How I Rediscovered My Love Of Reading

During my childhood I was an avid reader, my mum jokes that as soon as I learnt how to read I would be found most often sat silently in a corner engrossed in a book. I have never been talkative, throughout my life I have shied away from social occasions, so where other people found solace or comfort in talking to others and meeting-up with people, I have always found my peace of mind in books. However, studying English in Higher Education really slashed my enthusiasm for reading. The magic of novels was decimated when we analysed their words to death in English lessons and plots were reduced to the tools used by authors to further their own messages. My teachers passed around hand-outs on the books we were reading as if they were maths equations that could be taken apart and looked at coldly like cogs in a machine.

Then I began to worry about what kind of books I should be reading outside of class. I would pick-up books in shops with a sense of excitement only to reluctantly place them back on their shelves because I resolved that these were not the kinds of books my teachers would approve of. I saw books through the eyes of my teachers and was sad to think that they would probably laugh scornfully at me for reading popular fiction rather than classics. Then, when it came to actually reading books outside of the classroom, I found that I could not enjoy them the same way I did when I was a child. When I was younger I read for the fun of it, because it was my time which could not be dictated by anyone else, I could disappear into stories and in my head there would live copious amounts of make-believe settings and scenarios which were generated by the books I read. However, studying English made me feel like I wasn’t doing my job properly if I wasn’t analysing books as I read them and second-guessing every other thing the author wrote. I simply could not enjoy reading or lose myself in books anymore.

Over the course of 2018 though, I have rediscovered my love of reading. I made reading a priority of mine and ensured that I left myself time to read books that had nothing to do with my University course or whatever I was studying at the time. Once I stopped agonising over what sort of books people expected me to read, I gave myself a new sense of freedom when it came to choosing books. Since then I haven’t limited myself to books which require me to read them slavishly and labour over the same paragraph multiple times to decipher its Old English meanings. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to read classics which were written in traditional English but only in small doses. I haven’t put barriers up between me and the author and their plot since I have abandoned the boring cynicism which A-Level English instilled in me that authors only construct plots so that they can slide in their own messages in the subtext, as if they are conspiratorially tricking us into a false sense of security. Nowadays I give myself over to the books I read with a sense of indulgement, I allow myself to live with the characters rather than view them sceptically from afar.

I have also discovered a new love of mine; non-fiction. When I was younger I resolutely avoided non-fiction and stood with the conviction that it must be terribly boring, like reading my science textbooks from school. I thought that the style of non-fiction would be dry and hard-going and that reading those books would feel like a chore because you could not escape into them like you could with fiction books. Again, I emphasise that I thought all of these things without actually bothering to experiment and read a non-fiction book, so I was basing these judgements on absolutely nothing. However, a family friend recommended ‘The Psychopath Test’ by Jon Ronson to me, which in hindsight could be viewed as a bit of an offensive book title to recommend, I don’t know what they were trying to imply… I eyed it across my room wearily for a few weeks before deciding to take the plunge and I loved it. I laughed my head off like a maniac throughout reading it like an addict, devouring every word hungrily, essentially unable to put the book down. That book opened new doors for me. I now refuse to limit what I read whatsoever. Whenever I feel myself forming an assumption about whether a certain book is ‘for me’ or not, I stop myself because my interests surprise me sometimes and you only grow by testing your boundaries, so reading something which seems out of character may not be such an awful thing after all.

Essentially, I am proud of myself for the progress I made with reading this year. So far I have read 16 books which have all been diverse and many of them I would never have expected myself to enjoy. Along the way I have learnt new things, laughed like a drain into Jon Ronson books and found my solace again in reading.

“A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

5 Lessons I Learned From The Harry Potter Books

1. You get out what you put into relationships

The bond Harry, Ron and Hermione share impels them to never let one another fight a battle alone or without each other’s love and support, no matter how many times they get into arguments amongst themselves. In the same way, the Order of the Phoenix and the passion they share for a common cause means that they can trust and rely on each other even in the darkest of times. Relationships based on this level of commitment stand the test of time throughout the books, in contrast to those which are founded on fear like the ones Voldermort illicits.  

2. Do not judge people on the basis of assumptions

Peter Pettigrew was one of the most cowardly, selfish and deceitful characters in the whole series yet he belonged to a house which prided itself on the values of courage and chivalry, showing that you cannot form a judgement about people on the basis of very few facts. In addition, Regulus Black was able to learn the error of his ways and die for the right cause even after coming from a family of pure-blood elitists and spending his school years in Slytherin house which cherishes ambition and cunning rather than putting morality before self-interest, supposedly. People disregarded Neville as being incompetent or a weakling, yet he was the one who managed to kill Nagini, the snake, in the end. People also scorned Luna for her eccentricities and constantly undermined her intellect, yet she was one of the most dedicated and effective members of Dumbledore’s Army.

