by Alfons Morales

Why and How I Read

The precursor to writing book reviews on Medium

The first therapist I saw more than one time wasn’t my favorite, but I was desperate. The breakup I was enduring was an identity crisis in breakup’s clothing and I was too ashamed to keep pushing the patience and love of my friends. It was time for a professional.

I don’t remember much from those sessions, aside from her never starting nor ending on time, feeling chronically uncomfortable, and the time she asked me if maybe I read too much.

She asked me if I read too much.

She told me to consider it, I’m pretty sure, I don’t think she told me to stop. But I heard it as if she had told me to kill my best friend. I was appalled. I was pained. I was never going back to pay her out of pocket $125 per session fee to criticize how much I read again. (I moved to Denver instead, but that’s another story.)

How many books (and movies!) are there about children who get lost, build confidence, and find a sense of self through reading? The nerdy stereotyped child shows up again and again, finding friends in local librarians and spending recesses tucked into corners, a book forever in their hand. Finding solace, friendships, value in books.

Am I still feeling defensive, four years later? Yes, okay! I am!

Truthfully I was not bullied in childhood, in fact quite the opposite — I was constantly scolded for talking too much and being too friendly. I was, however, raised in an environment where reading was expected, and where reading was a reward. Make it through a scary dentist appointment? You get a magazine. Birthday? You’re probably getting a book. Going on a vacation? All the kids got to choose one book.

As a kid, I remember my sister tucked under one of my mom’s arms and me under the other as she read out loud to us before going to sleep.

At Christmas, when my brother’s social anxiety was through the roof but none of us really understood it, he made it through the extended family holiday by reading on the couch.

As an adult, I can still distinctly hear the words my mom used to explain how the pain from her then-undiagnosed cancer prevented her from focusing on the smallest things, “I can’t even read my People magazine.”

And then, when she was in the hospital after surgery, shortly before her death, I read her all of Alice in Wonderland.

Reading is what we were taught to do for fun, for knowledge, and to cope.

How do you read?

What a weird question. Page by page, right? But it’s from friends (specifically Hannah, THANKS GIRL), that I started to be more deliberate with what and how I choose to read.

She introduced me to goodreads — social networking for readers. I now rarely begin a book before checking out the reviews, always valuing what my friends and people I know wrote over anyone else. I love that I can see what Hannah just read or how it resonated with her. The competitive part of me loves setting yearly goals (this year at 37/52 books, or one a week; last year I read 45 of 60; 2018 52/52 — and just damn, I love data).

And then she introduced me to Libby, which is a goldmine for digital and audiobooks. I have always, forever, 100% preferred reading a physical book with my eyeballs over an audio or digital book. Until I backpacked Central America, where space in a single Target backpack was not going to be given to books over a fourth pair of undies. On a two hours bus ride to Santa Teresa I learned to appreciate reading on my phone, and the four months in Baltimore I spent without a car, taking hour-long bus rides multiple times a day between two jobs, solidified this becoming a normal practice. Reading on my phone while standing between stops is infinitely easier than getting out, holding, and putting away a physical book on a city bus. I also learned that any book written by a comedian is absolutely going to be 1000% better if you listen to the audiobook. In fact, I am pretty certain that any book I listen to, rather than read, I rate a full star higher on goodreads just because I love listening to voices.

I write all over everything (if I own it). AP Lit in high school taught me the magic of writing in books: annotating. I now think the highest compliment you can give a book is writing all the fuck over it. Love a passage? Highlight it. Think someone is an ignorant pontificator? Write back in the margins. Want to share with the world? Draw a square around the important part and post a photo on IG. I love broken in books, and I love even more when I lend a book and someone I love writes their own comments in my book and gives it back — there is no greater gift.

Okay, but why write about reading on Medium?

I have a confession: I tend to be a shallow reader.

If you ask me what I loved about a book in 2018, it would be rare for me to pull out a specific thing that resonated, even if I really liked it. I can call this a shitty memory, or blame public schools for pushing fluency over comprehension for far too long. CONSUME. QUANTITY.

(Also, having a goodreads goal each year may or may not influence the speed and retention of my reading. There is nothing to rival the immense gratification I get for, you know, a solid 15 minutes when I reach my goodreads goal before December 31st. Then I do it again — obsessively checking how many books I’ve read for an entire year just to embrace, or shame, myself for reaching an arbitrary number that means nothing to anyone! What fun!)

Being a shallow reader is kind of embarrassing just in general, but there’s a bigger problem with it when it comes down to more of the why I read.

I don’t just read to hit goodreads goals, though that does motivate me quite a bit, I also read to change my life.

I read self-help to help myself. I read anti-racism to be an anti-racist. I read history to inform the way I make choices about the present. I read novels to build empathy and explore the human condition.

When I read like a vacuum cleaner, I don’t do any of those things.

So my partner suggested I write reviews.

I’m pretty much terrified to write book reviews. Who am I to supposed I have anything worthwhile to write about the sacred object that is A Book?! Truly, I feel to be the human value of a potato when it comes to reviewing books. I have no right! I have no experience! I can’t fucking review a book!

Writing that down, though, is pretty helpful to laugh at the weird narratives we find in our brains. If I read a book, I can review a book. I’m not going to say I’ll do it well, or that you’ll care about what it says, but at the very least, a book review is going to help me retain what I get out of the book… and may or may not encourage someone else to read it.

So. This I the precursor.

Two nights ago I finished my first book of August, The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, published in February of this year. My first review will be of this book, and I write here, for full accountability, that I’ll do that by the end of the week.

Mostly the opposite of having my shit together. IG @okaycaroline

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store