Learning How to Read (Again)

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4 December 2009

I feel more overwhelmed than ever about the length of my reading list, as I make my way through the recs over at the YEAR IN READING series at The Millions. So much good stuff there.

I keep track of my “to-read” list over at goodreads.com, then transfer titles over to The Reading List page here periodically.  I put off the latter for as long as I can, because all those jacket thumbnails become so visually mountainous.

Was watching Jim Lehrer or some such the other night, Arnie Duncan was on, or someone else high up in education policy, can’t quite remember.  The talk was of reading skills, testing of reading, making sure 4th graders can read.  I try to remember how/when I learned to read and can’t recall a lick.  It doesn’t seem like there was a process at all, just one day, boom, I was reading.  It wasn’t “environment,” because there wasn’t a lot of reading going on at home, as far as I can remember.  (Both parents read English, but it’s their second language, so literature wasn’t abounding.)  That’s weird to me, that I have no recollection of not being able to read, or only being able to read certain things.

But I didn’t really learn to read until my mid-20s.  Meaning, for most of my life, I read to Complete The Assignment; to Write the Term Paper; to Get to The End of the Book.  I started to read actively (with my whole self) and to write fiction at about the same time.

Sadly, and frustratingly, I feel like I’ve been losing ground lately in my reading skills.  Two steps back when it comes to deep reading. Big Books stress my mind these days, when in the past they’ve seized it.  I’m about 1/4 into Of Human Bondage, a 600-pager.  I’m using reading muscles I haven’t used in a little while.  This one’s going to take me some time, and mostly what I have to do right now is be patient with myself.  To recognize, and accept, that with all the noise and media and book promotions and teaching I’m doing, I have to learn to read again. I have to stay in the sentence, as opposed to shooting for the end of it.  Does this sound ridiculous?  It does, doesn’t it.  I am a novelist and a writing teacher, learning how to read.

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