3. Money and status can leave you hollow

The Malfoys begin the stories as a family with an immense amount of influence, status and wealth which they direct from their lavish mansion. Yet, Draco’s insecurity is immediately evident as he resorts to being the school bully to maintain his status. Later, the Malfoy family becomes fractured by the weight of their immoral and dark choices, leading Draco to spiral into a deep well of sadness. On the other hand, the Weasleys are characterised by their warmth, love and likability despite the fact that they are always under financial pressure and struggling to produce enough money for their family. Arthur and Molly raise their children with the highest amount of care and nourishment anyone could give and prove that they do not need the sort of resources which the Malfoys have at their disposal to be a happy family.

4. Every being deserves respect

The magical creatures are very loyal to those who show them respect and those who do not inevitably suffer the consequences. It is often the coldest and most unhappy characters who show no consideration for the magical creatures whilst it is the warmest characters who do. Hippogriffs for example respond with great loyalty and kindness to those who show them respect in the form of a deep bow. The Harry Potter books show that approaching animals with kindness and openness makes all the difference in your interaction with them.

5. Those who are happy in themselves lift others up

Throughout the books, it is the most unhappy characters who seek to undermine and bring others down, such as the Malfoys who scorn muggle-borns, muggle sympathisers and those who are not wealthy. The Dursleys are also immensely cruel to Harry because they feel threatened by his magical talent and they cannot stand being usurped in their status. In contrast, Hagrid’s happy and optimistic demeanour lifts those around him up and he is a consistently comforting sight to Harry, Hermione and Ron.

‘You sort of start thinking anything is possible if you’ve got enough nerve.’ – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

5 TIPS FOR THE SLEEP DEPRIVED…

I am one of those people who really struggle with getting enough sleep. Every night, I lay in bed for hours waiting to fall asleep, I wake-up multiple times, toss and turn and then I wake-up in the morning feeling the opposite of refreshed. As with lots of people, this problem becomes a lot worse when high levels of stress are thrown into the mix as I cannot stop my mind from buzzing during the night and jumping from problem to problem which I feel like I have to fix right there and then, even if the situation is out of my control. My University exams are quickly approaching and I approach this period with a sense of dread that I will be a walking zombie throughout it because I will only manage to grab a few hours of sleep here and there. So here are five tips which I have been given along the way during my trials and tribulations with poor sleep which I have found really help if I actively discipline myself to act upon them rather than reverting to my own bad habits…

1) Do not go to bed earlier than you usually would

This may seem counter-intuitive because your mind tells you that if you are going through a period in which you are not sleeping well then you should go to bed an hour or two early to counteract your lost sleep. However, often your body-clock will not agree. Your body gets used to the time that you usually go to bed and settle down for the night and so even if you feel that you are tired enough to go to sleep your body may well resist you. Then you might start a snowballing feeling of frustration as you toss and turn in bed for longer than necessary and get yourself annoyed rather than relaxed which is obviously what you need to drop-off during the night.

2) Read for a bit

When you get into bed, don’t instantly try to fall asleep, give your body and mind time to relax and switch-off instead. Personally, I find reading very therapeutic especially if I am reading from a physical book rather than a device like a kindle. You do not have to work your way through masses of pages or delve into a heavy-going classical literary masterpiece, this shouldn’t feel like school homework or a burden in your evening. Instead, pick a book you find genuinely interesting and hopefully you will find yourself getting so lost in the words of the book that anything weighing your mind down will disappear.

3) Jot down a list of your worries

If stress is what is restricting your sleep then roughly jot down a list of bullet points about whatever is occupying your mind. Any thoughts that occur to you, just scribble them down and do not worry about writing in flowing prose or making grammatical sense, this is purely an exercise to relieve your mind of the issues which are bouncing around inside it, demanding your immediate attention and distracting you from falling asleep. Once you have written them down make a conscious decision to leave the issues until the morning and give your brain the chance to refuel and recharge during the night so that you can tackle them the next day.

