The best thing I’ve ever done is learning how to read. I’ve climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and mastered two instruments, but neither gives me as much pleasure as reading Atlas Shrugged, or the Great Gatsby. I suspect it is the faculty of imagination that makes literature so powerful; Hemmingway’s description of Kilimanjaro in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro‘ impacted me more than the actual mountain did, even when I was standing at the top of it.
But like many members of my generation I have been diagnosed with a condition that makes enjoying novels hard. You know what it is; it’s been in the news constantly. Every kid I discuss it with claims to have it. It’s called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
ADHD makes it hard to read. Ask any first grade teacher – she’ll tell you the same thing. You can’t read a book while pacing a classroom. Language is properly digested sitting down, with all of your attention focused on the page. As a result, when kids learn to read it becomes remarkably difficult for them to enjoy the book they are trying to read, and as a result it becomes almost impossible to instill a love of reading into young kids.
Well, somehow, despite my limitation I became a bookamaniac. I read constantly. I bought a Kindle and filled it with all sorts of great books, like Chekov and The Odyssey, as well as some of my guiltier pleasures, like The Davinchi Code and Stephen King. I’ve got hundreds of books in there, and there’s no way I will ever read them all. At the same time, I can barely stand still. I’ve had to close this window I’m writing this in three separate times to check my email or whatever.
How do I do it? How do I work my way through a three hundred page book when I can’t sit still?
It’s easy. I do three simple things:
I find somewhere comfortable with casual noise,
I get something to eat,
and I take my time.
It’s important to find somewhere with casual, calm noise because it keeps your mind from rebelling at stagnancy. Anyone with ADHD knows what I’m talking about. It’s easier to concentrate on things when things around you are living and moving. Its nearly impossible to concentrate in a silent white room without a window.
Food is important because it gives you something to do with your hands. You open your book and pick up your fork and suddenly you’re multitasking. You’re moving your fork around with food and reading Lord of the Flies and suddenly your plate is clean. Sometimes, if you’re lucky or the book is really good, you’ll keep reading anyway.
Taking your time is probably most important. People tend to get upset when they’re told they have to do things they don’t want to do, even if the person telling them they have to do it is themselves. If you say to yourself, “You have to read ten pages right now” you’re going to get through two pages before you start to force yourself to skim through the last eight. When you start doing this, you aren’t enjoying it. You’re doing it because you know that you’re supposed to read and you’re faking it. You are wasting your time.
That’s really all there is to it. I sit in my porch, where the wind blows and my neighbors next door smoke cigars and swim in their pool. The cat stalks around, trying to find a nice spot to sit, sometimes on my lap. I chew on some cheese and crackers. And I don’t set myself any limits on how far I need to read, or anything like that. If I want to, I decide, I can stop reading the minute I’m done eating. Before I know it I’m caught up in the fantastic adventures of Sherlock Holmes, or the impeccable wit of Oscar Wilde. I look at my watch and suddenly it’s eight o clock, and I forgot to feed the cat again today.
Learning to read is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m sure it will be one of the best things you’ve ever done. Now if you will excuse me, I’ve got some reading to do.