I Don't Read Like I Used To (Which Is Great)
"I wanna get back into reading."
I hear that everywhere I go. Like a lot of people I know, I spent my formative years immersed in fictional worlds. I was a regular at the local library. I was sneakily reading trilogies under my desk when I should've been doing Calculus. I rarely spent more than a few days per book and blew through novels like nobody's business.
So what happened?
Well...college, first of all. Prior to college, my days looked, pretty consistently, like this:
School → Extra Curricular → Home → School
And having that kind of consistency was great because it provided me with ample reading time in a predictable way. Obviously, this isn't the reality for all kids. But it was for me and a lot of my friends at the time. I knew I would have time to read between certain classes. I knew how many days a week I'd be setting foot in my library. Being transported anywhere was always a reading opportunity because I didn't have to do the driving.
College completely upended the whole "predictability" thing while adding the caveat of required reading. So for four years, the only books I carried around were typically dense, unwieldy, and astronomically expensive.
"But don't you work now? Don't you have a routine that can be used the same way as when you were younger?"
Yes, I work. I go to the same job every day for the same amount of time, but the in-between times that existed for me as a child are now filled with: "Well, I've got to stop by the post office, so I should probably do that before I go grocery shopping, and I guess I'll have to schedule that doctor's appointment for next week because if I don't get to the DMV on Wednesday I won't be getting in at all, and....sh*t, did my check engine light just come on??"
It's not the same.
Having to be an adult gets in the way of leisurely kicking back with a good book, and I don't know anyone who has ever disagreed with that statement.
So, no, I don't read as much as I used to. I don't even read half as much as I used to. And for many years, that really bothered me. Being a reader defined so much of my youth that I felt like I was losing part of my personality. But here's the thing:
Quality > Quantity
This is what matters: I read better than I used to.
And I don't just mean the literal ease with which I process words. I read better books than I used to. I read about more complex ideas than I used to. I process what I read more meaningfully than I used to.
In 2018, determined to once again become an avid reader, I challenged myself to read more books by authors of color. My childhood was defined mostly by the fiction of white women, and my academics were defined mostly by the literature of white men. I wanted to spend some time examining stories by people who might better reflect some of my own experiences.
The results have quite literally been life-changing. Pushing my boundaries in this way has deepened my curiosity for the kinds of stories I was quick to overlook growing up. When I was younger, I was terrified about "outgrowing" the Young Adult genre. I was convinced that it would be a sad and miserable day when I would have to give up my teenage protagonists once I entered the world of adulthood (because adults can't read YA, right?). I was also adamantly apposed to non-fiction, autobiographies/memoirs, and anything remotely self-help-y. And like most strongly held opinions I had at the ripe age of sixteen....well, they needed some work.
These days I'm deep into personal essays, scholarly analyses, historical non-fiction works, as well as general adult fiction (including NA, aka New Adult; the YA → Adult bridge I thought I needed, didn't, but enjoy anyway). And hey, still some YA every once in awhile, too.
Meanwhile, reading texts of this variety, often written by women who look like me, adds a level of inspiration and personal connection that I've never experienced with reading before. Gabrielle Union and Jennifer Lewis had me in stitches, Brittney Cooper and Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley have been upgrading my Black Feminism, Nicola Yoon is turning me into a hopeless romantic, and Claire Kann just made me feel...seen. Books have never been so powerful.
That power has also lowered my tolerance for finishing books that I'm not actively enjoying. I hate-read a lot in high school. Part of me liked waxing poetic about everything I found wrong with a book. But at this stage in my life, I've read enough resonating, transformative works of literature to know that the feeling of Book Ranting can't compare to Book Raving. And because my reading time is a much more precious commodity these days, I spend it wisely. I spend it on things that move me, teach me, and bring me joy.
So yeah, I don't read like I used to. And thank God for that.