When Reading Becomes a Chore

I love literature. I always have. When I was younger, I would spend entire days with my nose in a book. I would take a book to school and read during recess. I read each volume of the Harry Potter series from cover to cover the first day I was able to get my hands on them. I read furiously, and sometimes frantically, like if I needed to finish a chapter before my mom called me to dinner.

I don’t read like that anymore. First of all, very few adults have the time to sit and read all day. Well, it’s not just sitting. A dedicated reader is familiar with the varied and ever-changing positions of someone who is spending the day reading: on back with arms in air, on side with book propped up, standing in the kitchen waiting for water to boil, one handed while eating lunch, in the bath – very carefully. Not to mention the positions of reading a hard cover, the constant battle between how intensely you want to finish the chapter and how long you can hold a 700 page hardcover edition of The Order of the Phoenix above your head before your arms give out.

I haven’t been that reader for many years. I often use the excuse that I don’t have the time, but it’s more than that. As someone who spent six total years studying literature in undergrad and postgrad, and as someone who has worked with literature in many capacities (paid jobs, internships, volunteer positions…) sometimes the last thing I want to do after I finish writing an essay on the similarities between Pinocchio and The Aeneid (of which there are many); after a day of reading poorly written manuscripts; or after writing book reviews for my relatively unpopular blog, is spend my remaining hours of leisure time reading a book.

It’s a paradox. The people who love books the most tend to work with books all day. It can’t just be me who, after a long day (and a long week, a long month, a long year, a long SIX YEARS) of working with books can sometimes feel like reading is a chore. I had a Russian literature professor once tell our class that many of the literary theorists he knew, who had been avid readers in their youth, now despised reading for fun. This might have been hyperbole on his part, but you get the point.

I used to be a hungry reader, racing through books voraciously. As soon as I had devoured one I would be on to the next. Now, I schedule my leisurely reading into the end of my day. And sometimes, I would rather watch another episode of whatever happens to be on Netflix than pick up my book. While I used to speed through particularly engrossing books in the matter of a day, now it sometimes takes me weeks to get through a single novel. I read in snatches on the subway while I try to ignore the woman clipping her nails in the seat across from me. I read in bed with half closed eyes, making it through about five pages before I get so tired that I close the book, usually forgetting to use a bookmark before it’s too late. I begin to read and immediately get interrupted by a text message; probably an inane text message, but it’s still enough to distract me completely.

Sometimes reading is a chore. Sometimes I go for days without picking up a book. But then, eventually, I come across a book so special that I am forced to read like I did as a child: ferociously, frantically, passionately. How many pages can I read before work? No, I can’t come out tonight, I’m just getting to a good part. My neglected laptop screen’s dimming light counts the unanswered Facebook messages, until its artificial glow goes out completely and, without looking up, I fumble for the lamp chord. This is when I remember that no matter how many dull essays I plod through, no matter how many boring work days full of other people’s literary preferences I endure, and no matter how many times my cellphone vibrates, there is always a book out there waiting for me to devour it. With the right book, reading is never a chore.

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