Martha Lewand; Scotch Plains, NJ—
This week, I will be answering the Advice section’s “Summer Prompt:”
What’s one thing you did this summer that you recommend everyone does? Tell us a story. Write us a three-or-four-sentence-long pitch explaining your idea, your story and why others should try it out.
You can pitch us an idea too! Just make your way to the Advice page and fill out the Google form.
The last time I read a book for enjoyment was probably before I entered high school, which was a whopping four years ago.
Growing up, the ivory bookcase standing in the corner of my room constantly overflowed with books of all different shapes, sizes and colors. My mom made certain my brother and I became readers from a young age—much earlier than my peers. Storytime at night was a ritual in my household. (Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown was allegedly my favorite as a toddler.) I was often placed in the highest level of “reading groups” in my class during elementary school, not because I was the smartest student in the class nor because I had the best reading comprehension, but because I had acquired the most exposure and experience with books compared to my classmates.
Because I was encouraged to read often and I was surrounded by an abundance of books in my household and at school, I learned to love reading. In my elementary and middle school days, I would use a book light to binge-read (what was probably a book in the Percy Jackson series) well past my bedtime in the quiet darkness of my room.
My admiration of reading even pushed me in the direction of my passion for writing, reading articles and, ultimately, my love for journalism. I guess I’m a nerd for words.
But, overtime, my lively nighttime reading sessions disappeared. As I transitioned from middle school to high school, the academic rigor I endured, along with my swim practice schedule, greatly escalated. Between studying well past midnight on most weekdays (and a majority of weekends) immediately after arriving home from a two-to-four hour swim practice, I could not possibly set time aside to leisure read.
My dislike for reading also grew. Required textbook readings and books for my English classes were slammed in my direction at what seemed like lightning-speed pace. I disliked being told what to read. I can say with confidence—and disappointment—how I only enjoyed reading a select handful of books in my entire high school career (Catcher in the Rye is the preeminent among them). A majority of the time, I found required reading in school to be overwhelming and mind-numbing. Additionally, I was frequently discontent with reading tens and hundreds of pages of novels, historical documents and textbooks every night, especially after completing a hectic day while functioning on only a few hours of sleep. I did choose to enroll in more humanities courses rather than STEM classes, so this is partially my fault. (I will admit, I would happily rather read than solve Chemistry equations at 2 a.m.)
During summer breaks, although I was sometimes just as busy, I made excuses to not read: But I’m tired; I’m busy; I need to do other work; I want to watch Netflix; Meh, I’m gonna go snack on something; or even, Ugh, I just don’t want to right now.
But, just over halfway through my senior year, COVID-19 paralyzed my home state of New Jersey. In the first couple of months, I was apprehensive to step outside; I couldn’t leave my house, see my friends or extended family, and school became fully online. As the world grappled with how to adjust to this “new normal,” (by hoarding toilet paper, obsessing over the Netflix series “Tiger King,” baking banana bread, etc.) I stayed busy with school work and some of the aforementioned activities, among other newly found hobbies of mine.
As time unfolded and summer began, I found myself bored and unable to find a show or movie to watch on Netflix one night. I lied down in frustration on my bed. But out of the corner of my eye, I caught the title Born a Crime, written in chiseled yellow and white letters on the vibrant blue spine of a book. I debated whether to gather the courage to walk over to the now-untouched, ivory bookcase in the corner of my room and pick up that exact book I bought three years ago with such excitement but never read. All of a sudden, I somehow found myself almost done with the first chapter.
I finally told myself to stop procrastinating leisure reading, which I am really proud of. I mean, we are in a global pandemic, so what better time to attempt to rekindle my love for literature? I promised if I found myself still despising the act of reading or finding the content of the novel bland, I wouldn’t try leisure reading again. And I am so grateful I finally started reading again because it changed my life.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah now happens to be one of the best books I have ever read. Here’s my one-minute review and why you should consider reading it:
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah:
- Trevor Noah just rocks. That’s it. That’s the tweet.
- The book is an autobiography of Trevor Noah’s life as a half-white, half-black child growing up in post-apartheid South Africa.
- It’s a coming-of-age novel, a.k.a. arguably the best style of literature
- The humor is impeccable. There’s even a chapter about one of Trevor’s old acquaintances named Hitler (yes, this man’s name is Hitler) who dances super well—I was in tears laughing as I read the chapter.
- I have never read a book that balanced a diversity of emotions so well: humor, love, fun, sadness, anger, struggle and success, etc.
- By the end of Noah’s book, you will discover so much about yourself, the relationships with the people in your life and just life itself.
Satisfied and inspired by the great story I had just finished reading, I was eager to move onward with other books. Next came The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (which I highly recommend), then J.K. Rowling’s classic Harry Potter series. I am currently halfway through the third book, and I can assure you I will continue reading the rest.
So, my passion for leisure reading has officially been restored years later during a global pandemic, as insane as that sounds. Attempting to become an avid reader can be initially challenging and overwhelming. One tip I have to overcome such a challenge is to create a list of books you want to read and/or re-read. My list includes: the Percy Jackson series, Little Women, The Book Thief, Catch and Kill, To Kill a Mockingbird and the Hunger Games series. The list will get you excited and motivated to start reading and cross books off.
My second tip is for my fellow film lovers: try to find a book that has a movie adaptation. After I finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I treated myself to watching the movie. Same goes for every time I complete one of the Harry Potter books. I find this is an entertaining and engaging method to stay motivated to read.
Thirdly, you need to figure out whether you enjoy reading physical paper copies of books, reading books on electronic devices or listening to books via an audiobook. I prefer reading an actual book—it’s something about cracking the spine, the sound of flipping pages and the new book smell for me.
Also, read at your own pace. Sometimes I will go nuts and read 300 pages in one sitting, or I will consistently read a couple of chapters a night. Find what works best for you.
My last tip is to just stop being lazy—it’s as simple as that. Stop saying you don’t have time or you are too tired. I know how anxious and overwhelming this can feel, but pick up a book and start reading.
So, I have fallen in love with leisure reading again, and I hope you can too. Everyone has told me not to bring books you want to read to college, but I just might. Before this summer, I probably would have never thought about whether to bring books I want to read to college. But I do not care: I want to keep reading. Similar to a younger and smaller Martha, I now become enthralled at night when I can read.
And, finally, feel free to drop some book recommendations below in the comments (or email, direct message or submit them to me). So, go pick up that dusty book you said you were going to read five years ago, and read it. Read to revive your love for books or to spark a new passion. Remember: there is a book for every type of person, including you, out in the world, waiting to be appreciated.
Photo courtesy of Martha Lewand.