how to · Pay It Forward · Writing

The Forgotten Gift of Reading

Right now, I’m sure most you know, I’m a huge reader and reviewer for Divine Magazine as well as my own blog. I’m also a writer, so I often read similar books to my genre, especially if it’s a new experiment or I’m unfamiliar with the typical language, sometimes even just to see how I don’t want to do it (clichés, tropes, the ‘popular’ way).

What you don’t know is that I didn’t read much when I was younger. My parents taught me to read before I started school, as I was just before the cut off, so I was always going to be the youngest in my year/class. But I went into school able to read better than some of the other kids. I was good at it, right from the start, and I was often placed in the ‘higher ability’ reading groups. Due to medical stuff, I don’t remember much of my childhood so I can’t remember having a lot of books. I do know that my parents were happy to indulge my reading, when I wanted to do it outside of school, but I don’t have any clear memories of reading voraciously.

In the UK, for those that don’t know, we have primary school, then a sort of intermediary second primary school before high school. That middle ground had me in Rainbows (a female orientated club like Scouts) and I had a few friends I’d hang out with and after school activities, so reading didn’t rate too highly. High school meant more homework, often involving reading, so I didn’t voluntarily read anything new, but I remember English being my favourite class. It introduced me to Shakespeare, Austen and many more. The Taming of the Shrew is still one of my favourite stories of all time and ‘It was a pleasure to burn‘ is still the most iconic opening line of any book that I remember. In fact, English class and my teacher, Mr Swinney, was the reason I became obsessed with writing my own stories. We once had to write our own story/poem based on the words ‘It was a pleasure to burn‘. You can read mine here. It’s still, to this day, one of the best pieces of poetry I’ve ever written and the one piece of writing for school that I’m the proudest of.

But still, reading wasn’t a hobby. The funny thing is that I didn’t even begin reading voraciously when I was in the hospital at 16 years old or during my recovery, when I spent half a year only going to school for one hour/one class a day. Instead of spending all of that time reading, which I could easily have done (though I did read my massive collector’s edition The Hobbit and LOTR hardbacks, which I bought before the film was talked about), I sat and binge watched series upon series of CSI: Vegas. This was way before Netflix or even Sky Box Sets, so the only way to do it was to watch the DVD’s one after the other, since I owned most of the seasons anyway. Or I’d sit and watch whatever was on the TV, like Columbo re-runs or Murder She Wrote. Then I’d study in between.

My real passion for reading – that I now hold dear – didn’t really start until I’d finished my Uni courses. See, once I left high school with less than stellar grades (thanks to my medical issues) I was angry that I didn’t do as well as expected. So I started studying, because I wasn’t fit to work and I needed something to do that wasn’t sleeping half the day away or watching endless TV. I started at Edinburgh Uni, doing an online Certificate course in Forensic Medicine and Science, where I “met” (as in, know online) some people that I’m still friends with today.

Then I went to Oxford Uni and got a Certificate in Critical Reading, where I kept being told that my stories were too complicated in theme (e.g. the story I shared had a vampire, a witch and a werewolf in it, years before Twilight was even a thing), but that my writing was really good. In encouraged me, at a time when I was secretly writing story after story, some even completed, without believing it was possible to ever be a “writer”. Staying at Oxford, I did a course in Origins of Human Behaviour (Darwinian themes etc).

After that, I transferred to the Open Uni where my smaller credit courses were counted towards something bigger. I studied An Introduction to Humanities (basically arts, medicine etc), Fossils and the History of Life, Darwin and Evolution, Archaeology: the Science of Investigation and Heritage: Whose Heritage?, Elements of Forensic Science, Exploring history: medieval to modern 1400-1900, Art and life in ancient Egypt: the Nebamun wall paintings, and Medicine and society in Europe 1500-1930. See a theme there? I was still holding out hope that I’d be medically fit enough, one day, to become an Archaeologist. (Spoiler: it was never going to happen) I ended up with a Diploma of Higher Education Open, because although I was just one course away from a BSc Open, I was physically and mentally too exhausted and unable to complete that last course.

