If somebody had said this to me even a year ago I would have become irrationally angry, immediately started ranting, and probably started pushing stuff around the counter with a little too much force, so if you read that title and your blood pressure spiked and you’re already thinking of all the reasons why you won’t be doing that, I understand. I get it. I lived in that headspace for…wait…uh…math…hold on…fuck, how old am I?
A long time. I lived in that headspace for a long time, and if it’s not something you want to do, whatever, I’m not your supervisor.
But you should at least consider it, and here’s why.
Reading a Book for Fun is Different
When you read that book you hate so much you were reading it for a class. Right there, that’s enough baggage to fill a lost and found at the airport. You had to read it as homework on your teacher’s schedule, so you might have been rushing to get through it. You potentially had to keep pausing the book to take notes, breaking the flow. You read it knowing there would be a class discussion, or a quiz, or the absolute worst scenario imaginable – reading that shit out loud.
I really hope that the only point of going around the class to read sections out loud was to give the teacher a fucking break for twenty minutes, because whatever you were supposed to get out of that, as a student, I fucking did not. Before it was my turn I wasn’t listening to the other kids read. I was panicking about my turn getting closer. During my turn all I could hear was the blood rushing through my ears, and after my turn all I did was obsess about all the ways I fucked up. If teachers do that shit because it’s seven-forty in the morning and they want to sit quietly for a few minutes and drink their coffee, all the power to them, but if there is some idea out there that the kids are getting something from this besides sheer social anxiety I’m here to tell you it’s a fucking myth.
Anyway, reading for a class also means that you have to pay attention to totally different things. Teachers want to make sure you understand themes and symbolism and foreshadowing and undertones and overtones and subtext and character development and unreliable narrators and you end up in a twenty-minute conversation about a hole in a tree.
I’m not saying learning about this stuff is a bad thing! Everybody should gain some amount of reading comprehension when they are kids, even if they aren’t going to do anything related to writing or books, because I think it makes reading for fun – or even watching movies and television – more enjoyable. Not for training your conscious brain – I don’t think everyone should be pausing in the middle of their airport paperback to go, ah, the author means for the color blue to represent times in the main character’s life that echo their childhood trauma. But it’s for training your unconscious brain. The back half of your brain picks up on way more than we realize, especially in media, and it can deepen your appreciate for a piece of art even if you don’t notice why.
As a kid you had to sit there and consciously pick at the parts of books that are supposed to be silent supports so that as an adult you gain better appreciation for the books (and other media) you choose to consume. Shouldn’t you give the books you had to pick apart a chance to be enjoyed the way they’re supposed to be?
You’re A Different Person Now
At least, I hope you are. If you are exactly the same person you were in high school, and you graduated high school more than, like, three years ago, you should be ashamed of yourself and desperately need some internal reflection.
At the bare minimum, though, you are not in school anymore, and that is fucking HUGE. I fucking hated high school, and it wasn’t even particularly traumatic for me. No bullies, no lingering trauma, nothing requiring therapy. But the whole thing just sucks. It sucks for everyone. Everyone. Anyone telling you high school didn’t suck on some level is either a liar or someone you don’t want to engage with.
Being in that shitty situation can give you shitty attitudes.
There were books I hated simply because I was forced to read them.
There were books I hated because a teacher I hated liked them.
There were books I hated because everyone loves this book! (Actually, I still sometimes do that one. Oops.)
There were books I hated because I was going through a bad period that didn’t have anything to do with the book or English class, even, but I was teenager and bad at managing my overblown emotions so I channeled it all into hating this dead French author who has done nothing to me personally due to the fact of being a) French and b) dead.
Not only are you a different person than who you were in high school, you’re a different person than the person you were trying to be in high school. Remember that? Remember how high school and college is all about trying to define yourself? And because you’re too young to have any real experiences to define you, you cling to the smallest shit that absolutely should not define an entire personality, and then make that your entire personality?
Maybe you never did that with literature, but I sure as shit did. I’m only starting to unpack some of it now. Turns out, I still don’t like Russian literature for all the reasons I thought I didn’t back in school. But I also vehemently said I didn’t like French literature or Beat poets, and, like…I don’t know? I don’t know. I haven’t read any of it since I was a kid, and I think I was just latching on to stuff to define my edges and I’m pretty sure I did it wrong.
A Lot of ‘Stuffy’ Classics Are Actually Really Good
You know, when you’re allowed to simply read something for the joy of it instead of having to pick it apart and get graded on how well you picked it apart. Authors don’t write shit specifically thinking of classrooms hundreds of years in the future. They write shit that meant something to them. They told stories they really wanted to tell. And while some of them are obviously only considered classics because they were written by rich white men and it was mostly rich white men who decided which were classics and which weren’t, others are Really That Good.
Also, a lot of these classics are a lot naughtier than your teachers would have you believe. They made you read all those Shakespeare plays and always breezed right over the dick jokes, hoping you wouldn’t notice they were there.
Don’t go try to read Shakespeare, though. Find a way to watch the plays. A lot of the incomprehensible lines in Shakespeare actually become perfectly clear when they are performed with the correct tone and nuance.
There Are Some Books That Aren’t Worth Revisiting
I’m writing this because for my entire life I’ve fucking hate The Stranger by Albert Camus, but I’m finally ready to admit that might just be because of where I was in high school and I’m willing to give it another shot.
On the other hand, I would rather walk on my hands and knees through glass shards and Lego pieces than read Ethan Frome again.
I am going to try my hand at the Beats, starting with Dharma Bums. But if someone ever came at me with Atlas Shrugged I would be putting up dukes.
Charles Dickens can blow me.