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Once a reader, always a reader

I was far from a troublemaker as a child, but I was frequently chastised for the one reason you would never expect an adult to take issue with.

Shanzah Rafiqi | Graphic Artist

I was reading too much. 

Throughout elementary and middle school, teachers reprimanded me for reading under my desk during lessons. No matter the hour, I refused to sleep before reading at least one chapter of my latest literary obsession. After a forced lights-out, I would whip out my trusty clip-on book light and relish in quiet defiance for my literary pursuits, plowing through hundreds of pages under my covers before my eyes grew heavy. 

Barnes & Noble would be out of business without the small fortune my parents spent funding my reading habit. Once I got my driver’s license, it was the first place I drove to myself. 

In high school Spanish class, when we practiced describing our interests — ¿Qué te gusta hacer? — the verb “leer” was my guaranteed response. 

For so long, I heard, “put the book away, you’re learning long division,” or “stop reading, you’re nine and shouldn’t be awake at midnight.” 

However, since entering college in September 2022, I’ve faced the opposite problem: I don’t read nearly enough.  

I still adore the smell of a new book. I gravitate toward any bookstore and amble through the aisles to greet my favorite books like old friends. If you asked to hear “mis actividades favoritas,” I’d respond how I would in high school Spanish class. “Me gusta leer.” “Me encanta,” even. 

At 20, I wear “reader” and “book-lover” like badges of honor.

But the eight-year-old who read “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” from cover to cover in one day has grown dormant, as has the 13-year-old who donated heaps of clothing to convert half of her closet into a personal library. 

For three and a half semesters, the Kindle that I got for Christmas during senior year of high school has collected dust in my BU-issued desk drawer, nestled among miscellaneous chargers whose corresponding devices I can’t remember. 

I’ve developed imposter syndrome of the literary kind. Do I have the right to call myself a reader if I don’t read like I used to? Am I a book-lover if what was once a primary facet of my identity has faded into background knowledge — the 20th, 50th or 80th detail someone learns about me, rather than among the first?

I started mourning my gradual reading decline freshman year, but the identity crisis truly arose in December. Someone asked me what book I was currently reading — a question I would usually have answered without thinking, similar to the reflex test at the doctor’s office.

Instead, I buffered. The slow wheel of sluggish thought surely became visible above my head like a cartoon character. Understandably, my jam-packed college schedule slowed my once-insatiable need to read. But was the last book I read really four months ago? That couldn’t be right. 

But my reading history confirmed it. From September through May, my Goodreads account is a ghost town. 

Breaks during the school year offer no reprieve from the reading desert. This winter recess, my one goal was to rediscover the ease of reading. I would slump in my favorite living room chair, light a candle and read well past the 4:30 p.m. sunset every day of the month-long break.

Four weeks down, and I managed to finish only one less-than-300-page book. My elementary and middle school selves, who averaged that many pages in a day, would be ashamed. 

I finally have to acknowledge that this is no mere reading slump, like the ones I’ve shocked myself out of with a fast-paced mystery or easy rom-com. Reading now requires effort from me like it never has before. 

Even during winter break, I suffered a literary lag. If lack of time isn’t the sole culprit, is it my lack of attention span? Too much screen time? Burnout from schoolwork?

Or, most terrifying, have I lost the ability to devour words, paragraphs and pages for leisure? The skill had once come so naturally — to lose myself in another world, assume someone else’s thoughts. I hadn’t appreciated it while I had it, and now it’s gone. 

Gone, too, then, must be the wisdom, creativity and wonder that I used to achieve through books. I’m supposedly older and wiser now, but I struggle to grasp how that can be true if I no longer possess the fortitude and imagination that once empowered me to read. 

Last week, I dusted off my Kindle. I am determined to maintain the spirit I had when I was younger. Reading can be like riding a bike, getting back on the horse or exercising a muscle. There is no shortage of metaphors for reclaiming something that you love. 

Although it may take more effort now, setting aside the time in my busy life means that reading is still important to me. I can still identify with something even though it comprises less of my life. Reading is inextricable from who I am, and whether I read one book a day or one a year, I will always be a reader.

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