Essay on my Reading Habits
By Lauren MacIvor
I have always been a reader. From the time I was very young, the lure of books has been irresistible, mostly because they offer an element of escape, as well as a great deal of life-affirmation for me. When I read fiction, I can forget everything else around me, ignore what's poking at the edges of my mind, and concentrate on the characters' problems instead. I also find emotional support in the pages of novels. The issues that the characters in my favorite books experience are more traumatic than my life will hopefully ever be. Books are comforting to me; I often find myself reading the same ones from my childhood over and over, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Indian in the Cupboard, or Redwall, when I'm home on school vacations. But over the past 22 years of my life, 17 of which have been literate, I have noticed my eagerness and propensity to pick up new books ebb and flow. In first grade, the teacher would assign me extra reading as fast as I could get through it (Laura Ingalls Wilder's books were a great favorite of mine then, and still are-I think I read the whole series in about a month, and I continue to read them today), but now that I have nearly completed college, I have found my desire to read new fiction lessen with the pressures of schoolwork and life's demands. Lately I've been choosing more "pop" fiction like Bridget Jones' Diary, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and Confessions of a Shopaholic than classics because they are easier to get through and I don't have to pay as much attention. In short, I enjoy reading as much as I ever have, but I leave my yearly quota of truly great books up to my teachers in my English and History classes, while I personally choose quasi-feminist or "chick" fiction on my own. More often, I go back to books I've read many times before.
Despite my somewhat cemented reading habits and choices of late, my liking for books stretches wide across the genres. Any good story, told from almost any perspective, usually holds my interest. Right now sitting on my bedside table are stacked Bitch, by Elizabeth Wurtzel, a feminist homage to women who cause trouble in society, a three-volume biography of Josephine Bonaparte, a collection of short stories by Roald Dahl, Isabel Allende's Portrait in Sepia, and a book by a local Richmond author called Never Ask Permission about the life of Richmond socialite Elisabeth Scott Bocock who used to live in my downtown neighborhood in the 1920's. Elsewhere on my bookshelf I have everything from Michael Crichton's Timeline to The Nanny Diaries to Rushdie's Midnight's Children. In other words I think I'm pretty eclectic-biographies, feminist manifestos, ethnic novels, historical fiction, short stories, adventure novels, mysteries. I also have a huge affinity for children's books, even though I am 22. Lucy Maud Montgomery's turn of the century novels about Anne Shirley, Emily Murray, and other well-beloved characters were an especially great influence in my life growing up. I truly believe that my obsession with her books and their stories of simple Victorian life helped me hold onto my childhood innocence much longer than any of my peers. Many people have told me in my lifetime that I am old-fashioned; I owe my tendency toward Victorian sensibility certainly to L.M. Montgomery and other authors like her, from Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew detective stories to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Children's books do something good for my soul and heart-their stories are not so gut wrenching, bitter, or harshly written. Adult novels have too much real life in them sometimes; I've had to stop reading books before because I felt their impact on me was negative emotionally. I recently read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant and felt nothing less than sadness and
despair after finishing it because the graphic descriptions of rape, bloodshed, betrayal and sex were simply too much for me. Give me Harry Potter any day over things that are too violently or sexually explicit. I will admit, I still like romance novels every once in a while though---I've even deigned to read the bodice-rippers you buy in the drugstore on occasion! At least the sex in there is mostly euphemistic and though somewhat graphic, the language is never very harsh. Historical fiction is also a special favorite of mine; I'm a history major and this type of novel appeals to my liberal-arts love for all things literary as well as all things historical. I'm specifically interested in books dealing with the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, though I read one last year called City of Light set in early 20th century Buffalo, New York about a schoolmarm who has an affair with President Cleveland which was particularly good.
My reading choices are quite schizophrenic, so I suppose it follows that I like to read several things at once. That way if I get bored somewhere in one book I just pick up the other one. This is strange in terms of my personality however, because I usually try to start and finish something all at once before beginning another task. Reading for me though is relaxing; I rarely feel pressure about it, even during English classes. I pay more attention to my class reading of course, and complete it properly, but when it comes to what I want to read, how I read it, and whether I finish it, I'm pretty loose. I mostly read at night in bed, and on days where I have nothing to do, which is rare. My house at home has a back porch swing, where I used to lie on spring afternoons and read away. Here at UVa, I rarely get this luxury except when I go to sleep at night since I'm going to class or doing schoolwork during the day. This spring, my last semester, I'm making it a personal goal to take more time for myself in terms of pleasure reading. I've got a pile of Christmas-gift books to plow through, and I'm determined to finish them all by May!
Reading for me is a way of life rather than something I am assigned to do for school-I enjoy reading for school and reading for myself. There are very few books I dislike, and very few I can't finish, even if it's a teacher who picks the books for me in a class. In other words, I guess I'm an easy reader.:)
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