I'm not a good reader

I have the utmost admiration for good readers. Rather, I am envious to the point of jealous rage. I trace my trouble with reading back to a series of events in grade school. Until my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Glass, suggested to my father that I may need glasses, I just figured no one could see what she'd been writing on the blackboard. My glasses did help. I could now make out the words, numbers and symbols rather than just guessing at what they might be, but the problem wasn't resolved. My ability to quickly comprehend and apply what was being taught was still lacking. Rote memorization became my way of coping and it didn't imbue me with a joy for learning.

My next revelation came in seventh grade when we were commanded to read John Knowles over the summer break and prepare to be tested upon return. It was the first serious novel I had to read. At the tender age of twelve, I had a very specific set of interests: baseball, football, James Bond movies, action figures, arcade games and music, so a story about older boys at a boarding school, whatever that was, who were living together and then one dies, was all very drab and depressing, and not the kind of introduction to reading that appealed to me. In addition, up until then I'd never been tested on something I read, and the specter made the entire experience harrowing. I had no concept of what the test would cover, so I would read a page, stop, and take copious notes that amounted to an only slightly abridged version of the original text.

I am slow reader. My attention wanders. I tire quickly. And my comprehension and retention is poor. Is this because I didn't get enough practice, or some underlying condition? Looking back, I suspect I had some degree of ADD and Dyslexia, but certainly the form of my education didn't help.

Now, I am on a mission of sorts. To show those who believe that reading and writing must go hand-in-hand, that this is not necessarily the case. I am not saying that reading isn't valuable to writers–of course it is. What I am saying is that, for me, reading and writing are completely different animals–and that's okay! 

Writing is about telling a story I have in my head. Reading is about trying to understand a story from someone else's head. Writing is about pushing out the contents of my own imagination, while reading is about trying to decipher someone else's imagination. In school, I always hated when the teacher would ask the class a question and we'd have to wait through as the students tried to guess the answer the teacher wanted to hear. After no one quite nailed it, the teacher provided the eloquently worded and "correct" response with either a tinge of condescension or disappointment. Mind-reading is tough, and that's what reading feels like to me.

To be fair, since I have begun writing, I have developed an interest in reading fiction. I do love a good turn of phrase, an unexpected description, realistic dialogue, and I do go hunting for tips and tricks on how to punctuate, but I still find following the plot and themes for an entire novel arduous and time-consuming.

It makes sense to me that efficient and effective communication is best achieved through multi-media. If I am trying to understand what someone wants to tell me, of course, I want as much information as I can get. Being able to see and hear the person, to see and hear what they are describing, is simply more complete. I can surmise from the accent and inflection, I can glean from the hand gestures and body language, and I can detect the emotion that provides the subtext for the words. All things being equal I would have preferred to write screen-plays, and I tried. They are laborious and void of pleasure.

So, while I continue on my journey, I am certainly open to the prospect that the joy of reading may find me, or I may find it, but until then I'll keep on my merry way–my way.


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