I Can’t Read

07 Jan

I can’t read.

I can write (somewhat), but I feel like I’m really not so good at reading.

I truly enjoy the act of reading. I’m especially fond of 19th century classic literature. Right now, I’m reading a book on medieval history (see sidebar “Recent Reads”). It’s fun. I enjoy books that have a nice feel to them; the right paper, the right cover. And a comfy, well-lit place to sit.

I’ve been through one and a half masters programs–and certainly have done plenty of reading along the way. I’ve got boxes of books (which used to be on bookshelves)–testimony to the reams of course syllabi that I have completed.

I’m working on a plan to read through the Bible in a year; it’s going well (and no, I didn’t just begin it on Jan 1st–I’m 6 months through it).

Enjoying reading, being motivated to read, is not a problem for me.

Remembering what I read is.

This title pretty well captures it. And it's a pretty good book--from what I can remember.

Time and again, I find myself finishing a book–or even a reading session–and realizing that I am walking away with rather little new information stuck in my mind. Sometimes I finish a classic novel and the next day I’m unable to remember exactly how the story ended.

I can remember that I read a particular book, but am usually hazy on the details and main points.

I’ve tried various strategies for trying to improve my retention: journaling, writing reflection papers, composing blog reviews, attempting to insert the book’s ideas into conversation with others.

But all of these methods seem to ultimately be without impact. I have a vast collection of books that I’ve read. And a vastly empty experience of having read them.

The one thing I haven’t tried much of is rereading an entire book, but based on my reading of the Bible (which I have read more than once), it’s going to take an awful lot of re-readings to really get it. And how many books (other than the Bible) are worth that kind of investment?

I’m starting to worry about myself. I’m wondering if my problem is not one of memory, but of teachability.

Maybe I’m just really not very receptive to new ideas. Maybe my mind is just not malleable enough to receive new thoughts. Now, somehow I’m able to get information in there, because I’ve done very well on heaps of exams and term papers, but in the long run, I’m not so sure about what I have to show for all the investment I’ve made in reading.

Is there some deep-seeded obstinance or blockage which is preventing me from receiving the total benefit of what I read? Is there some arrogance or ignorance which ultimately causes the words that pass over my eyes to exit from me completely undigested?

You’d think by now that I would’ve figured this out. Apparently, I’m surviving, but I can’t help but feel like a poor steward of all the time and energy I invest in reading. I enjoy the experience, but it seems like I could be reaping so much more benefit, carrying with me new ideas and information to incorporate into life and to pass along to others.

In any case, I’m open to suggestions. How do you read? What works for you? What expectations should I have for my investment in reading? I suppose that in the case of reading for leisure it’s okay if I don’t walk away with much. But I look at others and wish that I could retain as they do.

Perhaps this is just an inherent limitation in me, given to me to help me from becoming too prideful or arrogant, preventing me from wielding my retained knowledge like a weapon for the chastisement of the less well-equipped.

The challenge, I suppose, is to keep myself from coveting the reading ability of others, and also to ensure that I don’t give up on reading altogether (not likely).

In the meantime, the list of books that I desire to read continues to grow, ever haunted by the spectre of reality that I’m just going to forget it all anyway.


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Posted by on January 7, 2012 in Life


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