I “Love” to Read

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Vertikala/Stocksy United

Madeleine Brodeur, Staff Columnist

Have you ever told yourself that you love to do something simply because you want to love to do it? I keep trying to convince myself that I love running. Picture it: heel-toeing it on asphalt, wind in hair, headphones blasting music, sweat collecting on my forehead and glittering in the sun. Now that seems idyllic; if only it was what it seemed.

Despite running four miles a day for four consecutive weeks, I learned that I do not love to run. My sweat does not glitter but collects in heavy drops along my hairline; the wind rarely blows through my hair gracefully, only creating tangles. The unglamorous sweat and knotty pony-tail sounds so fun, right? My so-called love for running errs on the side of love-hate. And that love-hate errs more on the side of just hate. Maybe I gave up prematurely, but at least now I can say that I gave it the old college try and confirm that running is not for me.

Now, before I confess to my next love-hate relationship, I hope that my English teachers and my advisor, Upper School Library Co-Director Camille Hoven, turn a blind eye. Or at least they pretend to not see the byline. Whether from my mother who is an editor and published author or my English teachers in the Middle School, for years I would hear about the vast and infinite ways reading can expand my mind. Now, during high school, it’s more about the aesthetic–the glamour of reading. Who wouldn’t want to be the stereotypical smart girl, nose down, engrossed in a novel under a tree in the park, blissfully unaware of anything other than the world of a book? But the pressure to read didn’t just start there.

From a young age, we’re encouraged to develop a love for reading. We are given board books as babies to get us into the habit of flipping through books–more chewing than reading of those books. Board books were quickly replaced with picture books which we can all agree were pretty fun: “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Fox in Socks,” “Make Way for Ducklings.” But hindsight is 20/20, and I can now see the slippery slope that began with picture books. Every time I picked up a book, my parents, babysitters, and teachers would commend me, and who doesn’t love positive reinforcement? And so the cycle began. The insistence on the need to love books and reading bleeds into everyday life through hundreds of pretentious quotes. Plastered to my seventh-grade classroom’s wall was a quote by George R.R. Martin saying, “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.”

Such quotes make me wonder if I’m missing out. But every time I pick up a book, even a funny one, I’m reminded of school and almost instantly put it down. The truth is I am a girl who fell in love with the Percy Jackson series at age 11 and has been hard pressed to find a series that matches my interest since. I long to find a glorious book to kickstart the binge I desperately desire, but it’s proving rather difficult.

Nonetheless, I’m giving it that old college try that didn’t work for running but will hopefully help me now. I’m searching for the bliss in reading that came through when I was younger, but the searching might in fact be what’s keeping me from finding it. That searching and the expectation that Upper School students should love reading outside of the classroom as much as in it. Not only are we expected to read, we’re supposed to make it look enjoyable–a passion that comes from within. Why do we tell ourselves these false truths? Why do I tell myself I love to read when, in fact, I don’t truly love it? And why is this lie appealing to tell, specifically at my school?

I think the answer for most students is the daunting two-syllable word: college. The pressure we feel to be accepted to a top college is almost unparalleled and racking up an impressive set of academic achievements disguised as love–as opposed to tears and late-night panics–can make the feat feel that much more earned.

In all honesty, I don’ t hate reading. But to say I love it isn’t the truth either. The word love feels a little emphatic, a tad dramatic, and perhaps a word not to use indiscriminately. Reading is a tricky pastime to disavow, and my ambivalent relationship with it consumes me with guilt. There is who I am, and far over, just out of my reach, who I want to be. Perhaps that person who loves reading is who colleges want me to be, or who I think they want me to be. And truthfully, I struggle to find the balance between staying true to myself and my passions and who others want me to be.