Thursday, May 22, 2014

Becoming a More Mature Reader

My love of reading began quite early. My mother tells me that I spent a lot of time on my bed surrounded by books. I devoured books, quite happily as a young girl.

I distinctly remember my mother encouraging me to read the classics in my teenage years but I was a stubborn one who didn't want to do as I was told. I contented myself with Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club (cringe), Animal Inn, and various other mystery series. (I did read Ramona which is probably as classic as it got.) Don't get me wrong, I don't think any of these series are bad (excepting The Babysitters Club which was horrific) but they do not offer much in the way of deep and complex thoughts. (Although Trixie and Nancy did whet the appetite for mysteries of all sorts so that's good.) However, as much as I think these books were royally fun and I enjoyed reading them (there's a purpose in that) they did not really stretch me as a reader.  I've had to pay for my stubbornness by struggling through the classics as an adult due to the fact that the language is archaic to me and/or the storyline is massively complex to me. It is sometimes really hard work to make it through a meaty classic. The more I think about my struggles here, the less I think it had to be this way, and the more I regret not listening to my mother. If I had munched on children's classics, I would better have prepared me for adult ones later on.

I'm writing this post partly because I wish to be honest, partly because I want to document my reading journey, and partly because I hope to encourage the other adults struggling to read classics to press on and do so!

There are classic works that I would like to read but I think they are too high above my reading capabilities. Sometimes that ends up being the case and I have to set them aside for a bit until I can give them more attention. But still, I make a point to go back to them. (Note: Bleak House. That title required a 4 year break. But I went back to it.) Al books can be read, but sometimes you have to set aside the time necessary to understand them more completely and that's ok. But don't give up.

There are classic works that I would like to read but I think I won't understand. I've learned to say to myself, "So what?" Read it anyway. I may not be able to grapple with every theme in the book, but I can probably get a handle on one or two of its main points and internalize a little bit. A little bit is better than nothing at all. Press on. If I can comprehend a little of one book, the chances are higher that I'll be able to pick up another like it and understand it even better. Brain exercise. Do not fear it.

There are classic works that make me feel dumb for not being able to understand. That's ok. Sometimes I need to feel dumb. I frequently learn important things about myself when I am made to feel dumb. I can correct bad habits and bad thoughts when I take the time to grapple with an idea, even if it I find it rather humiliating to try. That's ok. Just keep reading through the tome. Eventually, I figure, parts of it will make sense and I'll feel less dumb.

Some books do come across as being scary hard to read. Don't let that scare you away from it. I know I want to read bigger, better books. I want to be able to track with characters and follow complex story lines and understand the worldview of the author. I'll never be able to do any of that unless I pick up the scary books and give them a try. I can never mature as a reader if I don't tackle hard books.

It's ok to be a little confused as you read. It's ok to have to work hard and strain the brain a bit. The challenge is good for you as a reader (and also for us as a society, but that's another argument for another day).

I don't want my kids to struggle through the "hard books" like I've had to which is why I love the classics book club set up that we have. It encourages me to read classics aloud to my kids and I think that is important. If they see my learning to and then truly loving these books, they will love them also. That'll be a really wonderful thing, for them and for me. In the meantime, I've got a responsibility to lead by example and that pushes me to keep reading thicker, bigger, harder, scarier books. It has gotten easier to do so, and I fully expect it to become easier still.

Get your reading war cry on! Pick out a hard book and read through it. A little reading exercise never hurt anyone!

I haven't read all of these people (and I don't even know who all of them are) but I found these quotes inspiring and thought I'd share them with you, my fellow readers:

“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” — Anne Lamott


“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” – Franz Kafka


“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” — Oscar Wilde


“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” — Henry David Thoreau


“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” — Madeleine L’Engle


“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.” — Nora Ephron


“I cannot live without books.” — Thomas Jefferson

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” — Victor Hugo


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Always listen to your mother! ;)

I LOVE the Churchill quotes.

Barbara H. said...

Somehow I missed a lot of classics as I was growing up, and I've enjoyed exploring many as an adult. Some of them are a bit tedious by today's standards but are good brain exercise.

bekahcubed said...

I feel much the same way about having wasted some opportunities to expand my mind as a child. I spent a fair bit of time on the same sort of books you did - and moved from there to Christian fiction, which is similarly less-than-brain-enriching.

At the same time, I was blessed to have an aunt in town who read all those same things - but an awful lot more than just that - and who encouraged me to think deeply about what I was reading and to enjoy "LIT-ra-ture" as well. We spent a couple of years doing LIT-ra-ture with her and some other like-minded homeschoolers and I left with a much greater appreciation of and ability to comprehend the classics. Hooray!

Bluerose said...

I was the only reader in my family growing up, so I read a lot of Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High, and R.L. Stine, because that was what everybody else at school was reading. :P Honestly, I don't remember The Babysitter's Club being that bad, but it has been a long time.

It's no secret that I struggle with classics, though!

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