I never, under any circumstances, did my summer reading assignments. Ok, maybe once or twice but only if the books were extremely interesting to me and I had a pretty high bar (The Hobbit and anything by Edgar Allen Poe come to mind as works that cut).
Assigned readings during the school year were no different. I skimmed, read cliff notes, asked friends, searched the internet (although it was 2003–2007 so, nothing like it is now) — anything to avoid actually having to read a book to completion. When I think back on it, I have no idea how I managed to graduate high school.
There were a few books here and there that sparked my interest in reading and could hold my attention over the years but it was never anything correlated with a grade in English class. It was always something outside the classroom. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is probably the best example, but I read those in my own free time and did so voluntarily and with quite a bit of enthusiasm.
After a while, I just assumed (incorrectly) that I simply hated reading. It just wasn’t for me — didn’t see the appeal and never would. Paradoxically, I also held aspirations of being a writer. Imagine that, a writer who hates reading? Absurd isn’t it? Of course, now I know that the idea of me hating to read isn’t and never was true. I just hadn’t read enough of what I loved yet.
Sure, I read the obligatory book or two a year after college, maybe one or two more if I spent some time on the beach that summer. But by and large, reading wasn’t really part of my repertoire. And yet, I still had this grand idea of writing screenplays and novels floating around in my head.
Several years ago, I decided it was time to get serious about my writing. So I did what any self-respecting writer would do, I procrastinated. I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing and read it for inspiration and motivation. And I’m glad I did, it really is a tremendous resource that I cannot recommend enough.
But not too far into the On Writing section of the book, a particular line jumped off the page, slugged me right in the chest, and knocked the wind right out of me, replacing it with an existential dread I hadn’t felt since high school:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all else: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.
Ugh. Read a lot? But…I hate reading.
About a page later, King followed that up with this haymaker:
You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have the time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on the subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
Ouch. I won’t have the tools to write?
Well, it appears I may have to rethink this whole hating reading thing, huh?
Where to begin?
It was tough, at first. I tried reading the “classics” that I’d skimmed and skipped in high school. The Hemingways and Fitzgeralds, Twains and Faulkners.
But it felt like work. It was a slog to get through some of those books. The Great Gatsby is just about the shortest novel there is and still, it took me forever to finish reading it. I wasn’t enjoying myself at all and well, I was beginning to think I was just doomed.
It appeared I’d never been able to read enough to make it as a writer.
But then I thought back to those days in grade school and high school where I could, with no problem at all, absolutely lose myself inside J.K. Rowling’s wonderful world of witchcraft and wizardry. Reading didn’t feel like a slog then. It was pure bliss. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to leave Harry and Hogwarts behind. In fact, I wished it would go on forever.
If only I could find another world like that, another book that I loved so much it wouldn’t feel like work. I decided that was the key. I needed to forget about what I was supposed to read and find something, anything that piqued my interest enough to keep me turning the pages. Perhaps then I could read enough to develop the tools to be a decent writer.
So, I went searching for a book. More specifically, I went searching for junk food. I didn’t want Dickens or Dickinson. I wanted something that had mass appeal, something low-brow. That’s where I would start. I fired up my Kindle and went to the Kindle Store and searched in the Mystery/Thrillers genre and selected the number one ranked book at the time with little to no thought or care. The name escapes me now but it was an F.B.I-Serial Killer thriller set somewhere in Middle-America.
I read the whole thing in a couple of days. It was also a series, so I read the next book shortly after. And the next and the next, and soon I had finished the entire five-book series. In a matter of weeks, I’d read more books than I typically read in an entire year.
Then I moved on to horror. I figured the man who’d given such wise and actionable writing advice must write some decent stories himself and even though I didn’t fancy myself a horror fan, I decided to give The Shining a try. It was a masterpiece and started a love affair with all things Stephen King and got me into not just reading horror stories, but writing them as well.
I branched out into non-fiction, history, self-help — you name it. If I was interested in a topic, I’d find a book on it and read to my heart’s content. It seemed I had found a way in. I had developed a taste for reading. I really and truly enjoyed it. It actually became a part of my daily routine, a part of my repertoire.
But how did this happen?
Read what you love until you love to read
Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur, turned Philosopher-King, Naval Ravikant gave this advice about reading:
“And the problem is, what do I read? How do I read? Because for most people it’s a struggle, it’s a chore. So, the most important thing is just to learn how to educate yourself and the way to educate yourself is to develop a love for reading…
‘Read what you love until you love to read.’ It’s that simple.
Everybody I know who reads a lot loves to read, and they love to read because they read books that they loved. It’s a little bit of a catch-22, but you basically want to start off just reading wherever you are and then keep building up from there until reading becomes a habit. And then eventually, you will just get bored with the simple stuff.
So you may start off reading fiction, then you might graduate to science fiction, then you may graduate to non-fiction, then you may graduate to science, or philosophy, or mathematics or whatever it is, but take your natural path and just read the things that interest you until you kind of understand them. And then you’ll naturally move to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing.”
I had unknowingly followed this exact advice to develop my own habit and love of reading. By figuring out first what I loved to read, I was able to develop an actual, true love for something I thought I naturally hated only a few short years ago. I went from four or five books a year to about fifteen. Then from fifteen to forty. And this year I am on pace to read over fifty! Nearly a book a week.
Five or six days a week, I spend an hour or more before bed reading. It’s hard to believe, but usually, it’s the part of the day I most look forward to. I read everything from non-fiction and self-help to random, independently published horror and thriller books I find on Amazon that look or sound interesting. I can’t get enough. I buy and borrow books faster than I can read them. As I think the saying goes, too many books, not enough time.
Now, I find myself gravitating back toward the “classics” of literature and giving them another shot, and guess what? They’re not so bad after all.
In fact, I find myself really enjoying them. I just had to start somewhere else and work my way up. So, if you’re having trouble developing a real love of reading, do what I did:
Read what you love until you love to read.
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