When I was six, my mom took my sister and me to the local library at least once a week. The library had a ‘contest’ whereby you could win a book at the end if you read a certain amount by the end of the summer. The library also offered classes, summer programs, air conditioning (no mean thing when you’re a single-income family in the summer during the mid-90s).
I still remember the book I won: Genghis Khan: A Dog Star Is Born. If I remember correctly, it was in a book series about a dog actor named Genghis Khan and his shenanigans. I remember running up to every adult I knew and saying, “Look, I read chapter books now!” (I called them chapter books because regular books, as six-year-olds know, are mostly pictures).
Did the book spark a lifelong love of dogs and the name “Genghis Khan”? Who’s to say?
All I know is I was one of the lucky few whose first encounter with reading was actually fun. It also taught me that reading above my level (“a chapter book!”) was something I could celebrate and enjoy, not slog through.
After getting my degree in English, I took a break from reading. From 2010 to 2013, I had taken at least three literature classes every term, which equated about 3 books a week of reading. I wrote tens of thousands of words of discussion answers, essay questions, essays, presentations, analyses, and all other kinds of literary detritus.
I was so tired, you guys.
I was done with reading long-form books for a little while. There was a long period where all I read were comics1, which came more naturally to me than reading prose. Reading comics was the one literary thing that managed to escape any association of work or chore. Still, at the back of my mind, I felt like I was denying myself the pleasant exhaustion that follows reading a good novel. My reading diet was made of comics and small-time non-fiction books, but I still formed thoughts in terms of passages and chapters.
It has been six years since I’ve graduated from college, and I’m back reading ‘chapter’ books. I don’t read as much as I did when I was in school, but I love reading again. One of the hard things about doing hard things is that you forget your taste for it after a while. You do something difficult long enough, even something you love, and you may forget that you love it. All you’ll remember is that it’s difficult.
I’m happy to see that I’ve returned to reading things that challenge me. More than a few times, people around me have guiltily confessed to not reading as much as they ‘should.’ They say it like they want absolution, these lapsed book-lovers in my circles. I tell them it’s okay, that we all do plenty more reading than we used to. But more importantly, I encourage them to just keep reading whatever they have on hand; I say that “all of it counts.”
Frankly, because it does. I needed to read something manageable when I first got back into reading. Now I’m reading philosophy and history and everything I would have found unbearable right after college. I never would have picked up any of it if I had continued listening to that weird, guilty little voice telling me that I wasn’t reading real books.
It’s been 23 years since that little boy got his weird little novel about the dog named Genghis Khan. I’m glad I found my way back to him eventually.
- Which isn’t to say that comics isn’t reading; just that reading comics is a less exhausting experience. ↩