Once, many years ago, I learned to read. Like most children of North America, I learned at school. I recall my Gr.1 teacher painstakingly pulling a classroom of reluctant emergent readers through various tales of “Mr. Mugs” like it was slew-water, each child dreading their turn to read aloud before all the other dreading emergents.
Reading became a sport. Skill & desire to participate were closely linked & some of us, tho perhaps not pre-school readers, had extensive home libraries where we had poured over books on long lazy afternoons. Our home library had been carefully stocked by my mother. We were nearly banned from consuming tv and so, books were our thing. Everything from picture books, large illustrated collections of fairy tales, bible based books for children & adults, comics—some my dad’s in German, some classic Disney & such—one memorable one was an illustrated version of The Hobbit, but we also had encyclopedias & science & nature books on so many subjects I simply could not get bored. “Reading” to me in preschool life had been a slow, leisurely consumption of information & imagination.
Then, “Mr. Mugs” wrecked it all. Reading became, as stated, a sport. Competitive relays & speed & written reports & never a quest for genuine adventure. It was forced upon us all.
I believe I retained some of my early joy of reading, finding treasure in Beverly Cleary & a plethora of horse novellas in the mid elementary grades. I discovered I preferred adventurous animal fictions & discovered Richard Adams, at my mother’s suggestion, and then moved in to Tad Williams, & that genre carried me into high school. High school became the ultimate attempt to turn love of literature to hate. Tho I loved most novels we were assigned, historical fiction beginning to really emerge as the perfect marrying of adventure & history education to spark my interest, for the most part, they take the driest, most detestable forms of reading, throw it at you, impose a deadline & report upon you, & expect you to enjoy it. Few if any do.
Most develop a keen & awkward hate for Shakespeare & for poetry, for short story & certainly for writing about literature. School takes the pure adventure out of reading, stripping it down to the bones & leaving it unsalted.
After high school, I began the classic adult life of the uneducated. Life gets hard quick & reading usually gets set to the side. Between 3am feedings & laundry, brains just don’t function so well, let alone eyes for words on a page. Over the years my reading consumption has been mostly spiritual in nature with the odd splurge on something fictional.
I say splurge because it has been. I pick up a book, and in three days it must be done, at the cost to nearly everything in my life—the house is a mess, the suppers are barely made, kids are left to veg on tv—all while I binge on a book, or heaven help me, sometimes a trilogy. This has been how I’ve consumed literature for years—a guilty pleasure squeezed into a life overflowing. I’ve not had the leisure of slowly consuming a book. If it gets put down, that’s it. Game over. The book hits the shelf & isn’t likely to be picked up again. Life gets too busy & frankly, I lose interest.
The first book I recall meandering through, perhaps ever, was The First Men in the Moon, H.G. Wells, just a few years ago. I slowly read it, pondering his writing, his skill at taking what little he must have known of the moon, and braiding this beautiful sci-fi from that knowledge. The characters were lovely & the adventure was so very real. It was a classic & instead of rushing it, I savoured it.
Now, I’m working on book 3 in an eight book series, the writing having spanned from the early nineties until just three years ago. It is historical fiction with just enough sex I don’t care to recommend it—to each their own. But it is the long read. It changes times from the 1700’s to the 1900’s, the details can be cumbersome, quite unlike popular fiction these days which tends to be more like you’re watching a movie than reading a book, so it takes some amount of digestion & processing. I think I’ve gotten lazy. I’m more used to the easier reads now. But, because of the length of the novels, plus the amount of them, I find myself unhurried & able to set it down, days at a time, and return to continue the journey of these characters.
It just dawned on me, that perhaps after a life time of school-taught reading style of binge consumption & hurriedness, this is how reading is meant to be. How nice. To just take your time, & read.