It’s the middle of finals week. I’m trying to review the notes I’ve taken on the literal thousands of pages I’ve read over the semester. By 9:00 at night, my brain is crammed. I watch half an episode on Netflix, turn off the lights, and tell myself that I’ll never be able to read a book for pleasure, ever again.
Of course, a little over a month after this scenario took place, I’ve changed my mind. Now that I no longer have three or four hundred pages assigned reading each week, I’ve been relearning the art of reading for relaxation. It’s glorious.
Because I absolutely love the books I’ve been reading, I’ll offer you a five-step program to fall back in love with reading after a stressful school year. The exact titles are negotiable, but if you’re in need of some good book ideas, I heartily recommend these. So, the five-step program (aka a review of the five books I’ve been reading).
1. As soon as you finish throwing away your history notes (and packing your few favorite pages in your overflowing suitcase), grab that book that you picked up somewhere during the school year, the one that reminded you of the good old days when you compiled your own reading list. The best genre for the job? Mystery, preferably by Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot’s last mystery, Curtain, was a captivating read. Just the right mixture of suspense and humor to keep me coming back. And finish it on the plane ride home.
2. When that mystery is finished, go through your Kindle and pick out the most intriguing book out of the 95 you’ve downloaded for free over the last few months. For me, that was Dee Henderson’s Danger in the Shadows. I’d never read Dee Henderson’s books before, but I was impressed with her writing. (Sometimes Christian novels can be, well, a little lacking in their use of unpredictable storylines.) The romance between a woman hiding from her childhood kidnapper and a famous football star was maybe a bit far-fetched, but quite enjoyable. A mind recovering from finals is pretty easy to please.
3. The book title for the third step is absolutely non-negotiable, because everyone needs to read Dear Mr. Knightley. I may or may not have gushed about it repeatedly to my family. At least my gushing did convince my mom to read it, and I know for a fact that she stayed up late at least one night just to finish it. Sam, the college student who constantly quotes Austen and never seems to do anything just right, is such a sympathetic character. Even though her background as a foster child is far different than mine, I could echo many of both her frustrations and interests. One of the signs of a good author is when she puts you in her protagonist’s shoes, and that certainly happened to me in Dear Mr. Knightley. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh, cry, and understand yourself better, go read it.
4. This fourth step is an effort to steer you away from modern, easy-to-read novels, back to the classic books you used to love dearly. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell was the perfect bridge for me. I’ve seen the movie version of this book more than any other, thanks to a couple of my friends who always suggested this movie at slumber parties (ahem, Rebekah and Theresa!). The story has grown on me over the years, and after our wing watched it together during the spring semester (and everyone fell in love all over again with Mr. Thornton), I decided I needed to read the book. It’s just as good, if not better, than the movie. Sometimes, if I’ve grown up watching the movie and read the book years later, the book disappoints me. But I loved reading more details about Margaret and Thornton and discovering conversations that the movie left out, all the while still picturing the faces of Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. Every Gaskell book I read further convinces me to place her books even higher than Jane Austen’s. And that’s saying something.
5. By the fifth step, you should be ready for anything. Even a book that—gasp!—might be assigned in a literature class. I couldn’t resist reading one of my free Kindle books, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. I read The Great Gatsby in high school, and I enjoyed getting to experience his engaging writing style once again. I actually liked it even better than The Great Gatsby because I could sympathize with a lot of Amory Blaine’s egoist struggles (unfortunately, self-centeredness is something I’ve always struggled with!). To tell you the truth, I saw it recommended on Facebook, of all places. But when someone you respect says that a book is their favorite ever (even if it is said on Facebook), and it’s written by one of the most famous American authors of the 20th century, you are basically obligated to read it. It is quite charming and slightly scandalous if you read as if you were Fitzgerald’s original audience. I love reading books by brilliant authors, and Fitzgerald is one of the greats.
Now I am starting my gift book pile—books from my birthday and Christmas that I am dreadfully excited to read. I’m eighty pages into The Book Thief, and I absolutely adore it so far. Again, incredible writing. I am beginning to think it will be one of the classics of our century. I’ve watched the movie trailer at least three times, and after I finish the book I plan to spend the $1.50 to rent the movie from our town’s one and only grocery store. You’ll probably be hearing more about it—it’s just that good.
So there you have it: five simple steps to help you fall back in love with reading. I’m sure I’ll have to revisit these steps after every school year, but for now I am securely back in love with books. So far that I sometimes walk from room to room with a book or my Kindle in hand, telling my brother about the scary encounters in Dee Henderson’s novel or sighing over Mr. Thornton until my brother rolls his eyes.
I just have to leave you with a few This Side of Paradise quotes:
“Why don’t you tell me that ‘if the girl had been worth having she’d have waited for you’? No sir, the girl really worth having won’t wait for anybody.” (I agree with this quote in one sense, disagree in another. So don’t think I’m advocating something really bad, because that’s the sense in which I don’t agree with it. )
“’I know myself,’ he cried, ‘but that is all.’”
“Often through life you will really be at your worst when you seem to think best of yourself.”
“Beware of trying to classify people too definitely into types; you will find that all through their youth they will persist annoyingly in jumping from class to class….”
“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.”
“…So he let himself go, discussed books by the dozens—books he had read, read about, books he had never heard of, rattling off lists of titles.”—This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald