If you don’t read, reading can be terrifying.
So, as teachers, I think we can do a lot worse than telling students a few truths about reading. And here they are.
Reading is Hard.
Sometimes, you just don’t feel like it. Your mind won’t focus on the words on the page, instead preferring to contemplate more important things like dinner and that thing that Casey said to Stacey about Tom kissing Lacey. This is normal. Accept it. Sometimes, the things that some bloke or woman you’ve never met before once wrote just aren’t as important as the things going on in your life right now. However, it might do you some good to escape from those things for a bit. So, push on. Set yourself a time goal: I will read for 30 minutes, regardless of whatever vandalic thoughts are trying to break into my brain.
Books aren’t always great, right away.
Don’t expect books to be mind-blowingly exciting right from the off. Sometimes, they just aren’t. Like your favourite TV show, or a new fitness regime, I always recommend ‘giving it three.’ Not three episodes or three weeks, but three chapters. Read the first three chapters and then see how you feel. I’d suspect that, after reading three chapters, you’ll find yourself invested in the plight of the characters you’ve encountered. And you’ll want to carry on. If not? Well, I’m just getting to that…
You don’t have to finish a book.
Life’s too short. If you’re halfway through a book and you’re really not enjoying it, you need to consider this: will finishing the book leave you with a lasting sense of accomplishment that outweighs the drudgery of the actual reading experience? If the answer is ‘no’ then ditch the book and find another. There are lots around!
It’s okay to forget
Great books often have a multitudinous range of characters, settings, and plots. Great books are also often long which renders them impossible to finish in one sitting. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on perspective) the human memory is a complex thing and sometimes you’ll return to a book and realise you’ve forgotten an important aspect of one of the characters. Or, you can’t remember an important plot twist. Or, you can’t remember how the protagonist found himself free-falling through the sky with only a plastic carrier bag to use as a parachute. Forgetting is fine; it doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ reader. Just do what all good readers do: flick back through and re-read. It’s annoying, and time-consuming, but so is life. Deal with it.
Not understanding doesn’t mean you are stupid.
Charles Dickens loves to make me feel stupid. I’ve been reading ‘Bleak House’ for what seems like an eternity. The thing is, at times I just don’t have a clue what’s going on. And that makes me feel stupid. But, I’m starting to realise something: sometimes, when I read Dickens, I have absolutely no doubt as to what’s happening- it’s clear as day. And actually, the bits where I have no clue as to what’s happening are the bits where Dickens has made things really confusing: he’s addedmore characters than are necessary; he’s used a periodic sentence that is so long-winded ive forgotten it’s original purpose; or, he’s used words that were surely archaic even in the 19th century. I now see Charles Dickens for the writer he truly is: at times a genius; at others, really rubbish. One might reasonably argue that a writer’s job is to make things as clear as possible for the reader. So, just because you don’t understand something you’re reading, don’t immediately declare yourself ‘rubbish at reading’; perhaps, your author is just being a bit rubbish at writing.