The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

Active reading: boring or beneficial?

In schools, or at least in my experience at BB&N, teachers encourage, if not require, active reading. With a pen in hand ready to take notes, students are trained to focus on the intent behind each paragraph, sentence, phrase, and word, sucking those students into the slog of active reading. Twenty pages drag on, eating away at any joy students may have once associated with reading.

My exceptional English teachers have preached the value of those individual words and phrases, and though it has resonated with me, I can also relate to feeling a sudden lack of interest in reading due to the intensive nature of active reading. Active reading has changed how I engage with books forever, for better or worse, and could have easily ruined my love for reading without exceptional teaching.

The power of active reading becomes apparent when reading complex works that have true artistic merit. Take Shakespeare, for example; each of his plays end with marriage or death, and the plots themselves are hardly innovative. However, their power is in the complex characters and the significance that Shakespeare allows each word to have.

“Romeo and Juliet” isn’t so fun when it’s just a few people drinking poison. But when an author meticulously crafts each word and phrase and when readers appreciate and dig into this dedication, pieces become increasingly resonant. Novels such as William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” which essentially exposes its entire plot in the first chapter, transform from circular nothings to poetic masterpieces, and the examples are endless, from Chaucer to Zadie Smith. Without active reading, I could never finish any of the novels I thoroughly enjoy reading, as I would fight the urge to throw them down in frustration after the second full-page paragraph. I have learned so much about the power of expression through writing and the human experience. Active reading has allowed me to see the value of these works.

My problem is active reading has also forever changed the way I read. When I was in elementary and middle school, all I did was read. I flew through Agatha Christie’s mass-produced whodunit mystery novels (approximately eighty) and George R.R Martin’s complex plots but simple writing in the “Game of Thrones” series. Each night, I would read for hours and hours, devouring the enthralling plots or thrilling reveals. Reading wasn’t a slog; in fact, it was the opposite. Falling deep into massive universes and character webs, I didn’t focus on each individual word. I found joy in the exciting progression of an eclectic Belgian detective solving simple mysteries and the journey through a tumultuous kingdom of dragons, warriors, and many other things.

Reading was simple. Hercule Poirot was going to solve the seemingly-impossible mystery in a big reveal at the end, and Daenerys Targaryen was going to be the dragon queen.

However, reading these books now leaves me with a very different lasting impression. I don’t find joy in Martin or Christie’s word choice, and the characters that make up these novels seem terribly one-dimensional. Especially in the case of Agatha Christie, the plots follow the exact same progression every time. The simplicity of writing and plot that used to make the novels so easy now makes them grating. A book that I can tear though in hours, now seems like it’s lacking in quality while a true work of literature requires weeks or even months of contemplation. Previously thrilling plots don’t hold my interest-complex novels’ intricacies intrigue me more. My shifting interest in reading presents an interesting dilemma: Should I regret my loss of joy in reading the pulp fiction works of my past, or should I be grateful that change has opened me up to a whole new world of more “intellectual” reading?

Losing that joy makes me sad for sure. But, on the other hand, I have found a different, more rewarding joy in my new world of reading.

Is there a way to properly find the balance between these two worlds? I certainly don’t deny the value of active reading, but I also don’t think I have to swear off reading for mindless fun altogether. More encouragement of relaxed reading along with reading that requires a lot of brain exertion could be a happy medium between the two extremes.

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