Learning to read again


During my first year at Durham, I realised just how long it had been since I last read a book that wasn’t on an academic reading list. Even then, I never actually finished most of the books I was supposed to read. But it used to be my favourite pastime, and while obviously hobbies can change, I decided that I didn’t want to stop reading.

So, in the 2018 Christmas holidays, I sat down and devised a list of books I wanted to read. In preparation, my friend introduced me to Goodreads, an app which helps you track what you’re reading, and I set off, with a book count that was extremely impossible, at the time.

I had devised the number of books which I was going to devour, based on my old time rate of reading and soon learnt that I had become slow and tired. It appeared that my eyes had become accustomed to watching TV, and not reading. I had forgotten that the eye is a muscle which must be trained, and if not used, it weakens (a lot apparently).

So, I re-evaluated and started slowly. Over the month, I made it through four short books and plays. At the time, I was very disappointed with myself. I used to be the guy who could get through two hundred pages in a day, but now I found myself struggling to get through two hundred pages a week. Even though the holiday ended and I had been unsuccessful in my original goal, I decided to not let this stop me. 

Over the next two terms, I managed to read ten books and taking into account summative season and exams, I was impressed with myself. Also, I chose to read short-stories and poems when I couldn’t find the time for a complete book. But, I found that I began to read for my essays with more ease, I was able to expand my bibliographies as my eyes became more accustomed to maintaining focus on a text. Moreover, I found that my vocabulary began to re-expand. So, not only was reading primarily fiction giving me an outlet to enjoy some alone time (something we all need to take), but it was actually helping me to improve my degree.

When summer 2019 hit, I decided to use that time to really hunker down and expand my reading profile. I managed to tally twenty books and plays and numerous more poems. And when I started my second year, I found myself even more prepared for the rigour of writing essays and preparing for them.

Since I have begun this endeavour, I have re-read childhood favourites where I hadn’t managed to finish the series, novels of various genres, books by famous archaeologists (that’s my degree by the way), autobiographies, and non-fiction galore. In this time, I also managed to find some new favourites.

They all taught me the importance of reading as a way to understand everything better

I fell particularly in love with Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari and Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, as well as falling for all that Oscar Wilde created. While each book may exist in a different section of the bookstore, they all taught me the importance of reading as a way to understand everything better. Wilde, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, articulated this perfectly when he wrote ‘Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing’.

For books, no matter the genre, can always take you on a discovery to learning about the world. Sapiens taught me how, as humans, we are an absolute enigma of contradiction. Meanwhile, Song of Achilles allowed me to live and feel pure, true love, even if only for a few hours. I would never take back these experiences, for as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.’

The practice of reading for pleasure, outside of my degree, has expanded my library of knowledge on humanity’s thoughts and furthered my ability to understand my own. Additionally, it has re-strengthened my ability to read and digest, at a quick pace, wonders of the world that are put down on paper. For that, I thank my younger self for choosing to re-enter the world of reading. I had missed how any piece of writing can transport you to any realm or other person’s psyche or help you find yourself.

Why not add reading back into your life?

So, for those reading this, I implore you to begin to read outside of your degree, especially now that we are all isolated at home. You don’t have to give up your favourite TV series, but why not add reading back into your life? And when term begins again, try to just read a couple of pages a day if you can, I can assure you, you’ll be all the better for it.

Even now as I write this article, I have a stack of six books which I brought with me from Durham which I plan to read over this period of self-isolation. I’m especially looking forward to reading Orlando by Virginia Woolf, for reading is a super power which can be enjoyed by most.

Image: Pixabay

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