Christmas break came at exactly the right time. My classes began to feel stale. The professors gave lengthy lectures to cram the rest of the information in. And I was ready for a break. I was excited to get back home, sleep a lot, eat a lot, and read a book for fun.
I had done so much academic reading over the course of my first college semester that I was pumped to be able to turn the pages of a good novel. A novel that grips me and won’t let me retire after a chapter ends. Something that I can get lost in and not only be interested in mining its content. But something was wrong.
My first book was William Golding’s famous Lord of the Flies. It had been sitting in my dorm room desk for the entire semester, begging to be opened. I like to say that I didn’t have enough free time to read, but what it really came down to is that I wanted my free time to be spent doing other things since so much of my classwork was reading. But what I failed to realize is, that like all good things, reading is a talent that has to be practiced in order to be maintained and developed. My reading at school was largely done in order to complete an assignment, find a necessary bit of information, or understand/respond to an argument. This sort of reading isn’t conducive to the kind of reading that lets you get lost in a book.
I’m still working on Lord of the Flies, though I am nearly finished. And don’t get me wrong – I have really enjoyed the book, but it has, at times, been a laborious process. And here I do not mean it has been laborious in the sense that I am fondling every detail and making notes on themes and character developments, I mean going back and rereading a page because I didn’t digest a single bit of information laborious. My eyes see the words while my brain wanders into other realms.
You may have read the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Carr describes how our technologically savvy generation is far less able to keep their brains concentrated on a single task because of how much multi-tasking goes on in our day to day life. I won’t go too far into this, but I think, as does Carr, that this directly affects our ability to read literature. When I’m reading, I may also be texting someone, checking my twitter, and doing other things. How can I expect to be taken into the world of literature if I have so many things keeping me in my world?
One might ask why this is even important. Aren’t books only information to be attained? Isn’t it more efficient to get the information and not have to worry about such trivial things as the style and motifs of a novel? I vehemently disagree with both of these statements. Literature is art and art is beauty. The way the plot of a novel moves forward with the development of the characters and the themes that traverse all of it is in fact beautiful. Right now, I am only experiencing that beauty on a superficial level, unable to dive into the literature because of my lack of practice and my distractions.
I’ll post a follow-up to this at the end of Christmas break and report on how isolating myself from social media during reading is affecting my comprehension. I need to stay concentrated during my reading and keep myself reading regularly. If any of what I’ve said resonates with you, I’d encourage you to try and do the same.