The Stand.)
I feel like the long-ago version of me. The one that went straight from one book to the next without thinking twice or taking a break. I'm happy that I'm reading for fun, that I really do find pleasure in it again, even after spending all day, and most of the times all night, reading and editing. I'm happy that I can finally participate in goodreads.com and not feel like a failure, or suggest new books to people when I'm asked. Or, you know, not feel like the black sheep of the publishing industry, hiding a deep, dark shameful secret.
I'm excited to go back to my original goal of reading all the books on my years' long list. So . . . does anyone want to go on a treasure hunt with me in my grandparents' basement?