By the time I entered high school, I had zero interest in pleasure reading anymore. Gone were the days of snuggling in bed at night and enjoying a book of choice. When I had free time, the last thing I wanted to do was read. Sayonara Stine, Cleary, and Burnett. It wasn’t that I hated reading; I hated required reading, which ultimately led to a hatred for reading in general. When homework assignments included “50 pages due tomorrow” for just about every subject except physical education, pleasure reading became a thing of the past. Although Walden, Fahrenheit 451 and a few other required pieces are among my favorite still today, it wasn’t until my AP Lit teacher assigned Angela’s Ashes my senior year that I realized how much I missed newer fiction, but not enough to change my mind about pleasure reading. After all, it was all still forced, required reading that had assignments, essays, and grades attached to it all. Blah.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college. I lived with my best friend Kristy who was a reading nut. I had a lot of trouble sleeping and she recommended I start reading before bed. (Perhaps AOL messenger wasn’t the best bedtime habit?) Nope. Wasn’t interested. I was reading way too much for school as it was. In addition to required college texts, we had to read every newspaper out there in case there were pop quizzes on AP style, current news, world events, etc. Pleasure reading? It didn’t exist anymore. Reading had become synonymous with work. But my roommate was committed. Give it a go, she said. The best part, in her words, was that there was no hurry, no schedule, and I could pick the book up whenever I wanted and take as long as needed to read it.
She started me with one of her favorites: I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb, a short 900-page novel. She might as well have given me the bible to start off with – what was she thinking?
Falling back in love
It worked. Domenick and Tom Birdsey and the history of their grandfather, Italian-born Domenico Tempesta, sucked me in. After a seven-year hiatus, I fell back in love with reading again at the age of 20. What a joy.
Now I’m 40 years old, and last night I finished We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. With 150 pages left, I picked the book up at 1am with the intent to read until I got sleepy. With pleasure reading, you can read when and if you want. No assignments, no essays, no deadlines. With pleasure reading, you can read books that bring you joy. Books that make your heart melt. You can read books that make you turn pages faster than your eyes can keep up.
At 3am, I finished the book. I thought about I Know This Much Is True. I thought about my best friend, Kristy, who left Wally Lamb on my college nightstand 20 years ago and how many books I’ve read for pleasure since then. I thought about the Birdsey twins.
In March 2020 when this pandemic started, I loaded up on books. I go back and forth between historical fiction, award-winning memoirs, and psychological thrillers. I read The Silent Patient in two nights. I’ve read four books set in World World II and have loved every single one of them. Some have taken me a month or two. Others have taken me a week. That’s the beauty: it doesn’t matter how long it takes. I read when I want for as long as I want. If I don’t dig the book, I put it down and start something else. There is no required essay or grade.
Always keep a free book nearby
Even though my nieces and nephews are at the age I was when I stopped pleasure reading, I encourage them to find subjects that interest them and always keep a “free book” on their nightstand. I call it a free book because they’re free to read it whenever they want. If it takes them a year to get through it, who cares?
There is great joy in pleasure reading. Although it must be self-discovered, it doesn’t hurt to have a little push. Perhaps you can be someone’s Kristy, some author can be your Lamb, and a great character will be your Domenick. They’re worth finding.