The Three Ways to Read

Blog No. 121

When I was a child, my parents read to me nightly. I was surrounded by books, got books as presents, and went to the library regularly. Despite their best efforts, I wasn’t much of a reader. I had to read a book in the summers and school usually had a book report or two that I would muddle through, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to read on my own. It was then that I found the type of books that resonated with me. Sci-Fi, mostly Philip K. Dick and his contemporaries, amazed me. I started devouring books at a speed that, while tame next to avid readers, felt lightning quick, jumping from one book to the next. I fell in love with short storied during that time. The ideas were forefront and I would get hit over the head with them rapidly, three to twenty pages at a time. I entered the first stage of reading and was transported. It was around that time that I started playing with writing my own stories too. 

I miss being able to be completely lost in a book, fully enveloped in its world, running side by side with the characters. The first way comes when a reader finds what he or she likes. It could be a genre, author, type of book, style of writing, fiction, nonfiction, magazines, it doesn’t matter. When the connection is made, the reader can delve into the book. Movies and cartoons make it look magical, and it kind of is. There is a power in a good book that can’t really be found in any other medium. Movies can inspire, entertain, and even transport, but the viewer is a passive participant, experience thing story through set visuals and performances. Music is just as powerful and there is no quicker way to improve a bad mood or escape, but the stories are limited as is the ability to whist the listener on an adventure. Stories are special and from the perspective of a relatively young reader, am amazing journey into countless worlds

My path out of high school was crooked, leading me to a few places before I settled on getting my English degree. I entered university with quite a few books under my belt and, what I thought, was a good understanding of reading and storytelling. Once I started to study literature (and studying how to study) everything changed. I entered the second way of reading and learned new ways to explore stories and dozens of lenses to analyze them through. Just like my discovery of reading, a whole new world opened up. I found themes, evidence for theses, and history crammed into everything I read. Everything I learned outside the field was pulled into the cause. I wrote countless essays worrying how I would fit my observations and theories into a measly twelve pages. Reading became a puzzle that I longed to solve, knowing that everyone in my class was given different pieces. Reading was still enjoyable, but it was difficult to put the tools away and just read for fun.

Eventually I discovered how to mute the second way and found out how to lose myself in stories again. The cost was unfortunately a loss of ability to analyze. It was a difficult choice, but I’ve found that all I need to get back into it is proximity. The third way is much more damaging. I didn’t notice I was reading in a new way until a year or so into Adventure Worlds. I had gotten used to editing other people’s stories, getting edits of my own, and branching outside the group to find others who knew more than I did. Very quickly, parallel with every new concept I learned, reading lost something. Books I enjoyed several times became a chore to read. Errors and questionable choices stuck out like the thorns on a rose. I started to hate some of my favorite stories. I was used to looking back on the things I wrote (mostly essays and short, unfinished pieces) and seeing the flaws, rewriting it better than before, but I didn’t understand how my favourite authors could hate their stories, especially when I loved them. Now I can see it clearly. The third way of reading is dangerous and costly and I don’t think I can find a way out of it. Even if I quit writing (which is the opposite of what I want to do) I know things that will be refreshed with every sentence, dialogue tag, and adverb I read.

Last week, Christian hosted an event with two well known horror authors. They were touring the country (on their publisher’s dime) and stopped in Windsor. The event was enjoyable and they authors relatable and gracious. They spoke for over an hour and answered several questions from the small audience. I was glad I was there to hear what they had to say, especially since I was given a solution to the third way of reading. It never goes away, but it can be silenced by reading great writing. I may always judge the books that I read, and I may have lost some of the books I used to enjoy, but even if I disagree with the choices of an author (or editor) if a book is well written, I may be able to lose myself and enjoy the ride. If that doesn’t work I’ll try reading drunk.

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