I have a confession.

I hated reading until adulthood.

Okay, okay, there’s more.

In my high school AP Lit class (no idea why a non-reader would take that), I chose to read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin for some assignment. And then–surprise!–I didn’t read it. In the days leading up to the essay being due, I realized there was NO WAY I’d be able to read it in time, so instead I spent every waking hour scouring the internet to read every review of the book I could find, praying for spoilers. And then I wrote the essay based on the reviews I read and random juicy excerpts I found from flipping through the book’s pages.

I recently found a copy of the book in one of the Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood and figured it was time to read it for real. (I’m really enjoying it so far, thankyouverymuch.)

I think I got an A on my essay (I remember my teacher underlining a particularly bold line I wrote and putting a bunch of exclamation points next to it), and all was well on my transcript. So, what’s the lesson here? I think there are a few:

Sometimes, avoiding work is harder than just doing the work. It’s been like 20 years and I still remember STRESSING OUT over that essay as I read review after review, looking for something to latch onto. Had I just read the dang thing, I could have focused on metaphors and symbolism and writing a kickass essay I would feel proud of.

It’s important to say no to things you don’t have room for. I can guarantee you I was an overextended high schooler during that time in my life. I was in several AP classes, on the debate team, dancing competitively, leading the school’s community service club, and working a couple shifts a week. In order to get it all done, some corners had to be cut, and reading that book was one of those corners. (The next school year, I would find myself in a similar situation and basically stopped doing my US Government homework.) Looking back, I probably cut the wrong corners, but it’s so hard to make that call (anytime, but especially as a kid!). Now that I’m an adult and more in charge of my schedule, I can be more intentional about achieving a balance (and have a better handle on what should and shouldn’t be cut).

Direction, not speed, is what’s important. It took me a really long time to warm up to reading and find the kinds of books that I enjoy. But I never just wrote off (heh) reading–I would try again and agin, and sometimes, though infrequently, I would enjoy not just the book itself but also the act of reading. A bad experience would set me back, but I’d always try again. (If this were a great work of literature, you could analyze this paragraph and apply its lesson to any goal in life.)

And finally, a message to parents: if your kid doesn’t like reading, don’t fret! It is not a parental failure on your part, and it’s not a moral failing on your kid’s part, either. It just…is. And it might change, but it might not! For me, I think it was about being told what to read and when to read it. Even now, I resist reading something someone else tells me to read. Sure, I picked out The Blind Assassin myself, but I wasn’t allowed to read it on my time–I was under deadline, and that made me resistant and resentful. That could be what your kid is going through, too.

I’m not proud of the fact that I cheated (or that I stopped doing my US Government homework the following year), but I think the fact that I’m still ruminating on the lessons all these years later says something about…well, learning a lesson. And, to be honest, I think that is WAY more valuable than whatever academic punishment I would have faced had I gotten caught.

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