Tonight, for the first time in years, I was genuinely giddy about reading a book.
From the desk of a literature major, this statement could be interpreted as a commentary on the sad state of the American education system (or perhaps an indication that I had a chosen the wrong course of study). But the reality is a bit more complicated.
Some days, I feel that adulthood (or at least my approximation of it) has sapped my enthusiasm for reading. Gone are the days of loitering at the scholastic book fair with my classmates until our teacher lost her patience. Climbing into bed in flannel pajamas to read Jane Eyre under the stark glow of my bedside lamp feels like a memory from a past life. Tucking my knees under my chin as I listened to my Dad read aloud from Moby Dick now sounds like I cribbed the memory from a quaint novel.
Reading has now become a dutiful nightly task. A chore in my ongoing quest for societal validation. I approach reading now as a parishioner might approach the lectern to recite a chosen verse—as a matter of duty rather than a personal pleasure.
As I scroll back through the last few years of my life, I struggle to pinpoint the moment this reversal occurred. I suspect it happened sometime around the age of 14, when I entered high school. I stopped reading for myself, and started reading to craft an image of myself in the minds of others. I perceived myself as an Austenian heroine—literary, witty, and, of course, noticeably superior to every one around me.
I read and spoke and reasoned for my classmates, my friends, my family—with little regard for my own enjoyment or my own interests. I was Pygmalion and Galatea, the sculptor and the sculpted. I strove to be impressive in all things. Or rather, I strove to impress, the substance irrelevant. Look, now! I am doing it again! And yet there is no one here to impress!
Yes, exactly. No one here to impress. I write entirely for myself now. There is no one looking over my shoulder. No wire-rimmed professor gnawing a pen over my prose.
And I’ll tell you (you, the amorphous you, who are you?) why. I finally return to the book that inspired this rumination. The one that made me giddy? You remember.
It was a children’s book. A book that holds no pretentions—that exists purely for the joy of reading. A joy that had become so elusive to me is now in my grasp (it wriggles, but I hold it steady). I am smiling—the pages flip by and I do not count them. I wish there were more, in fact.
This spurred a realization: I am not content to live a life made just for pictures or a social media highlight reel. I want to embrace my passions and interests, regardless of what everyone around me is doing. I don’t want to think in terms of résumé builders or keeping up with the Joneses. I want to recapture the mindset of childhood me. I will regain the flush of discovery, the unselfconscious enjoyment of books and movies made for delighting, not dissecting.
I will be shamelessly childish.