I’m not convinced that my to-read list is always 2394870329478 titles long (okay, about 300) because I like reading. I do like it, but I think I often feel dissatisfied with the fiction I’ve been reading, and I get bored with it easily. And my reading interests have changed greatly since I was a child, when I really did just enjoy getting lost in a book. I don’t list reading as one of my pastimes because narratives draw me in. That’s why I like television, but it’s no longer the primary reason I read.
I do still like getting lost in a good story now, but it’s not my biggest reason for reading, I think. If I look back to the point in my life when I stopped reading voraciously and just, well, read books sometimes (roughly 7th grade to freshman year of college), it came around the same time that everything in my life was frustrating and dissatisfying. To avoid talking about my angst and my mental health problems and my physical health problems, let’s just move to how it was frustrating academically. I hated school, and I hated even more the idea that everyone around me thought I loved it, just because I did well in it. If I look back at my blog posts and journal entries and yearbook messages and penpal letters from that period, I think it’s pretty clear that I was one of those gifted kids who, instead of seeking out challenges and creating her own, largely took a lack of interesting or challenging ways of getting into what she was learning as a reason to be angry and to disengage.
I don’t want to place blame, because I used to do that a lot, and it was only somewhat founded. I do think it is the job of teachers and professors to be pedagogues and to be able to identify different kinds of learners and do what they can to nurture them, and I wasn’t always offered that. But I am also a very stubborn person, so once I decide on my opinion of something, it is hard for me to be swayed. I might be very negative, but I can also get very excited and happy about things if I’m offered them. So let’s say that I took a situation where I wasn’t being offered all of what was needed, and that led me to assume that nobody was ever offering anything worthwhile.
In college I started to realize that I really enjoyed learning, and that ideas fascinated me. Friday evenings became my favorite part of the week, because I had to read documents of the most abstruse and esoteric nature, and it was challenging on that basic mental level, but it also was challenging to try and consider why I should care, or why it was relevant. While all of the classes I took for my various majors and minors felt obnoxious, asinine, or just plain way too easy, many of my general education courses actually made me excited about multimedia and interdisciplinary ways of looking at everything. I have to credit those for making me the kind of person and writer and scholar that I am today, because they are what made me interested in learning, and in ideas.
What I mean by that is that it wasn’t until then that I realized that academic subjects could have relevance outside of themselves. Either no one had ever explained to me, or it had just never occurred to me, that you could do things with literature other than analyze it through formalism, like consider its role in civil rights or institutionalized racism or patriarchy. I had never considered that science and math could be comprehensible when it had context attached to it instead of rote memorization and quizzes. I had never been offered the chance to study history as an area of humanities and not, like science and math, an area of rote memorization that made no room for creativity or criticism.
I am really curious–did you all know this, and I was just walking around in ignorance? Because when I figured this out, I became a reader again, but it was because I wanted to see how ideas connected to other ideas, and because I wanted to look at things that interested me and really understand them, all in the pursuit of having a generally happy brain and also because learning, and in a sense curating your mind to be this really great exhibit of the many disciplines, ideas, and documents that you have discovered and made meaning of, seems now to be the most pure (and most fun) act of creation. It was so exciting! Seriously, was I the only one not in on this secret? I know it sounds like a snappy quote for Simmons admissions, but it is true that I thought I was inventing the idea of getting a master’s degree in children’s literature because I had just discovered that in academia, and in life, you’re allowed to combine all of your interests and still make them acceptably academic. So, I thought, children’s books are really interesting in terms of sociology, history, culture, marketing, and psychology, among other areas, and I’d love to study them in that context, not just to write more essays on how theme is established through a repeated motif of lighthouse symbols or something. It was invigorating, but admitting that makes me feel really dumb, like I should have known that all along.
Kind of like how I always loved music but never felt totally into piano…when I found that I loved singing, it all made sense. Now I’m thinking that my desire always to be involved in writing projects and acting projects has been because I am very attached to this idea of interpretation and creation, but heutagogy (big word I found while looking around for some sort of word relating to “pedagogy” but that described learning…it’s defined as “self-determined learning” and places an emphasis on refining your actual learning skills and process, too) seems to be where I’ve found that my skills and interests combine, just like they did when I learned to drive and was able to create a personal Carnegie Hall in the car.
So that’s what I do when I read now. The advent of hyperlinking and tagging and other similar Internet-y things has been such a boon in the sense that I can read something totally random and be turned on to so many other things that then inform the ideas and concepts and theories and areas that I want to study. Obviously I’m far from being an expert in anything, but if my biographers were to look at my goodreads metadata and track it against this blog and my private journal and my Internet history, it would be pretty clear how my thought process works. If I read about something interesting, I read a couple other short things about it, and then I find the sort of larger topic or seminal work or major figure, look them up on goodreads, and add relevant works to my to-read list. It may take me ages to get to it all, and sometimes I’ve lost interest before I’ve gotten there, but for the most part this is what keeps me reading as often, as quickly, and as widely as I do now.
Though I hadn’t quite defined it yet, this is why I chose to graduate from college early. I wanted the chance to be a heutagogue, and to jump around from topic to topic whenever it suited me, and to delve deeply when I felt like it. While I didn’t have the greatest experience of my eight months off, I certainly was able to pursue many areas of interest, from neuroscience to literary theory to food to critical race studies. Not only has that (plus many other changes) made me the happiest and most comfortable with myself that I’ve felt since second grade, but I feel finally that my creativity is being utilized, and that my lingering giftedness from my childhood is being nurtured. Seriously, learning is the best. I’m glad I figured that out. I really hope other people do, too, and that they do so younger than I did. Maybe that’s why I’m sticking with library science?