Discussion: Reading the Wrong Way


Is there a wrong way to read? 

A few weeks ago, I bristled at a conversation I saw play out on Twitter. I’m about to quote the authors (and disagree with them), but this isn’t really an issue about the exact names attached. Here’s the exchange:

twitter-convo

I am this person. 

At least, I am a person who loves suspense in a story. I seldom reread (except for select favorites) and I don’t watch a lot of movie adaptations.

I think (maybe I’m wrong) that I’m not a bad reader–a person who ignores nuance and demands my truth. But the possibility–maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m a bad reader–has lingered in my mind. So let’s explore.

How I Read

I read breathlessly, devouring books in single sittings, in ridiculous numbers. I immerse completely and at one time. I avoid summaries, excerpts, book trailers, hype (when I can, topic for another post). I’m obsessed with the experience of diving into a brand new universe with no prep. It precludes my analytical brain, my tendency to predict, to be bored. I do not skim, but I also do not take my time. I do not agonize over meaning or nuance. I turn pages rapidly, pursuing the thread of plot or character development (often as/more important than plot!) to the end. Hard stop.

Does that make me a bad reader?

Demanding truth

Do I demand my own truth from books? I am white. I’m middle class. I’m straight (am I supposed to say cisgendered too/instead? I don’t even know). My version of truth is pretty common.

Except.

I’m also from a very conservative Christian family. And my religion and values are not represented (not well) in most literature.

So I’ve read lots of books that do not speak to my truth. Some of them I like. Some of them I don’t. I don’t think I demand my truth from a story, but how would I know?

Conclusion (Not)

I think I’m a good reader. I think it’s a personal preference that I read quickly, obsessively, with a lot of emphasis on newness, on suspense.

But now I don’t know. Am I ignoring depth that I should hunt for? Should my books be dogeared, marked through the margins with notes from extended rereads? Does not doing that make me a shallow person?

I try not to use this blog for a diary (this type of self-analysis and dithering is very diary-like!), but I’m throwing this one out because I hope other readers have struggled with feeling like bad readers and can give advice! And maybe some of you are going through this with me. Let me know in the comments!

An additional comment on Shannon Hale & Mette Ivie Harrison: I’ve read several books by both of these remarkable authors. I have incredible respect for their attention to tough topics and representation in the book world. This post is in no way an attack on them, just an issue brought to the fore through their conversation. 

Abrupt Horror


Everything affects everything.

Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why

I have a pretty good life. Not many bad things have happened to me. But recently I’ve had some breath-stopping, heart-pounding, stomach-turning moments.

“The baby has a heart defect.”

“They’ve found his body.”

“Something horrible has happened.”

Freeze. Feel the paralysis that abrupt horror creates. 

Most of these moments haven’t even been directly related to me. It wasn’t my baby. It wasn’t my family.

And in some ways, that makes these situations stranger for me. I’m hurt, I’m gutted, I’m crying, but there is nothing I can do. My coworker asks if I’m having a bad day, to which I incoherently reply, “No. Well, kinda. Yes, I guess so.” There’s no way to explain the small anchor on my heart, the tragedy that isn’t close enough to warrant stopping life long enough for grieving.

One of the boys I grew up with committed suicide.

He was the last person I would have expected. (everyone says these things) He was one of the happiest, kindest people I knew. (that light is gone and I can’t believe it) There was no warning, no signs. (there are almost always signs)

But I wouldn’t have known if there had been.

I went to college. He stayed home. We exchanged some Facebook messages, but to be honest, I probably haven’t talked to him in 2-3 years.

And now…well, now that feels like a mistake. Like something I could have done differently if I had bothered to care more.

A few days after he died, I reread 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher’s seminal YA work on suicide. I read it first many, many years ago. I haven’t read it since because I was afraid it wouldn’t seem as powerful. I was afraid I would be disappointed. Then I heard Jay speak and with the timing, it seemed like a good read.

It was. It didn’t give me any answers (there aren’t any). But it reminded me–again–how important it is to care about the people around us. To go out of our way to show them that we care. To tell them that they matter.

A few days later, I read “Letter to an Ex, on the Occasion of his Suicide.” [Note: strong language, read with discretion.] It was as heart-breaking as I should have expected. Masha made sense of what I couldn’t:

The more time goes on, the more I think being a grown-up means accepting that you might have done your best, but still it wasn’t enough to prevent harm. It wasn’t enough. And for this I bear responsibility.

I want you to:

  • Read 13 Reasons Why
  • Act like you care about the people in your life
  • Care more
  • Breathe. Cry. Write. Fight.
  • Don’t ever forget.

 

If you came to my blog looking for standard book reviews, you can find them further down in the feed. This isn’t a typical book post, I know. But I think this is the soul of reading. Reading is often how we process, heal, make sense of our desperately painful world. I’m trying to be more intentional about showing that reality. Thanks for reading. 

