Observations of a Flawed Reader
I talk about having “reader’s block” like I’ve invented something new, but the internet is way ahead of me. The New York Times, Mental Floss, and Barnes & Noble have covered plenty of ground, leaving me feeling kind of silly. Evidently, reader’s block is more common than I thought and manifests differently depending who you are. Personally, mine doesn’t stop me from reading at all. I read early morning emails, campaign briefs, headlines that make me want to punch my phone, recipes for spiced pumpkin cake, and more Instagram stories than I can count. But there’s a difference between reading ordinary words and reading literature. My reader’s block keeps me from doing the latter.
It hasn’t always been this way. As the daughter of a librarian, I grew up surrounded by piles of books. Reading and writing was a daily activity. There’s even a home video of my five-year-old self staring directly into the camera, proclaiming loudly that I wanted to be a writer. By the time I reached college I had shifted my focus onto journalism, which later morphed into copywriting. My relationship to literature and writing has evolved over time, but it’s safe to say that the written word has always played a crucial role in my childhood and everything thereafter. From The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo to Coraline by Neil Gaiman to Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein all the way through my recent years of science fiction, philosophy, and feminist classics, I can say with full certainty that I love books (something you’re probably relieved to hear from an editor of a literary magazine).
So what exactly is the problem, you might be wondering. Why is this person whining about not being able to read like she used to? I promise, there’s a larger point.
At the end of the day, I can choose to read for fifteen minutes or I can turn my lamp off and go to bed. And even though I genuinely enjoy reading, I almost always choose sleep. That’s probably because I’ve already released endorphins carrying out other daily rituals like baking or texting or having full conversations with my cat. This makes me realize that the 9 to 5 career lifestyle I’ve chosen has my body on a Tamagotchi-like schedule. Feed me, clean me, and keep me content. Nobody has ever needed to give their Tamagotchi a book to keep them alive.
Why do I continue to push away an activity that brings me joy? I suspect the culprit is hiding in plain sight: television. In an opinion piece for Chicago Tribune called “Reading books vs watching TV—is one really better for us?” writer Diana Wagman says:
Reading is active; watching TV is passive. The act of physically turning a page creates a momentary pause for understanding to sink in. Our brains have to work to translate the black squiggles on the page into words and then interpret the meaning and intent of those words...TV takes all that imagination away.
The sentiment that reading takes more brain work resonates with me. As TV consumers, our only chance at imagination is when the series or film ends, and we want to envision that the characters' lives go on even after the screen goes black. When we read, we have the ability to imagine a scene based off of our individual lived experience. I cringe at the thought that reading has started to feel like extra work, but there’s an obvious truth in the matter: for many of us, the choice to watch television over reading a book isn’t a protest against reading, but a surrender to our inner exhaustion. At the end of a long day, no matter how much we hate to admit it, many of us enjoy pastimes that require minimal effort. This feeds into the illusion that productivity should be rewarded with mindlessness rather than creativity. (Is it possible to be creative while watching TV? I won’t entirely reject the idea, but I’m skeptical.)
Luckily, reader’s block can be corrected with a simple shift in perspective. What we need is to reimagine the role reading plays in our lives. It’s not necessarily just a hobby. It’s an essential tool for growth and learning. Reading is like talking to someone new and mysterious at a party, which is often difficult, especially if you possess any amount of social anxiety. But then you start to get comfortable. You listen deeply, and you ask questions. Before you know it, the party is over, and you’re leaving with a fresh new perspective, idea, or anecdote about life. In this way, reading becomes less of a pastime and more of a quest to learn about humanity in all of its complex and captivating forms.
I sense my reader’s block coming to an end soon, but I still have one more thing to fix: my privilege, as it relates to reading. For some reason, I can’t settle into a good book nowadays without my soy candle flickering and my wine glass full. It’s almost as if I’ve glamourized the idea of reading and started to care more about what reading looks or feels like than the reading itself. I see this as an issue of privilege because as a (fairly) financially stable person with the means to create comfort all around me, I’ve somehow found a way to place a luxury label on a very universal, all-encompassing activity. And while reading truly is a luxury for some people—those who can’t afford books, who don’t have access to a library, or who work multiple jobs to support a household—I hope we can return to the simple idea that reading should be for everyone. The next time I open a book, whether it’s on my apartment sofa or in between meetings, I’ll try to remember that I don’t need a soy candle and wine to enjoy myself. My imagination alone will do just fine. Besides, having the time and space to pick up a book in the first place feels quite remarkable.
Don’t get me wrong, I love cozy-Sunday-sipping-oolong-tea-reading-Virginia-Woolf vibes just as much as the next person, but it’s important to focus on the significance of that stack of pages in your grasp—when you read, you’re literally holding someone’s story. Their mind and heart and pain and pleasure are tightly bound together, sitting in front of you. In surrendering oneself to someone’s story, we aren’t just readers but listeners, too. In a world (and a country) where not every voice is granted the same freedoms, to read black authors, trans authors, and disabled authors is to support long-overdue diversification and equity.
It is with this attitude that I’ll approach The Giving Room Review’s submission process. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of our attention than BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, and women-identifying creators. I look forward to kicking my reader’s block to the curb and returning to my literary roots. Without them, I’d be jobless and joyless.
About the Author
Kelly enjoys drinking cold coffee in warm rooms. Her profession in creative advertising has taken her from upstate New York to Brooklyn to Kansas City, but she draws most of her inspiration from the hidden towns and abandoned nooks and crannies she’s found along the way. Lately, you’ll find her reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably experimenting with a new recipe, listening to a political podcast or camping.
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