But all of that studying taught me one thing: there’s such a thing as burning yourself out. I had read and re-read countless non-fiction documents, most of which I loved reading, but I’d never really picked up a fiction book for my own enjoyment in between all of that, because I was far too busy studying or freaking out about studying to have the time.

It was then that I realised there was something I could do that would help. I could read. I could escape to a whole new world and forget everything else. I got a Kindle, free with my next phone upgrade, and downloaded hundreds of free books. I assumed that I would be more likely to read if my next book was on the same device as the last book I finished. I got rid of nearly all of my paperbacks bar my favourites or special editions.

Now, a few years on, can you guess what’s happened?

I have thousands of Kindle books on my hard drive storage, on my Kindle and on my Amazon account that have never been read. I’ve begun re-instating my collection of paperback books in the vain attempt that having a physical copy clogging up my shelves until it’s been read will motivate me to read it.

This year alone, I’ve read 230 books (as of 31st Oct 2016). Barely five of them have been off my massive TBR for my stashed books and not one has been from the paperbacks cluttering my shelves. Most have been books gifted to me by Divine Magazine, for me to review ahead of release.

Although I’ve loved the majority and hated only a few, I feel like I’ve been gorging on the new releases, while forgetting the masses of books that I already have. So instead of taking books that I want to read, thinking “Well, getting it to review means I don’t have to pay for it later, thus saving me money to buy more books” I should be reading the books I’ve bought and paid for already, that have wilted away, ignored, on my various storage devices. I’ve taken those bought books for granted, thinking “they’re paid for and they’re not going anywhere, so what’s the rush?“. Well, the rush is that I’m an author and I know how important reviews are. Why am I not reviewing these older books I have, that could help boost the sales on a long-forgotten book or one that isn’t talked about much, instead of reviewing the brand new ones that are getting all the attention? Because, let’s face it, there will be a dozen other people out there willing to read and review an advanced copy of what might be the next big hit, but how many are willing to pick up that obscure book that I found intriguing enough to buy?

So, since my New Year resolutions never work, I’m making a change. I’ve already made a few this year, as I’m seeing a Dietician thanks to my doctor finally listening to my concerns about my weight; so if I’m going to start a new chapter for my physical health, why don’t I start one for my mental health, too?

That means more reading. More cleaning up the dust heaps of my hard drive, in both writing and reading terms. It means taking responsibility for my commitments (bought books going ignored) and not worrying so much about keeping up with the latest big hitter. I’ve spent years being behind on the big authors, what’s hot and what’s not. I have enough books stored away that, if I’d paid for all the free ones at full price, it could have cost me a cool few thousand quid. Why are they being ignored? They deserve to be read.

So I’m going to do it.

~

How?

Right now, I’m promising myself this, for next year –

  • I will no longer take the gift of reading for granted.
  • I will no longer buy every free e-book going, just because it’s free.
  • I will read all of the paperbacks on at least 2 of my shelves (since I have about 15 shelves) before the end of 2017. That’s a promise of reading approximately 26 paperbacks.
  • Until I read those 26 paperbacks, I won’t buy any more.
  • I’m only allowed to buy more e-books after Christmas 2016 (to be realistic) if I’ve read at least 10 from my TBR list.
  • Alongside my Goodreads Challenge for 2017, I’ll keep a personal challenge for 26 Paperbacks and at least 50 TBR books, for the entire year.
  • I will CLEAR my 100+ Netgalley reading list before the end of 2017 and only take new books if I desperately want them. But the new books must be read immediately.

~

In 2017, I’m going to rediscover the joy of reading for my own enjoyment, rather than cramming books onto my workload that, although I want to read, I don’t have time for and only take because they’re being offered.

2017 is the time to stop being greedy.

I need you to hold me accountable.

~

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