Headphones & Anxiety


Should we think of headphones, then, as just another emblem of catastrophic social decline, a tool that edges us even deeper into narcissism, solipsism, vast unsociability?


The New Yorker recently published a piece about the ubiquity of headphones (and earbuds, although they don’t make that distinction). Amanda Petrusich steers the article to the changes in the music industry based on this rise, but her early concern (in the quote at top) caught my attention.

Are headphones just a tool for unsociability? Continue reading

A Plea to Recognize Ageism


I’d barely gotten seated at the doctors’ office when the receptionist asked, “How old are you?” I smiled and told her I was 22. As expected, she immediately laughed and told me that I looked like I was 15 or 16. I explained that I get that a lot.

5 minutes later, the nurse asked about my emergency contact. I gave his name and number. Then she asked, “Is that your father?” No, it’s my husband.

This kind of thing happens to me a lot. I look young, apparently.

Oh, you’ll be thankful for it when you’re my age! You’ll be grateful for that someday! Continue reading

Quotes From My Notes: #10


Primarily because I think it’s scary to think This Is It. This is what I got. Changing the numbers on my bank account or the size of TV or the make of the car in the garage or the zip code isn’t going to complete me. I have to figure that out on my own. —DHH

The guy who wrote this is talking about becoming a millionaire and how little it actually changes life [article linked on his name]. I’m guilty of chasing experiences, accomplishments, and accolades for fulfillment. This is a reminder that I need daily.

Links from Lyse


I read lots (and lots and lots) during the week, absorbing articles and videos from all over the place. At the end of each week, I’ll share a few of those with you!

  • Confessions of a Seduction Addict” — Spoiler alert! This article is written by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love (and many other books!). I have to admit, I was surprised to discover she was the author, because the article comes from her younger days, not her current enlightened and matured state.  Although I never practiced seduction as destructively as she did, I will admit to enjoying the process of making someone fall in love with me. Similarly, I also like the process of learning someone’s soul, which can lead to destructive relationships.
  • What is genius? Since I’m on a Gilbert kick right now, I also watched her TED talk on genius, which I found freeing and beautiful. It’s worth watching for everyone, but especially anyone who identifies as creative.
  • Do we need Shakespeare? Having just finished a year of studying Shakespeare in university, I have pretty strong feelings about this argument. But instead of ranting here, I’ll just link to another article (which I don’t entirely agree with) and let you hash it out in the comments.
  • Just this week I discovered Gretchen Rubin’s blog and podcast (also available on SoundCloud). Rubin researches happiness and habits, which she has written about in The Happiness ProjectHappier at Home, and Better Than Before. I have read The Happiness Project and really loved it. If you’re constantly searching for ways to improve your habits, want to become happier, or wish you were more organized, check out some of her material!

What did you find this week? Love any of these links? Let me know in the comments!

Quotes from my Notes

Quote


img-rivers-mountainriver-russiaI tend to collect quotes in random places (especially a massive collection of notes on my desktop), so I’m going to start sharing those quotes with you all. Feel free to discuss and share quotes of your own! Enjoy.

If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform. –Thich Nhat Hanh

An anecdotal birthday present


My father’s birthday was this week. I missed it, because I’m at college. If I were home, I would have given him a hug. I’m not a daddy’s girl, but I do miss those sometimes. But since I am here, I am going to write instead.

I never considered my parents to have much to do with my reading, particularly my taste in books. Looking back now, obviously I see a lot more of it, but it is true that for the most part, I chose a lot of the things I read. However, in the last year or two, I have realized that my dad affected my taste in reading quite a bit. As a kid, one of the only things I knew how to talk about was books. So I was constantly talking about what I was reading, and then regularly pestering my parents for any suggestions of books to read. On one such occasion, my dad suggested Lloyd Alexander’s books. I took his suggestion, and as my title evidences, they became favorites of mine. I have read everything of Alexander’s that I can get my hands on (well over half his writings) and loved every moment. Somewhere in the train of my adolescent history, I forgot that my dad lit that spark. When I remembered, it became something precious, a point of connection that we seldom make, and certainly never vocalize.

My father also started me on sci-fi. He suggested Fahrenheit 451 and Isaac Asimov. I read and loved both. From there, I continued to read science fiction. He also suggested Brave New World, which I still remember and will still read at some point.

If you asked me today what my favorite genre was, my answer would likely be either fantasy, or fantasy/sci-fi, since sometimes they blend together inseparably in my mind. In either case, I have to acknowledge that my father probably started me on the path to loving both genres. That is something for which I am unspeakably grateful – small moments that have shaped me in innumerable ways.

Chances are, he doesn’t even realize the impact his book suggestions had on me. He may not even remember suggesting them. But I do. For that, I thank him very much.