My Reading Journey
An exploration of how my attitudes and habits toward reading have changed over time.
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Reading As a Child
I was a voracious reader as a child; I always had a book in my hand, and went through a book a day sometimes. In a time before I had a iPhone or even an iPod Touch, reading was always something for me to do to pass the time. Whenever I went to the library, I would browse the YA New Arrivals section and check out four to eight books at a time. I was reading so much that sometimes it was more of a pain to record what I was reading. One way this manifested was when in elementary and middle school, we had to do reading logs. You had to write the authors name, the title of the book, and then either the number of pages that you read, or the amount of time that you read the book, depending on the reading log template that the teacher was using. I couldn’t have cared less about filling in my reading log, so I would just take the books that I had already read that week and make up some random start and stop page numbers so I didn’t actually have to fill it out as I read. The worst was that sometimes they would want notes about these pages, so I would have to make stuff up on the fly because I would always be filling out this reading logs right before I got onto the bus for school. The same kind of thing happened with the summer reading challenge that my county library system would put on every year. You would log the amount of minutes that you read and then there would be reward tiers or you would be entered in for a prize drawing or something like that. I think that these kind of programs are geared toward creating incentives for kids who weren’t gonna read as much. However, I’m not sure how effective they are, and I’m not the only one who feels this way, and I hope that reading logs are no longer being used by teachers (I still stand by the idea of a summer reading challenge though).
I was really into YA books, sci-fi and fantasy mostly. To this day I mostly stick to those genres because I really love power/magic systems, training/education arcs, and quality world building. I think the reason that I stopped reading YA as much was one because I grew older and grew tired of how trope-y YA had become, but also because I could get my fix of these stories in other media, anime/manga in particular. I think that those kinds of stories really mesh well with sci-fi and fantasy stories that are very prevalent in the animanga space, and then in the Webtoon/manhwa space as a result of influence.
I remember my mom saying that the musical artist Lorde (whom I love) had read over 500 books and that she was very literate, and I thought to myself, “Psh, I’ve definitely read over 500 books in my life; that’s nothing special.” I’m not sure if that was childish naïveté or confidence in myself, but I never really verified this figure. Recently, I attempted to verify this figure, with mixed results. I created a Goodreads account, and I was able to remember ~150 books that I had read, but at a certain point I realized that I just didn’t even really remember what books I had read. However, even if I forgot half the books I’ve ever read, I still am not at the 500 mark, so I’ll have to concede to Lorde, just this once.
A Reading Hiatus
As is the story with a lot of people, there came a time where I was too burned out from school to really want to read outside of school. Advanced English classes made us read and write essays on books, which was fine, but my least favorite activity was annotating books. I don’t consider myself a very deep reader, the words may jostle ideas in my brains which I will think on later, but I’m not someone who is always analyzing what the author really means. Then we would have minimum amounts of annotations that we would have to write every week and get them checked by the teacher for quality and it just didn’t really strike me as a good use of anyones time, but I imagine it was just a good way to evaluate kids understanding of the texts they were reading as any. I read lightly for fun in high school, and then throughout college I didn’t really read much outside of class. However, I never forgot my roots and always stayed in touch with reading by watching BookTube or BookTok.
However in college I slowly got into Webtoons/Manhwa (Lore Olympus, Tower of God, Let’s Play, etc.), which are Korean/Korean-inspired full-color vertically scrolling graphic novels that are serialized and usually published on a chapter-by-chapter basis weekly. At first I still thought myself to be on a reading hiatus while reading these graphic novels because I had to untangle my prejudices toward the fact that I first thought that reading graphic novels wasn’t “real” reading. I know that discourse is always raging, especially with audiobooks too. I don’t do audiobooks but that’s only because I don’t really pay much attention to audio, like when I listen to music oftentimes I’m not even listening to the lyrical content, or when I listen to podcasts, its on YouTube where I can see the people speaking as well.
Upon further reflection I think a big reason that I shifted more to visual media like graphic novels or anime was because I have what I call “mild aphantasia”. Aphantasia is the medical condition where you do not think in images/cannot visualize things. I don’t remember the exact time I learned about this, but I remember having a conversation with another friend who is also a big book nerd about why we love reading. Her answer was that it’s the best when the movie in her mind is going at full blast and it’s barely like she’s reading a book anymore. To which my response was, “Huh?” I had never imagined anything when reading books, so it always boggled my mind when people talked about movie actors not lining up with how they imagined the characters in their own mind. I guess I always figured that people were taking in a more figurative than literal sense.
I didn’t think about this conversation much after we had it except when I came across a graphic that initially made its way through Reddit on Twitter when someone I follow had retweeted it.
I was astounded to see that people were at a 1 when I was somewhere between a 4 or 5. I have some kind of flash of mental imagery when I think of something, but it doesn’t stay there and it’s not really in color I would say. Nothing like a movie or image like other people say. I think this is related to why my autobiographical memory (events, specially about yourself) was so shoddy. I think my episodic memory (events) is pretty bad as well, but I think that they can be encoded as facts, or you can remember the dialogue of discussing the memory, most memories are meta like that anyway (also retrieval degrades memory accuracy!) I think the fact that I don’t have rich visual recall when I access memories means that I have less incentive to recall those memories, hence those neural pathways never get strengthened and I mostly lose access to them. I think it’s more a retrieval issue than an encoding issue, I would hypothesize that my memories are still recorded in a visual sense because I still sense things as others do, I just don’t recall them in a visual sense.
Where I am now
I would generally call myself out of the reading hiatus, because I do want to reintegrate reading as a habit into my life and be more intention about it. As of right now, I’ve been reading a lot of webnovels, with the occasional manhwa as well. I think that the pacing of these media really cater to my lifestyle where I will read in short bursts like on the train, or on the exercise bike. I pick up a physical book every once and awhile, but I still have not found the book to really make me jump back into consuming non-serialized fiction.
With that being said, I still have slumps from time to time. I think what it really is is that I have spurts when it comes to reading. If I find a good novel or series, I will most definitely binge it, but eventually it’ll peter off, not usually in the middle of binging, but rather after I finish it and I’m chasing that high, only to find a bunch of lackluster options that don’t really hit the same as what I just finished. Post book depression is real! It also doesn’t help that there is a never-ending array of manhwa, manga, and web novels that interest me but a lot of times they are not finished and at the pace of posting a chapter a week it is just not really sustainable because my memory is simply not that good to remember the happening of the plots, the characters, setting, etc. I find this is true of most times I binge or finish a book in general, so I’m not really sure what this says about me and how I consume books (or any other media for that matter because it’s the same for visual media too).