If you visit Reading Soft, you’ll come across an interesting website that measures your reading speed. Now, why would you ever want to measure something like that? Perhaps it’s because people have told you it took them two days to read a book that took you two hours, and now you want to determine if you have super reading, or you’re thinking of writing a standardized test that includes reading comprehension and you want to know if you stand a chance, or you’re applying for a job that requires your reading speed.
For me, it was people thinking I read simply to show off, because apparently it’s not possible to read a book a day! (How rude!)
‘Did you read all these in just a week?” another would inquire patronizingly.
It did bother me—so much so that I became even more sensitive about books, which eventually led to my book-junkie habits. But I wasn’t always like this. I wasn’t always scared to read in public, or in front of my parents. Here is the story of my reading journey.
The painful catalyst
My parents had good intentions when they encouraged me to read factual nonfiction books to enhance my knowledge. Although I was eager to explore scientific phenomena as a kid, reading fictional stories was so much more fun. In a house where our TV was hooked up to some foreign cable box transmitting channels from Pakistan, my siblings and I refused to watch the pretentious, low budget children’s cartoons my mom would put on for us. Instead, we found our entertainment outdoors. But I found another love: books. I can’t say when this happened, or what my first book was, but as far as our family videos date back, I was always reading. I found them to be magical, transformative, and transportative. The world of Harry Potter encaptivated me, Goosebumps gave me chills, and Alex Rider had me on the edge of my seat—there was no shortage of content. And it was free!
So I was an avid reader from a young age. I read openly—in my room, in the living room, on the front yard, up a tree, in the car, and even in the bathroom (my special place). My mom would often yell at me because I’d never hear her calling. On one particular day, she got especially angry and stormed down our narrow hall to my room and found me reading. She reprimanded me harshly, saying that fiction was a waste of time and it was making me disobedient as I never listened to anyone anymore. It wasn’t my fault—I was just too invested in my story. My dad joined in kindly and told me that I shouldn’t delay my chores or homework because of reading. They wanted me to have a “special time” for reading, which meant NOT at dinner, NOT in the bathroom, and NOT in places where one does not read (according to “societal standards,” blah blah blah…)
To be honest, I was so offended by this. It wasn’t like I was stealing, or swearing, or bullying people. I was just reading. But I guess I knew even then that they had a point. I was neglecting my homework, and I was neglecting my chores. I was being absent in life, and in some ways, it was negatively impacting me.
But I was young, and I took the criticism as an attack. I cried, and whined and abhorred my parents for a (short) period of time. When I try to remember that fateful evening, I remember being crouched beside my computer table, leaning on the wall with the knees pulled up and reading this mystery book that was clearly not for an elementary schooler. When they left, I remember throwing the book as hard as I could into my garbage bin and vowing to never read again! I vowed to become illiterate by choice, and then they’d be sorry when I failed out of school.
Of course, this didn’t last long. By the next morning, I was already stowing a book into my backpack to read under my desk at school.
This began the phase of my life where I read in secrecy. I’d do my chores and my homework, and then I’d read my textbook propped up, with a fun novel hidden inside it. In order to never, ever get caught (or admit that I still read fiction novels), I had to read as fast as little 10 year old me could humanly manage. Little did I know, my reading speed was increasing—little by little—and I was getting through pages faster and faster. But most importantly, my reading secret remained a secret!
Cheating the system
My school library was awesome, but it had a dumb two-books-per-person-per-week rule. What a great way to suppress young students who just wanted to read! Sometimes I felt like I was the only one who enjoyed these morning periods in the library. Nevertheless, there were no exceptions to that rule, so I had to to make do with my two books. When my measly two books didn’t last the entire week, I’d bargain with friends. I’d ask them to take out books for me in return for snacks of favors, and with a lot of convincing and effective sales pitches, I successfully cheated that system and had a book for every other day of the week!
Because I had this extended selection of books piled up at school, I had to get through them very quickly, before the end of the week. Many recesses were gladly spent doing this! And my reading ability slowly advanced.
Not your typical teenage rebel
In high school, my house was close enough to my school for me to walk. In the mornings, my father would drop me off on his way to work, and in the afternoons, I’d walk home. One day, making a wrong turn on my trek home, I came across the library. Once I figured the library was so close to my school, I was already planning ways to get to the library, grab a few books, and rush home without too much delay for my mom to notice.
The funny thing is, I recently asked my sister if she ever noticed my bulging book-filled backpack when I snuck home after school. Rolling her eyes, she told me that it was so obvious. She said that whenever I was late, I’d make up some stupid excuse. Her favourite was that I’d seen an injured squirrel, so I followed it to make sure it got home safely, justifying my being late by 30 minutes.
I was in high school now, so there was a greater importance in my studies. Because I managed to get good grades despite reading like a maniac, I figured reading wasn’t detrimental at all, so I continued trekking to the library every week and grabbing the as many books as I could (9). I then proceeded to speed walk home, stash the books under my bed, and day-by-day fly through the pile.
Finding my special reading place
I read books at school all the time, but when I came home, I needed my own special space to read. Because I shared a room with my two sisters, I couldn’t read in public on the bed. So, naturally, I read under it.
We had a massive bunk bed and I found I could comfortably just lay under it and read in peace. Most people had clothes and shoes under their beds. Me? I had books, a pillow, and a soft blanket.
Despite being free to do what I wanted in my more mature, adolescent stage, I still felt ashamed to read in front of my family. I felt ashamed, and guilty for wasting time. Even if my parents had completely forgotten about that monumental event in my past, I hadn’t, and the anger I’d felt for being told to not read had translated into shame.
So I went MIA under the bed, read as much as possible, and then reappeared to my family. These little bursts of reading greatly improved my reading speed as I could only disappear for so long before a search party popped up!
To this day, I always think twice before I read in front of my family. Have I done all my chores? All my homework? Is there anything that needs my attention? If everything was completed, then I could read without any worries.
Luckily, I have not heard that despicable phrase in such a long time.
Now, years have passed, and times have changed. Funny enough, I work in a bookstore now and read literally as much as I possibly can (when school isn’t kicking my butt, that is)! Plus, I motivate kids and families to read, and encourage young readers to keep developing their skills. Reading is so important to me, and I’ll continue to advocate for this in a time when technology is occupying the minds of our youths.
I have enjoyed every single English class throughout my entire education, and I’ve naturally done quite well. I believe reading from a young age, or for a long continuous time, teaches both grammar and proper sentence structure. Furthermore, I feel like you never forget what you’ve learned. I stopped reading and writing for an extended period of time, and when I decided to get back in, it was as simple as picking up a book and lifting a pencil. It was like I had never decided to stop.
In a hilarious twist of karma—my mom now has the chore of trying to get my younger brother to read, but he hates it. I always smile and say, “Guess you had it good with me!”