August 9th marks Book Lovers Day, although it is sometimes referred to as National Book Lovers Day in Americentric media. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it until just recently either. The day is intended to be an unofficial celebration of everything bookish. It’s observed by folks around the world by putting down their phones, laptops, tablets and any other of the miscellany of technological distractions surrounding them, and instead, picking up a book.
You may be shaking your head at this point – an online article, whose very existence depends on the action of you being on your phone/laptop/tablet/etc., is telling you get off your phone/laptop/tablet/etc., thus invalidating its own existence? Yeah. I know. Silly, right?
Like so many of my peers, reading books in the face of the tough competition of Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat has been difficult. This, compounded with my struggle to get through my readings, previously at school and now at university, has made books seem impossible. Not only this, while reading was once a pleasurable activity for me, it became diluted by my own fear. I wanted to change this – I wanted to read for fun again. To understand how I might do this, I went back to primary school. Not literally, of course. There’s no way I’m going about gap-toothed in pink sneakers again. No, instead I cast the net of my memories as far back as I could.
Books have excited me for as long as I can remember but paradoxically, reading used to be a chore, thrust upon me by primary school teachers. I was not a confident learner when I was young, and consequentially, I struggled with reading, spelling, and comprehension. People are surprised to learn I was forced into speech therapy for a lisp and that I was placed in remedial English classes in early primary school.
My primary school had these “reader books” that were chosen for us to take home and read aloud to our parents based on our reading “level”. This system filled me with jealousy– it seemed that while my classmates were reading at a higher “level”, I was stuck with this fact book about moa birds and lisping my way through Sammy Snake yet again. This competitive tiering system might have been intended to encourage avid reading amongst students but for me it had the opposite effect – I became scared of the higher “level” texts.
And yet, I still loved books (but definitely not the ones my teachers were forcing me to read). I was really obsessed with Star Wars, and I’d pour over the franchises’ lavishly illustrated encyclopaedias, reading and re-reading every line, starting halfway through the middle, eagerly turning the final pages before finally making my way backward to skim over the introduction, absorbing all the lore I could.
My confidence in reading flourished independently from school. As I read what I enjoyed, such as those Star Wars books, my skills grew and eventually I had enough confidence to bring those skills into the classroom. I actually started enjoying English class.
There were occasions during my later years at high school, however, where my confidence did falter, but never, ever did I wholly stop reading like I did in primary school. When I grew weary of my dull schoolbooks, I re-devoured my old favourites like The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alices’ Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll or Cosmos by Carl Sagan.
I began studying Creative Writing at QUT on March 1st, 2021. And in that first semester, I was overcome by feelings I hadn’t encountered at that magnitude since primary school – I was terrified to read what my lecturers set for me. The New Yorker short stories and the literary, academic essays, much like the higher “level” reader books of my primary school, seemed far beyond what I could even possibly understand. And again, I was filled with jealously, because those around me seemed to be reading just fine (I now understand, that many of my peers were just as scared if not more so than me).
I was overwhelmed by what I saw as my own reading shortcomings, that at times during the semester, I admitted defeat before even trying to complete my pre-readings for tutorials. Instead, I closed the QUT readings tab on “rl.talis” and surrendered to Pinterest or Spotify or any other social media I don’t care to remember.
Even through this trying time, I still loved books. When I found myself at the library, I’d wander through the shelves, quivering with excitement, my eyes scanning the books’ spines. At home, I’d pour over scrapbooks of curious newspaper headlines from last century, books of republished lyrics, comic books, scientific-themed poetry collections, and so much more.
I knew fearing the readings that “seemed far beyond what I could even possibly understand”, was irrational. And I also knew spending hours, numbing my brain, scrolling through social media was not helping. I closed Pinterest, I turned off my phone – now what?
Read what you love not that you are forced to.
Although doing your readings for your classes is very, very important (and my lecturers and tutors would strangle me if I wrote anything different!) self-care is also very, very important. And for me, one of the most important self-care activities is reading for pleasure and not for gain.
I am now again overcoming my fear of reading. At time of writing, I am partway through five books, only two of which are related to my studies. I had forgotten how relaxing reading a book in the morning before properly starting your day can be. In my spare time, I am reading for joy. If what I’m so happens help me with my studies, then that’s a bonus, but not my intention. That, and the fact that my phones battery life is now failing demonstrably may be playing a small part in this too…
This August 9th, I want you to take the time to read, to thumb through a book. Any book. The only stipulation I ask of you is this – the book/s you choose must be something to be enjoyed. Not for university, not for study, not for the expectations of others. But for you. Read what you love not that you are forced to.
About the Author
Lilian Martin (she/her/hers) is a first-year creative writing student at QUT. When she isn’t studying or drinking mochas in a keep-cup on-campus, Lilian enjoys making jewellery, ranting about classic rock and jumping on her trampoline.