4) Do yoga or stretch of an evening

Especially if you spend your days huddled over a desk or scrunched up around your laptop screen, your body develops a lot of tension during the day which can be another thing which weighs your mind down as well as making you feel uncomfortable. So, of an evening try to do a few stretches or, if you’re into yoga, roll out your mat and get to doing a quick twenty minutes of yoga to relieve your muscles of their tightness. Whilst you are doing this, focus on your breathing so that you give your mind a break from being occupied by stressful thoughts. This is also beneficial because it will boost your sense of accomplishment of what you have managed to do during your day if you can incorporate an exercise such as stretching or yoga which are both good for your wellbeing.

5) Do not clock check

I am awful at taking my own advice on this one! When I am lying bed waiting to fall asleep, my head pops up every ten minutes or so to check the time and I mentally calculate how much sleep I am losing and how long it is until I have to get-up in the morning. It is blatantly obvious that this is unhelpful. Constantly looking around at your clock is only going to build a sense of frustration and annoyance in you, as well as anxiety about the sleep you’re missing out on. In the end, checking the clock only makes you ruminate harder on your sleep problems which has the adverse effect of making them worse.

STRIKE!

The breakthrough moment in my first year of Uni has been my lecturers striking.

Every one of my tutors are on strike at the moment and they will be for quite a long time to come. Whilst everyone else has been raging about it, whatever their opinion on the industrial action itself, I have had something close to an epiphany! For the first time in this whole academic year I have been proactive in my own studying, I have taken the initiative and decided to do all of the suggested reading because finally I feel like this degree is my responsibility, it is up to me whether I am going to be bothered or not to make a go of this.

Previously when I have been at Uni, I have done the bare minimum of work, just enough to scrape past and have a vague understanding of the syllabus. And it has been miserable. I have hated being the half-arsed student in the corner of the seminar room who is pretending to be aloof and above the whole situation when really the depression inside me was eating me up from the inside out. Finally I have instigated an actual interest in the work I am doing. I purposely start each day with the intention of finding something positive in the work I am doing, making the best of things even when a certain week’s topic may not be to my liking.

This is all down to the strike. Being left on my own to teach myself everything has been a revelation. Without the stress of having to go to seminars and the anxiety about sitting in a lecture hall, I have been able to breathe freely again and engage with my education because I choose to, not because otherwise I might be asked a question in my seminar and be completely stumped for the answer.

There has been a lot of anger and frustration surrounding this strike. Many students, whilst supporting the industrial action, have been annoyed that they are missing out on an educational experience that they have paid dearly for. However, for me, this strike has been my saving grace and I only hope that I can keep-up the momentum…

 

WHAT SCHOOL RUINED…

When did life stop being about romance novels set in idyllic cottages in the English countryside? When did I stop curling up with a bookend reading for fun without the pressure to analyse every piece of grammar?

Reading books used to be about fun for me. I could escape into someone else’s story, dream about them and pretend to inhabit their world. My imagination would be set alight by the endless possibilities of different endings and ideas for sequels so that I could keep that world alive. I would feel at my most safe when I was huddled under blanket knowing that I didn’t even have to move from the sofa for the rest of the afternoon if I didn’t want to, I could just sit in peace and read.

I devoured books quickly because I was hungry for that spark of magic that they held. I couldn’t savour them for long as quickly passed onto the next one that was sure to pull my into its own world. In this way, I had one corner of my life that was reserved purely for happiness and adventure through books.

I think I have lost these feelings though somewhere. I think I left them behind when I became desperate to prove myself to be an academic and someone who had an insight into pieces of text because I relied on my academic ability to feel like I had any self-worth. I stopped looking at books as magic portal keys into a different world and instead saw them as an opponent I had to face and conquer; something that wasn’t to be enjoyed but to be pulled apart and critiqued through the voice and eyes of someone else. I wrote long essays on books using opinions that weren’t true to me but what I thought would impress my teachers. I lost any passion for literature because if I read a book that wasn’t a Classic or prestigious I had the voice of a snooty academic in the back of my head telling me that was reading an unoriginal piece of commercial writing.

I realise now what a mistake it was for me to give into this voice. Reading made me happy and by giving in to people who felt that they had the right to lecture me on what was good and bad was ridiculous. If I get a sense of enjoyment out of book then I can think that it is good. It doesn’t matter that I am 18 and I still hunger to pore through the shelves of YA fiction in Waterstones, why can’t I give into that impulse if it makes me happy? Books don’t have to be micro-analysed. They can be if that is what you are using it for but primarily surely they are there to engage with the reader in whatever way they can. Also, I’m pretty sure authors wouldn’t be happy with teachers telling pupils what they should and shouldn’t think and feel in relation to their book. Books are made to be enjoyed, not for a teacher to force it down someone’s throat.