Do you read books?
My 12-year struggle with reading
Visit my childhood home and the first thing you’ll see is books. Tightly-packed shelves with titles that wouldn’t fit piled high on top, plastic box towers of paperbacks rescued from the great Bangkok floods of 2011. And these aren’t the half of it. More boxes await to greet you in storage and dad’s disused dental clinic, now home to all that our house doesn’t have room for.
I remember reading all the time growing up. I read lying on the cold tiled floor, while eating, at night under the dim light of the bedside lamp. I began with children’s books that had been translated into Thai—Enid Blyton was a favourite. Once older, I switched to reading in English. Harry Potter was my first, then more challenging titles like The Lord of the Rings—my effort to finish the trilogy perhaps rivaling Frodo’s as he traversed Middle-earth.
I read classics—Roald Dahl, Black Beauty, A Little Princess. I devoured young adult fiction—all of The Princess Diaries—before graduating to chick flicks—The Shopaholic Series, Bridget Jones’s Diary. When I went to high school in the UK, I began reading more nonfiction—The Undercover Economist sparked a love affair with economics that would last until today, Metamagical Themas dazzled me with its brilliance, various philosophy books introduced me to a dizzying array of questions I’d never thought to ask.
Then I started university and stopped reading.
The fallow year
As soon as I was required to read stacks of academic papers for my humanities degree, I lost interest in reading everything else. At first I didn’t notice—I was busy reading for university. But after a while, I realised I didn’t remember the last time I’d picked up a book for pleasure.
The realisation shook me. All my life, I’d seen myself as a bookworm and was proud of it. Now that I was no longer reading for pleasure, I found myself in an existential crisis. Without books, who was I?
In my second year of university, I decided this situation could not continue—I wanted to be a bookworm again. So I forced myself to read and started writing down the titles of books I’d finished, hoping the list would reinforce the habit. The first book in the list was Zamyatin’s dystopian novel We. I remember neither its content nor whether I enjoyed it.
Today, there are exactly 200 books in that list spanning 12 years. The number hides a struggle that, several times, came close to destroying my love for reading.
Love for reading?
For 12 years, I’ve been forcing myself to read with varying levels of effort required. Some years I whizzed through several books a month, some years had months-long gaps. In a year, I could swing multiple times between loving and not loving reading.
Then, just a month ago, I had an epiphany. I don’t love reading—I love good books. I love being immersed in a story—the world disappearing as I become one with the characters, the narratives being told. I love surprising turns of phrase—they never fail to put a smile on my face. I love books that, as soon as I put them down, beckon me back.
For 12 years, I thought I’d fallen out of love with reading. When I’ve simply become harder to please. As a child, I loved all the books I read. As a teen, I loved most of them—if not for the quality of the writing, then for the new ideas they introduced. The more I approached adulthood, the less time and patience I had, and I began to demand more from my books. It was no longer enough for a nonfiction to present new ideas—it also had to be engaging; no longer enough for a fiction to have an interesting arc—it had to swallow me whole.
All this time, I thought I was having a problem with the act of reading, when in fact my quarrel was with the books I’d chosen to read. Whenever I had a string of good books, I loved reading. When I had a string of bad ones, I didn’t.
What do you think?
I recently finished Circe and On Writing Well, and am halfway through The Overstory—excellent books that have put me squarely in the “I love reading” phase. Yesterday, I started reading Out of Africa, and it’s looking promising so far.
Do you read books?
Do you love reading or, like me, good books? Which phase are you in? Are you a bookworm or would you not touch a book with a bargepole? Send a reply, leave a comment, share this with someone who wants to read more so they know they’re not alone in their struggle.
Until next Friday… Stay thoughtful,
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash
When I was young around ages 9-15, I really loved reading all kinds of books, especially comics and novels 🤣. But when I was in high schools, I read only comics. Then I was no longer a reader. I read just a few super natural fictions in Thai. I love fictions. I can say I stoped reading for awhile, wasted my time to be with friends or slide my phone.
In the past few years, I started reading again with non-fiction. It is hard until now. At the beginning of turning myself to read more, it’s hard because I was too lazy to focus and just wanted to slide my phones. After that, when I finished the first book, I was hungry to read more. For some book, I can spend all night. But some book, it is hard to continue so I just leave it, and tell myself to get back later. I think, I’m just not interested in its content.
Now, I find it easy to start and continue, because I got suggestions from you and others around me about which books are related to my interests.
I also lost interest in reading when I got to college. Sometimes I wish I had read more for pleasure while in college. But for the past couple years I've been reading a lot of books