Elementary school was an abysmal experience. I remember having to walk in straight lines, hands behind my back, on the colored tile to get from class to lunch. I remember the sour smell of instant mashed potatoes wafting out of the kitchen I knew I’d pass when I reached the cafeteria line. I don’t think anyone considers elementary school the best years of their lives, not when there’s so much more to look forward to other than quiet time enforced by a frustrated and exhausted teacher, heads leaned on the hard, cold desks with muffled snickering in the background.
One other part I remember, however, is the books. The books were my safe haven, my obsession, my hobby — in fact, the books defined most of the positive pieces of my elementary school experience. Some other students squirmed and sighed during silent reading time, but I traveled into a different world during those 15 minutes — the whimsical universe of Harry Potter, or perhaps the tricks of The Westing Game. I’d hand my finished books to my teacher and bring back new ones to my desk with the frequency of a new parent changing dirty diapers.
My feeding frenzy on books didn’t stop at school, however. My mother and I made trips to the public library every other week, toting a massive bag usually reserved for carrying groceries. I’d clear small sections of shelves, feeling slightly guilty after taking home entire series. It didn’t matter how full the bag got; we’d be back soon and fill it until we had to carry it together, each holding a strap to avoid straining a muscle on our way to the car.
“Then childhood wonder and excitement ended, and so did my great era of reading. As I made my way through the murky waters of adolescence in middle and high school, I left books behind somewhere.”
Sometimes I wonder how I managed to finish five or more books per week, but then I remember just how fixated I was on my hobby. I took my reading everywhere — in the car; in the grocery store; in the bathroom, propped flat with a hair brush while I brushed my teeth.
Then childhood wonder and excitement ended, and so did my great era of reading. As I made my way through the murky waters of adolescence in middle and high school, I left books behind somewhere. Suddenly someone who read as much as me was a nerd or a loner. I can’t say exactly when I stopped reading, just that there was a definite switch from books to any other type of entertainment. Netflix and social media were endless pits of consuming content which allowed me to burrow deeper and deeper in a way books couldn’t. Why should I take the time to place a book on hold, wait for it to be ready and sit down to flip the pages when I could turn on my phone at any time? Why should I block out time to focus on reading when I can watch a show and do homework simultaneously? I traded in my books for easy entertainment that didn’t have a start or end.
But after watching moving pictures on a screen for a couple hours too long, my head starts to pound. My neck starts to ache, and that new series I’ve been watching doesn’t seem as charming anymore. The ease of being entertained, which I once saw as a strong advantage of screens over books, proved to fill my brain with white noise and make me unproductive.
There’s a reason I think reading can be a hobby while looking at a screen cannot. Reading is indulgent, challenging — it forces one to focus solely on the text in front of them and enjoy it so much that they find time to do it again later. I can pop my ear buds in whenever I need to curb my boredom, and go about my day with noise in my ears. Television and social media are designed to be addictive; most books are designed to be enriching.
It’s almost abnormal to hear of a teenager who genuinely reads for fun nowadays. According to research published by the American Psychological Association, less than 20 % of U.S. teens report reading a book, magazine or newspaper daily for pleasure, while more than 80 percent say they use social media every day. While it’s inevitable teens will hop on the ever-growing number of social media platforms because of the dominance of digital media, that doesn’t mean we have to abandon traditional media altogether.
“I didn’t realize I missed reading until very recently. I missed the joy it gave me back in elementary school and how much I learned about words and complex feelings and growing up.”
I didn’t realize I missed reading until very recently. I missed the joy it gave me back in elementary school and how much I learned about words and complex feelings and growing up. I wanted to make a change and bring back into my life what meant so much to me before, so I made it a goal to always have a book on hand. It didn’t have to be some kind of complex Communist theory text; YA romance novels still count as reading, and it’s completely okay to enjoy these stories. Through this small goal of mine, I’ve rediscovered a joy that was once so effortless. It’s a work in progress, but as I make my way through more and more books, I feel myself falling completely and totally back in love with reading.
What are your favorite books? Let us know in the comments below.