30 May 2012

A Re-trained (And Compulsive) Reader

There was a time (over four years' worth) where I read nothing that didn't have something to do with school. And that can't even be construed as reading because I only skimmed them to pass tests; who has time to really get lost in a book in college?

When I graduated it was as if my subconscious swore off books because the memories of those paginated bricks walling me in all day every day was just too painful.

It continued that way for over a year. And every once in a while I thought it strange. It was as if my personality had done a sudden flip. My pre-college self used to read like crazy. I used to walk home from school alone with my buds blasting The Eagles and Dire Straits and my nose in a book. (No. I'm not embarrassed.) So the fact that I had no desire to read now felt a bit alien when I actually stopped to think about it. I chalked up my reading years as a phase of life permanently passed.

Then, two years ago, through a set of flukes, I got an editing internship (for those of you who believe in flukes). And two things happened: 1) I realized that editing was fun and that I was good at it. 2) Riding the train to and from work every day, I found that bringing a book and a pair of big sunglasses helped to pass the time and successfully wall myself off from any weirdos.

The time on the train became magical to me. Every day, for three months, I read, and every couple of weeks I ransacked my collection of books for something else interesting. I finally read the Gettysburg books—fiction and nonfiction—I had bought and never read. I made it through The Hobbit. I finished a an Arthurian history book (did you know there were actually two King Arthurs, that they were from Wales and that at least one of the women Paul references in his epistles were actually Welsh Christian princesses who had been given in marriage to the Romans as a means of preserving alliances?).

I flew through Life After Life, Black Elk Speaks, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I discovered Wilfred Owen again and found a disturbing affinity for his stark, beautiful, merciless portrayal of the Great War's horror. In him I found an unlikely friend. I made other friends too and explored the worlds without end that books are.

Aside from all that, I was reading at work for hours every day. And I rediscovered myself—my true, book-loving self.

Since then I have not ceased to read. Mostly for work. I'm an editor, and I love my job!

You'd think (would you?) that after being trained to find flaws in books I'd avoid books in my free time because I see the flaws then without looking for them. (And it ruins the experience...right?) But, if anything, being an editor has made me a better reader. Faster. More compulsive.

Yep. I think I'm faster.

Which would make sense because while I'm often lucky enough to be editing a book that pulls me in, I'm always editing under tight deadlines, with only an hour or two per day to work in between everything else that comes with living at home and helping operate a family business. And sometimes the material just isn't much fun to read.

But what do you do?

Aside from going through a book once to check for soundness of content/convention, I flip through it at least 6 times more to make sure pagination/format is correct and reader friendly before I hand it in. With that kind of process it's imperative to be able to read quickly and train yourself to see details in almost the sweep of a page...otherwise you're at it all night. And who wants that? A book may be good, but if you're reading it for work...it never gets that good.

Because of this, I work at an average rate of one book per week. And it transfers into my fun-time reading along with the relentless flaw finding.

I don't ride the train anymore, but lately I've surprised myself at how many books I read at a time and how fast I can get through them. And how much I enjoy reading. I don't get immersed as often as I used to, but I can cover ground a lot faster. Whether that's bad or not, I haven't decided. Right now I enjoy it. I think my subconscious is trying to make up for that year and a half it banned me from books.

Currently I have one book on my nightstand that I try to get to at night and three books on the ottoman beside me which I pick up every evening. I read from scriptures and doctrinal books in the morning, and of course I'm always editing some book or other. I have a book in my purse too for outside the house. Over the last couple months I've had requests in at the library without a break. I pick up a book once every two weeks, it seems. And that helps me read the books faster too—the magic of deadlines.

I can improve though. Actually it's kind of sad. I spent hundreds on books at Amazon and Barnes&Noble last year (yes, I'm a bit of a book hoarder too), but rarely do I get around to reading them. They sure make my room look like it belongs to someone smart though :)

It's the library books I read, the ones I know I won't have on my bookshelf whenever I decide I'm interested enough to finish them. So now that I've discovered the treasury of books again, it's time for me to buckle down and explore the jewels on my own shelves.

(Yes...some training required there.)

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