What I’ve Learned About Reading For Fun

Written by Cate Tynjala

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In today’s fast-paced society, slowing down and taking the time to read for fun is a challenge. Additionally, as an English major whose homework largely consists of close reading and analysis, I want to relax and disconnect from the stress of life by binge watching Netflix or shows on Amazon Prime. Watching shows or programs that don’t require a lot of effort is easier than consuming a profound, life changing piece of literature. Although reading profound novels is a worthwhile pursuit, I often struggle nonetheless to convince myself to read for fear it will exhaust me more.

 

I have learned a lot from books over the years. Part of the learning lies in that the act of reading is more often than not laborious. For me, reading novels takes more work than scrolling through tweets I usually have no real investment in. I have learned a lot not just from the books and their content, but I have learned about stress management and how to slow down my usually racing thoughts long enough to read by investing in the transportation books allow.

 

 “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” -The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” -The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

The Great Gatsby is widely believed to be the great American novel. It reflects the wild, crazy lives of the rich in America during Prohibition and the roaring 20s. I have read this novel several times for school, and the line that has always stuck with me is Nick Carraway’s statement that he “was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” I grew up in a suburb of the Twin Cities. Although there was a distance between the fast pace of downtown life and me, I always felt a sense of anxiety about if I was doing enough to get ahead in life. If I was watching TV, an activity that can often be mindless and noninteractive, I felt an internalized fear that one day, or even a few hours, off from studying or working was going to derail everything. When I first read Gatsby, I was moved by this line, largely because it seemed to reflect or allude to this particular anxiety. The inexhaustible variety of life in suburbia that I saw, and the accompanying uncertainty that I felt, was captured in Carraway’s sentiment.

 

 “There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain." -Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

“There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain." -Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

 

Giovanni’s Room is one of my favorite books. The novel manages to be raw and heart wrenchingly honest while also maintaining a lyricism and poetic touch that makes James Baldwin one of the most skilled and eloquent writers who I have had the pleasure of reading. Baldwin’s novel follows the life of David, a gay American man who moves to Paris where he falls in love with an Italian man named Giovanni. His struggle with accepting his sexuality is described in a way that is visceral and nearly tangible. Baldwin’s novels, specifically Giovanni’s Room, have helped me to be more empathetic to other people’s emotions and pain.

 

 Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”  Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”  The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

 

When I was a young teenager, I often felt like I did not have any control over my life. To a certain extent, I believed that life was a condition from which I suffered. With novels like The Lord of the Rings, I not only learned but also embraced the fact that some things in life are out of my control, but how I spend the time that was given to me is entirely my choice. I have the agency in life to decide how I react to the things I cannot control and how I handle myself and situations that arise. Accepting that there are things I can’t change, gaining the courage to change the things I can, and the ability to know the difference between the two is largely attributable to my reading of Tolkien’s famous trilogy.

 

 “Once you learn to read you will be forever free.” -Frederick Douglass

“Once you learn to read you will be forever free.” -Frederick Douglass

 

Through reading, I have been able to assume different perspectives, gain insight into people and situations that I previously knew little about, and to slow down and practice delayed gratification. I am transported into a world that exists separate from my own, and that temporary detachment from my own reality refreshes me. I have a tendency to obsess and ruminate about a single event or happenstance, which often results in unnecessary stress. By reading, I shed the anxieties of my daily life. I become someone else, and I live life through someone else’s (fictional or not) experiences. Reading is my temporary escape, my chance to disconnect and recharge.