You probably think that’s clickbait. It’s not. And it’s true. I don’t read books.
You wouldn’t know it from all the books I own. They’re overwhelmingly nonfiction and run the gamut: everything from fellatio, cunnilingus, and African-based class war movements to educational psychology, LGBTQ+ microaggressions, and Black feminism. I love to read and I do it often.
I just don’t read books.
I used to read them all the time. In fact, as a child I was an avid book reader.
My mom brought us to the library; we had many books in the house. I recall The Velveteen Rabbit, Madeline, and Ramona Quimby, but my favorites were the scary stories. I read “true” ghost stories, the “Goosebumps” books, of course, as well as R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street” series, which I loved. To this day, horror is my favorite film genre because of those early literary memories (and because my mom wasn’t too particular about MPAA ratings).
I never stopped loving books and reading but, around middle school, something changed—something that I couldn’t really explain until I got to graduate school, over a decade later.
I graduated from high school third in my class. I’d always excelled in school, but starting around eighth grade, something was off.
It continued into college. My first year at Rutgers University was great, academically, but I struggled. I loved my courses, I loved learning, and I still loved reading, but reading was…kinda hard.
I know how to read! In fact, I can read really fast! What are you trying to say!
Like high school, I managed academically in college (until depression began to haunt me), but I often didn’t finish books—or even mere assigned chapters. Sometimes I didn’t even bother trying to read them at all. Just the thought was exhausting.
I left after what was supposed to be my senior year and finished a couple of years later, thanks to online courses.
A year later, I found myself in grad school, studying Adolescent Education. I was excited, but concerned about how my seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression (undiagnosed at the time) would affect me academically. I sought help for that and started therapy and, eventually, meds. During my second semester, in the spring of 2013, I began working at my university’s LGBTQA Center as their graduate assistant.
And that was when I first noticed.
I was working at my computer when I began to recognize a pattern. I would read a bit—maybe a few sentences or a paragraph—then I would do something else: check Facebook, my email, or my phone, Google something, look in my bag, etc. Repeat ad infinitum.
Spring and summer passed. That fall, I took my first course that, due to its nature, focused heavily on disability within the education system.
At one point, I went up to my professor—a woman with decades of experience working with students with various disabilities—and told her about my experiences. She suggested that I’d probably figured out ways to cope with and manage my neurodivergence on my own.
The next semester, I took a course specifically about disability, with a different professor. We learned about everything from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to how to make our classrooms inclusive of students with disabilities. Toward the end of the semester, we were provided a sliver of a glimpse into the experiences of people with various disabilities.
We also learned, early on, that our professor was disabled herself. She’s partially deaf and has a learning disability.
I couldn’t pass up the chance to talk to her. She too had self-diagnosed her learning disability—dyslexia. She gave me tips for how to manage and remain productive as a student.
I felt more confident and validated in my experiences and decided to learn more.
While my learning disability doesn’t have a specific name since I’m not formally diagnosed, I have issues not with the mechanics of reading itself, but with processing information. It took a long time for me to recognize these patterns and describe them.
For a while, it seemed kind of ironic that as a former avid book reader and lifelong writer, I would develop a disability that impedes my ability to do the very thing that I love, the very thing that makes any writer better at what they do.
But here I am.
There have been times when I’ve read something a friend wrote on Facebook—a simple sentence or two—and I didn’t understand it and had to ask them to explain. For someone so smart, I can feel so “dumb”—an ableist word I’ve come to both identify with and hate. Taking breaks, distracting myself sometimes gives me time to process a bit better. Even as I write this, I stop and go to something else. Otherwise it just becomes too much to handle.
The difference now is that I’m able to recognize my challenges and ask for help or accommodations; whereas in high school and college, I kinda just had to go it alone.
I’m usually okay with a simple tweet or Facebook post though, which is why shorter texts are easier for me to handle most of the time.
Books though…books are hard.
Sometimes I fantasize about reading a book again.But fear usually stops me. What if I fail? What if it just becomes the latest addition to my pile of unfinished books? What if it takes me a whole year to read just one book? What if I really am “dumb?”
Many of the books I own now are purchases from the annual Brooklyn Book Festival, which has just passed.Located in Downtown Brooklyn, it culminates in a day of panels and a book fair where publishing outfits and authors offer their words and stories in paperback and hardcover.
The first time I attended, I stumbled upon it by mistake while waiting for a friend for lunch. I was filled with wonder. So many books. So many stories. So much to learn. I’d only been living in Brooklyn for a couple of months, though I’m a lifelong New Yorker. This was about the same time that I began to realize that I was a bit different.
I bought eight books that day. That was three years ago, and I’ve still barely cracked open most of them.
And so, I continue to stick to articles, blog posts, and social media ramblings. Here I remain: the young, educated woman who doesn’t read books.
In a society where many people want to be perceived as “smart,” having a learning disability can be embarrassing—shameful even—because “smart” is supposed to look a certain way. But much like my other marginalized identities, I’m constantly learning how to navigate my differences in a society that doesn’t value me. And I’m constantly learning how to value myself.
The things I do read keep me abreast of current events, political and social issues, and even pop culture. They introduce me to new ideas. I learn new words. My skills as a writer and thinker are sharpened because of this exposure.
I still long for books. Perhaps one day I will attempt to tackle one again. And maybe I won’t be ashamed anymore, no matter how long it takes me to finish.