In my formative years, I was an irredeemable book worm. I counted books like The Wheel of Time and Animorphs among my closest friends. I was the daredevil who walked up and down stairs with my nose in a book, the nerd who read during recess instead of playing with friends. I spent weekends curled up in bed with the latest Inkheart, and getting through all 700 pages of The Deathly Hallows in one day was the greatest achievement of my young life. With a dash of The Sims and some Funniest Home Videos on the side, books were my entire life. The worst thing that happened to me in high school—besides sleep deprivation and chronic stress and an unfortunate fashion sense that has thankfully been amended—is that I began to hate reading.
According to the Pew Internet Library, mine is not an isolated experience; statistically, fewer college aged people read books than high school aged people. And if your school was anything like mine—one that prides itself on the number of hours students spend working outside of class, one that privileges SAT scores over intellectual enrichment—you might have experienced this too. Classes containing actual fiction weren’t even the problem. In fact, English was the one place where I could escape from the monotony and stress of the rest of the day. In that short 45 minutes a day, I was home—I could disappear like I used to into the pages of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Catcher in The Rye and Oscar Wao. I was lucky to have a string of English teachers who understood the strain we all were under, and made the effort to inject some creativity and joy into our learning. In those four strenuous years, English was where I was happiest.
But there were still six other hours in the school day, not to mention an infinity of homework afterwards, and by the time senior year and college apps rolled around, I was too burnt out to do much beyond get through the day. I simply couldn’t summon the interest that I used to. Goodbye to midnights of magical worlds and crinkling pages, hello to weekends of television and video games. That is not to say that screen time is any less valid than time spent reading; even so, it felt like I had lost a close friend.
College has, in many ways, been a journey back to literature; with daily pressures relaxed and a commute erased, I’ve finally found room to breathe, and to breathe in the works I thought I’d lost. Living away from home has given me perspective on the things I love and the things that matter, and how often those two don’t completely align. In the stress of high school, it was so easy to forget the most important fact of all: that books made me who I am. The pages of my life have already been written between the covers of a thousand books. There’s no way to escape the words that Shakespeare put in my head, Fitzgerald’s rhythms and Hemingway’s valleys that shape the cadences of my mind. I see Woolf in a bouquet of flowers, Stoker in Twilight backpacks and supernatural creatures on TV. I went through a lot of angst wondering if my days as a reader had died with my childhood, and it’s been a blessing to discover that things once lost are rarely lost forever. “The road goes ever on and on,” and my return, both as a scholar and as a lover, has been bitter for the time I’ve lost; but it’s still sweet, for all the days ahead.