How Being an Avid Fiction Reader Can Make You Feel Dumb

Do you ever have those days when you really need to be productive, so you decide to sit down with your laptop and just power down on all of those readings and papers piling up? Such was my yesterday, most of my today, and will be most of, well, the rest of my week, because thanks to my fiction loving brain, it is necessary to devote that much time to actually reading anything else.

Now I hadn’t really given this much thought before because I am a naturally slow reader. I just am. Always have been, and unfortunately I probably always will be. I’ve always had high reading comprehension, but some part of my brain is just a little too OCD for speed reading. I have to read every word on the page, and I have to read them at a speed comparable to that of reading aloud. While all the other young teenage nerds were reading the sixth Harry Potter book in five hours, I was happy to finish it in five days. And let me tell you, I did little else for those five days. No seriously, I made a reading fort under my desk and only came out for meals. I even read on the toilet.

And with this knowledge in mind, I have mostly accepted my annoying fate as a History Major of never being able to finish my readings as quickly as planned. Yesterday I planned out an entire day of productivity, beginning with a thirty minute dance party to get in some cardio and get my blood flowing, followed by sessions of reading for thirty minutes, then doing some toning moves like squats or lunges, and then reading again. Despite working on my paper this way for hours and actually focusing better than I usually can on schoolwork, by the end of the night I was maybe ten or fifteen pages into an academic reading…in the amount of time a fourteen year-old could read half of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (which is 652 pages!).

Of course around dinner time I got hungry and lost focus, and the rest of my night was spent mindlessly. I wasted time for hours on Tumblr and YouTube, and then the night felt it was coming to a close. I was tired, so I turned off my laptop after 1am and started reading The Scorch Trials.

Here’s where I get to my point (and the title). I had spent hours trying to read an academic paper without any particularly difficult vocabulary, but I failed to get far, failed to focus. Then I laid down with tired eyes and expected to read for half an hour tops before falling asleep. But I didn’t. Instead, I found myself in the climax of the book, excitedly flipping each page to find out what was going to happen to Thomas next.

Before I knew it it was four in the morning and I had to be up in six hours and I simply didn’t care. I momentarily thought about going back to that academic reading since I was now so awake, but I knew it wouldn’t work. I knew that my energy was really adrenaline from the plot, and that no matter how much I live and love to learn, working-class politics of Victorian London was not going to inspire the same kind of focus and alertness in me as Dashner’s plot twists. And to be honest, I felt a little dumb for it.

If my degree doesn’t inspire the same kind of enthusiasm as when I pick up a book that makes me feel the world can be extraordinary, does that mean I’m studying the wrong thing? Should I be studying literature, or creative writing? I am planning on writing a novel myself. But no, I don’t think I’m studying the wrong thing. I do genuinely love history. Without an understanding of history, the words on the pages of my most beloved novels wouldn’t be so well understood or interpreted. Without studying history, JK Rowling wouldn’t have been able to model her beloved generational literary work on racial genocide.

History tells us who we are by explaining where we came from, and literature helps us interpret the same themes in a modern setting, and explores where we can go from here. So no, I don’t believe I’m studying the wrong thing. I want to say that I think historians could write about history in a better way, but I don’t know what that better way would be. I suppose it’s just that some things you love in part because they come easily to you, and other things you work for because you love them.

But seriously, is there some kind of learning disorder that only effects reading speed? Because if so, I definitely have it. Anyway, do you find you have the same kind of struggle to focus on academic work, only to have no problem forgetting the world even exists when you’re immersed in a good novel? And what do you do to combat the lack of focus? I’d love to get some tips and know I’m not alone.

Till next time!

2 thoughts on “How Being an Avid Fiction Reader Can Make You Feel Dumb

  1. I randomly stumbled upon this and was instantly amused. I’m an English Major and you know that, but I hardly even get through all the books. Actually, the funny thing is, I enjoy the actual writing better than the story. I enjoy words and sentences and paragraphs and how they are all arranged to lead the reader through a complex or simple idea, scene, image, thought, event. And this is completely against everything I thought I loved about English. I love composition and rhetoric and short stories and poems and non-fiction pieces.

    What I’m trying to get at it is simply this: maybe you like a different part of history then you came in liking, and maybe you have to realize and accept that and be excited for that. Maybe you like the facts, or the analysis, or the growth, or something completely small and nerdy and very specialized, much like me. Find that small section of knowledge–in whatever subject it may be–you love and let it blossom, because honestly there is no better feeling than to study what stimulates and excites you.


    1. Your words slay me. It doesn’t surprise me that you like rhetoric best. I found it so ironic when I came to the conclusion that I want to be a writer this summer, because I thought of you and how much you’ve always loved writing.

      And for the record, I know what I love about history: the stories, and what they mean to us. I love knowing what atrocities we’re capable of committing, what it takes for us to turn a blind eye to those who are committing them, and how all of these events have shaped us into the people we are today. I hate the textbooks.


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