In an effort to make good on the plans I had last year to make this a more active place on the internet and somehow manage to create shorter, more frequent posts I am sitting here looking at the 47 things I have written down to write about. This is the oldest one and one that keeps coming back to annoy me. The phrase “reading for pleasure.”
I’ve heard this phrase all my life, but something about hearing it last year finally stuck with me in a way I can’t shake. I am fully aware that what I am about to say isn’t a universal truth, but I want to try and work back to why it’s a terrible phrase, on par with “guilty pleasure.” For one, we should never feel guilt, either through ourselves or the shaming from others, for enjoying something we enjoy (I am specifically talking about media in this case so other arguments can go elsewhere).
Growing up in a family of readers, I never hated to read. I thought it was because we just all loved books. Then a couple years ago I realized we all read for the same escapist reasons. That doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. Or fun. It just means I’m examining more parts of my life that I just thought “were.”
There was this meme…
I saw a meme that said something like “‘reading for pleasure’ suggests there is ‘reading for pain'” and someone said “have you ever heard of grad school?” and I think that is the point where it solidified the annoyance.
I’ve read a lot of books I didn’t care for for a lot of classes I liked even less, but I always tried to work through them. The one thing that I did that helped me navigate a double major load of science and humanities (and actually ended up really preparing me for running exhibits) was challenging myself to figure out how to make what I was doing that I didn’t care for relevant to something I did care about. It wasn’t always easy, but it worked.
Then Came the Gutting
Then, in one class we got this paper telling us how to “gut” a book. That was the beginning of reading more and finishing less books than I had in my life. I hated it, I still hate it, and even afterI finish I will hate it. It’s stupid. The whole point is to assign more reading than you can possible physically do in order to what? Weed out? teach efficiency? Whatever.
It’s also why academic writing has to be so formulaic. If you don’t follow the formula then other people can’t gut your book when they are assigned it and it just throws the whole universe out of order.
This hatred is like an onion, or an ogre; it’s layered. As I have trudged through the final stages of writing a dissertation I have realized that the very thing I had done my entire life to get me to the point of doing this ridiculous thing I had not done in years: read. I still absolutely love my topic, though I don’t care much for writing about it in the way that is expected or in a way that meets the academician’s standards of three other people in your field reading it, so maybe that means I am close to being done. I dunno.
Reading to Impress (bleh)
Another layer is the insufferable performative claptrap when people talk about books or reading lists. Mostly people will tell you about books they read in order that you should be impressed by them. “We all wear masks, metaphorically speaking.” Right, this is why zoom backgrounds are seldom real places. Where are people’s bookshelf backgrounds filled with Clive Cussler, Anne Rice, Agatha Christie, or even Dan Brown? Even if you hate read them, someone is reading them they are consistently popular. Of course three of the four I mentioned are dead now, but you get the point.
Part of it is this weird avenue (well, more of an alley, really) I stumbled down writing my dissertation. The audience. How that audience receives and shaped culture. I’d argue that fiction has done more for the world than non fiction simply because more people have been reading it for longer, and more often. Talking to people you realize they carry bits of stories from their childhood with them to the very end. My grandfather will be 91 in May and he still talks about the first time he read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
The last time I remember reading
I’ve read exactly one novel in the last three years. It wasn’t stellar, but the premise was fun. Direct Descendent by Charles Wilson took me less than three nights of reading before bed to finish. The one thing it did was open a part of my mind that felt like it had been asleep on a long car ride. I gathers a few more books to continue the plodding and something promptly derailed it. Mostly scrolling through social media instead. I even set up a portion of this site in order to do quick reviews and even list books I’d like to read. Of which I did exactly one of over 6 months ago.
I suppose that is all to say that my goal now is to read more books this year. To be fair I have read scores of short scholastic and scholastic adjacent books to my son for bedtime which is fun and should actually count. I actually had a calendar made with the book covers of his favorite scooby doo ones we have so far. I’ll share that one here when it comes in.
More in 22? I hope so.
Until then, I am hoping for more routine in 2022 that will allow for more frequent work here and less casting thoughts off into the social media aether where it’s rarely heard and harder to fine again. With that, go read something. Make it a magazine, a comic book, young adult stuff, whatever. Read for pleasure, but I’d say less setting out with the intent that “I will find this book pleasurable” and more that “I will take pleasure in this process, of the time not on a screen or connected with anyone else, to be alone with the words, and enjoy the things that they give to my mind and my self.”
And if you haven’t checked out some of the books you loved as a kid, I suggest giving them a go. Throw some in your bag, for a short read at lunch. It’s better than scrolling. You’ll notice things you missed before and you might reconnect with the kid that read it the first time. That’s really why I hate the phrase “reading for pleasure,” because to me “reading” and “pleasure” are the same thing. It’s just “reading.”
And if you are like me and remember there being young adult stuff when you were a young adult (I was reading Jurassic Park in seventh grade and just stayed with things like that from there), there are some interesting ones I have seen come up while searching for more books for my son that I fully intend to read soon. Maybe even this year. It might even be what some call “reading for pleasure.”
A happy and healthy 2022 to you all out there!