A Literature Student Who Doesn’t Read

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I grew up around books. I read all about the little girl who prayed to a swine deity in order to save a stray cat. About Ben, who died, but couldn’t quite let go of his family and stuck around, or of the teacher who turned into a frog. I was the bookworm, who could never get enough, who read and finished Harry Potter books on release day.

And then I stopped. As my peers moved on to more advanced literature and actually enjoyed reading classics – that is, the ones that actually admitted they liked reading books at all – I felt left stranded with too complex words and stories that were too boring to function. On the other hand, most young adult literature was too simplistic for me. I looked down on their ideas of a fantasy novel, their ideas of a love story, pretentiously thinking I was too “good” for them. I was trapped in this grey zone of not understanding more complex literature, but not being satisfied with children’s books. And so I stopped. I moved away from books and more into the other area of texts. The internet. Blog posts and livejournal entries and message boards, stimulating my desire for international exchange, improving my English on both colloquial and professional level, and yet, leaving me unable to read. I’m not going to say that the internet ruined my attention span and my ability to read long texts. My ceasing to read did that. The nature of the internet, with its short block texts and simplified speech only supported what I was doing anyway.

And now here I am. I feel this sort of disconnect between fiction and myself. Yet again I see my peers interested in the great classics, reading Shakespeare and other texts if not with ease, then still with more understanding of the text than I could maybe muster with readings of three secondary texts explaining what the eff is actually happening here. I see people getting lost in stories and characters, and revelling in that fact, while I don’t feel anything. It was very long ago indeed that I really wept over a character’s death in a novel, because I feel too distanced, too disconnected. I can’t make the stories, or characters, or events tangible for me. They’re fiction, they’re created, they’re not real, and there was a time when I would forget that, but it’s not now anymore.

My studies force me to look at texts closely. Not just at the characters’ motivation, but how these were constructed. Find and identify the framework, lay bare the skeleton of the text, dismantle it, look at every part from each angle, and then reassemble it. Stand back and look at it as a whole. Then look at the details. Back to the large scale again. I enjoy it, but it frustrates me. I feel like I am trying to touch the texts through a grey cotton haze, instead of being able to dig in and get my hands dirty. And I wonder, forever wonder, if anyone else shares that disconnect and is just better at pretending they’re “getting it”.

A literature student who doesn’t read. But I refuse to give up.