My reading habits have gone from bad to worse and I’m very much ashamed.
I didn’t get into the habit of reading until much, much later in life. I used to collect comic books as a kid but only really looked through the pictures and only read enough to get the story. I used to devour children’s books at home, which we had plenty of, but only for the pictures. My whole family are voracious readers and it drove them nuts that I, the youngest, wasn’t. My sister even bought my young adult books to read would sit me down in bed and read to me just so that I could get into the world of literature.
I was ten. I wasn’t four or five years old, I was ten.
It wasn’t until we started to do book reports in high school that I started reading some classics like Tom Sawyer or The Little Lame Prince. But I never really got into it. I did it so that I could pass my requirements for school. I did well in Literature class, though, because I could dissect a short story or a poem and they were short enough for my attention span, or lack thereof, for me to get through and I could discuss a work to death and I had pretty good teachers. Funnily enough, I loved reading Shakespeare’s plays and I even devoured through Evangeline by Longfellow because it was written in verse.
I think the first book that really got to me was Call of the Wild by Jack London. The version in our school’s library was around 90 pages long, so it wasn’t as thick as other books so I read it for another book report (we had to do four every year in high school). That really got to me, for some reason. I remember even not wanting to finish the book because I knew from reading it that Buck had to leave his master and I didn’t want him to be set free. I wanted Buck to be with his master because I loved their relationship. I was invested in it. I put the book down and refused to read the last chapter and paid the overdue fines from the Library happily.
It was then that I started to read more intently. I was around 14, at the time, I think.
At the time, Michael Crichton was all the rage and my family had collected a large portion of his books so they were all passing it around each other and I decided to take the ones that nobody was reading. So, there was Jurassic Park and then Andromeda Strain and Sphere and Terminal Man and Congo. I read The Firm by John Grisham (also popular at the time) but I didn’t like it too much so I didn’t read any more of his work. The writing in these books were fresher, more modern, and were paced more to my speed. I remember reading Oliver Twist a few years before this period and just found it tedious and frustrating. I couldn’t take it. These books were more for me and I began devouring them.
My parents were happy that I was finally in the habit of reading. They were scared that I was a lost cause. My Dad showed me his extensive science fiction collection and I got into Philip K. Dick and Robert Silverberg. And then my sister, a big fan of early Stephen King, got me to reading Carrie and I loved it so much I read Pet Cemetery, Salem’s Lot, and Cujo.
Around this time, I thought I wanted to be a novelist and write books and write books that would make people feel the way I felt when I was reading these books. I wanted that. I wanted to tell stories.
So I got into university and majored in Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. And then, my reading elevated almost overnight. I had to. All of a sudden, the Literature faculty was not going to let me go easy. They wanted me to read well. I had to read, for the different classes I was taking, the likes of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, and The Poisonwood Bibles by Barbara Kingsolver. Books like that.
This was also when I started reading books written by Filipinos who write in English like Song of Yvonne/Why the Rainbow Goddess Wept by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda, Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan, The Woman Who Had Two Navels by Nick Joaquin (which I read before and hated but had to read it again, and still hated it; but I still love his short stories), and A State of War by Ninotchka Rosca.
I discovered that I read fast and quickly. The moment the book got its hook on me, I wouldn’t put it down and I’d be in bed until sunrise, finishing what I could and heading off to school, drowsy and sleepy, and I’d still be reading in the car on the way to class.
My friends started lending me books to read when I was in-between reading material and that’s how I got to read For the Time Being by Annie Dillard (still one of my favourite books ever), Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. From my family, co-workers, and friends I got into Kim Stanley Robinson, Margaret Atwood, Neil Stephenson, Suzannah Dunn, Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Haruki Murakami, and a whole lot of others. And of course, David Mitchell.
I won’t say I was a voracious reader. Depending on how busy I was that year, I would read maybe eight to ten books a year? I’d read fast, finishing a book within three to four days and then there would be a long period in-between until the next one. But I feel like I read well. I’ve had my share of reading young adult fiction, like The Hunger Games and the Percy Jackson series, which I would finish in a day. There were even books that I was asked to read by a friend, like Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and I hated every minute of it but finished it anyway because my friend wanted to talk about it.
I got into a lot of modern poets too and then found myself reading non-fiction and enjoying that like Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and biographies/autobiographies of musicians like Tori Amos, Mick Fleetwood, and Kate Bush. I read the memoir of Patti Smith, Just Kids, which got me back into writing poetry full-time after a long hiatus.
I’ve had a colourful life with books and literature and I’m proud of it.
What I’m not proud of, at the moment, is that for the past two years, my reading habits have become utterly dismal. I barely read now. I read a lot of poems — pick out three or four from a collection and really dig deep into them — but not really reading the whole collection. I’ve read a few non-fiction books here and there. I’ve read a lot of plays, but a play is better seen and experienced when performed in the theater and not read on the page, to be honest. It’s not the same. There is the literary part of it but it’s not the real experience of it.
I’ve been writing so much recently that reading slows me down and invades into my writing space. I’m trying to preserve my voice, at the moment, especially now that it is evolving again and I fear that if I park myself in my bed and start reading, I’m going to get affected too much and it will change the natural progression of my writing growth.
It’s probably a really bad excuse. I should be reading. I miss reading. I used to be able to find time in a middle of a hectic day and read a chapter or two before going back into the world.
I’ve bought books off of Amazon and they are in my Kindle and iPad just waiting for me to start reading them and I haven’t for whatever stupid reason I have for not reading.
And that’s no excuse. I have no excuse. I really should find time to start reading again. Because it is important. Because I didn’t get to where I am without the help of reading well. Because a lot of the books that I’ve read have helped shape me to be the person I am now, subconsciously or not.
And I miss it. I really miss it.