Thursday, August 25, 2011

BEDA Day 25: My Reading Life as a Math Problem

The relationship between my reading life and my social life is similar to an inverse function in math; as one variable increases, the other decreases.
When I was in gradeschool, I read all the time, often several books a week. However, when I hit high school, I stopped reading almost entirely. And now I am trying to start reading again. How is this trend related to my social life, you ask? Allow me to explain.
Take for example my reading habits as a young, elementary-school child: I read. A lot. When I was in third grade I discovered the Nancy Drew Mystery novels; it soon became my goal to read one a day (a task which I-- for the most part-- completed). After Nancy Drew, I sought out other novels to satiate my desire for a short, controlled thrill (nothing too crazy, please), and thusly found other mystery series. Though the Hardy Boys didn’t do it for me, I gleefully devoured series such as the hilarious Chet Gecko mysteries, Encyclopedia Brown brain teasers, and the ever-impressive Freddie the Detective chapter books. We are talking 200 to 300 pages of ego-boosting, vocabulary-enhancing mystery.
While I practically ate my way through the books in the school library, bookstores, and gifts from kindly relatives, I didn’t realise that I was compensating for something. An old diary of mine from the sixth grade recently resurfaced, which lent a certain insight to this very topic. In one entry, I remarked on how very unfortunate it was that some people did not know the joys of reading.
“When I am sad,” I enthused, “I can just open a book and read about someone else’s life. Maybe theirs is worse than mine, which makes me feel better. Or maybe it is more exciting, but I get so caught up in the adventure that I have no room to be sad.”
I can only imagine that I fancifully wrote this diary entry (with a quill pen and ink, as I recall), because I was trying to convince myself that my life wasn’t so bad, something of which I was not at all convinced at the time.
In elementary school I busied myself with reading for three reasons. The first was that I had few friends. From kindergarten to about second grade, everyone gets along with everyone. But eventually cliques form, and I found myself eschewed from every group that developed from the vile gunk known as “pre-teen drama.”
The second reason was that I didn’t particularly like my classmates anyway. With a few exceptions, I found most of them repulsive, willfully ignorant, mean-spirited, and dull. Which perhaps explains why I did not fit into any of the cliques. At the time I felt desolate and lonely, though I can see clearly a very few years later that it was a godsend to be outcast in those dark years.
The third and final reason I read all throughout gradeschool was because my schoolwork did not present me with a challenge. In English and Literature classes I always seemed to be twenty steps ahead of everyone else (most probably as a result of being well-read). The science classes at my grade school were a joke, and the Spanish department got new teachers every year, so we did the same coursework year after year. The only classes I really had to try in were my math classes. So while I wasn’t doing my math homework, I read. I am ashamed to admit that if I found my other assignments to be asinine or demeaning, I would blow them off in favor of reading.
So, as an elementary school kid, I was bored with school, didn’t quite fit in with my classmates, nor did I want to, and therefore I read. Reading took me away from the sadness I felt by not fitting in, even when I knew in my head that I didn’t want to be like them. Reading gave me a sense of intellectuality that I couldn’t find in my school work. As my social life was lacking in those years, my reading life was flourishing. 

As the social life decreases, the reading life increases.
Enter high school.
If gradeschool was too easy and too cliquey, high school was everything but. My high school was Heaven disguised as a private, all-girls Catholic high school in Kansas City, Missouri. Subtract the boys and the cliques cancel out; you are left with girls who get along with one another! Add some actual classwork and you get students who care about their academics and have a future. After my first month, I knew it was love. “This, I thought, “is what I have been missing.”
I made friends, I enjoyed my classes. I stopped being so shy, so quiet, so reserved. I finally noticed that I have a really loud laugh that can be annoying, but I don’t care because, gosh darn it, I am laughing and I am happy. I learned to stop caring so much about what other people think of me and to know that if I am open someone will want to be my friend. In the midst of the chaos, I forgot to keep reading.
“When I am sad, I can just open a book and read about someone else’s life.”
I didn’t want someone else’s life then, because I was happy with mine. Books had meant an escape to me, and at the time in my life I didn’t feel pressured, trapped, or in any need of an escape. So I didn’t read. In the past four years, I read a shamefully small number of books.
As the social life increases, the reading life decreases.
This past summer I worked thirty hours a week. It was a tiring job. I got done in the evening, and all I wanted to do when I got home each day was eat, shower, and sleep. I didn’t see my friends very often, and I feared growing apart from them. The job I had was not what I wanted to do, and I was unhappy being out of school. Again, I felt trapped. Only this time, it was slightly different.
Rather than not having them, I knew that I could make friends. I knew I already had friends, and that though we were scattering across the country for school, we will always be friends.  I knew that coming to Iowa State was my next step, and that the academics would be challenging. But at the time, I didn’t have these things. I wasn’t hanging out with my friends from high school. I hadn’t made my new friends yet. I wasn’t taking any classes. I felt like I was in limbo.
So I picked up a book and read it. In two days.
As the social life decreases, the reading life increases.

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