I love to read. I’m reading about 5 books concurrently at the moment. Mostly non-fiction, although I did just finish a number of awesome fiction books I could recommend. I could literally talk to you for hours about the many wonderful books I’m currently reading or have read in the past.
But I didn’t always love reading. When I was a kid I loved it when my parents read to me but if I had to read books myself I really struggled with it and found it boring. I was really slow at learning to read and I felt like I was the kid who was always being taken aside for special treatment to help me keep up with the other kids. While this may have been good for my reading it wasn’t really good for my self-esteem and I ended up labeling myself very young as “bad at reading”.
I remember vividly in about grade 5 or 6 at school being surprised to find that while reading what I thought was an incredibly dull book about a kid who was mining underground that I was actually able to remember what I’d been reading about. I often found that I was concentrating so hard on what the words were as I read them that I couldn’t actually remember what I was reading about. This was a real brake through moment where I guess persistence paid off, but was this the huge turning point in my life where everything changed and I suddenly loved books? No I still found reading boring, which may have been because of this label I’d given myself as slow and bad at reading. I hated having to sit still and concentrate when I could be otherwise playing or having fun.
My appreciation of reading was a fairly gradual process, so gradual that it was almost imperceptible to me. Through my high school years I still avoided having to read my assigned books for school and I’d on occasions write book reports having not actually read the book and based on what my friends told me the book was about. Reading was something I still associated myself as being bad at. Despite these struggles with motivation and with never really feeling like I excelled in this area, I decided to study Literature my final year at high school. This was the year when my marks mattered the most and I decided to choose a subject that I had never really excelled in and actually thought I was bad at. Does this sound like a reckless decision to you? I’m not entirely sure why I did this, perhaps because it was a subject that scared me and I wanted to improve in this area. Anyway I worked really really hard, I read all the books and tried really hard on all my assignments and exams and what do you think happened? Well when the results came out at the end of the year Literature was the subject I got the lowest score on compared with all my other subjects. So was this a significant experience or turning point in my life? Well surprisingly yes it was. I may not have scored that high in the subject but it was by far my favorite subject in year 12, and perhaps also the most influential subject because I went from really disinterested in books to really being able to appreciate and love reading, and this love has stayed with me and grown over the course of my life.
Isn’t it so that often the things we struggle with the most end up being the most rewarding?
Since finishing high school I have gone through large periods of time where I have either forgotten about my love of books or not had time for them as well as times like now where I have a whole stack of books on the go at the same time. But despite the up and down nature of my book reading habits, I keep coming back to them and rediscovering this love.
But why read? What really is the point of reading? I’m not talking about what you have to read for work but what you choose to read for pleasure.
Author Anne Lamott puts it like this:
“We may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.”
I would go even further to say that I can sometimes get so wrapped up in what I’m doing with work, going places, what I need to remember – that I don’t even notice any of these amazing details that Anne mentions.
For me, books can be a reminder of the beautiful details I am missing in my life, they help me to connect with something larger than myself and remind me other things exist outside my current concerns and worries. But perhaps more importantly they inspire and enrich my life in a way that is priceless.
Human beings are wired to connect with one another. It’s in our genetic makeup. And in a world where it feels like there is increasing disconnection between people – where I can be buying groceries and the shop assistant doesn’t make eye contact or even acknowledge my presence. These days you can feel more alone in a room full of people than you do at home on your own with a book. (I don’t ever have this experience at toast masters don’t worry). Books allow me to see intimately that I am not alone in this world, that I am real and human by being able to see the humanity of others in their writing. When you read a book it’s like being able to see into a persons’ sole, you are able to connect with them in a way that is so rare and precious, and this is worth making time for because in those moments of connection, our life is really being lived. Many of us often get caught up in looking forward into the future and doing everything we can now so that in the future we can enjoy our life, so much so that we often forget to enjoy the moments we have now.
We will always be able to find things to worry about. On those rare occasions when I manage to reach a moment in my life when I’m not worried about anything in particular, I worry about the fact that I tend to worry a lot. There is always something we can find to be worried about. Books are an escape from these worries. They often provide us with much needed down time.
Sometimes it’s difficult to be emotionally available to engage in books. We are just too exhausted to be able to take in what we are reading. This is when Candy crush, Bejewled and Angry Birds come in. If you see me on the train with my phone out, you may be thinking “ah another Candy Crush enthusiast”, but actually I will invariably be reading another one of my books and being forever blown away by what new thing I discover on each new page.
In your race to the finish line that is your future when you plan to retire and enjoy your life, don’t forget to live the moments you have now, to pause occasionally to take in the amazing details in your life, as this really is the greatest gift. And if you haven’t done so in a while, try reading a book, you may be surprised by what you discover.