I’ve always had a complicated relationship with reading. I’m not a fast reader. I only read between 350 and 400 words a minute. The average college student reads 450. Many of my good friends are much faster. I admit to some feelings of inferiority.
Some of my fondest memories of reading are C.S. Lewis. Until then, reading was hard. I didn’t have the stamina or the patience to get through a whole book. I used to even think that the bookmarks my dad tucked in the back of the book were goal markers, to force you to read that much. The Narnia books were different. They completely engaged me, and I didn’t want to put them down. They were my gateway drug into fantasy and SF. As an adolescent my milestones were finishing Shogun and the Lord of the Rings. The first time I completed a six hundred page novel made me feel good, adult, accomplished. I would spend hours at night, reading in bed, staying up way too late.
College was a tumultuous time for me, not just my relationship with reading, but with studying in general. I spent a lot of my time playing, rather than studying, rather than reading, too. During the fifth of my seven years in (and out of) school, I discovered foreign languages. I spent a year in Taiwan, learning Mandarin Chinese. I read very little English. Instead, I spent most of my time learning new words in Chinese. I was fascinated by the Chinese-English-Chinese dictionaries. I spent hours a day, nearly every day, reading dictionaries, learning new words.
Tangent/ This is because of compound words. Chinese characters are all one syllable in length. Each character has a meaning on its own, but a lot of Chinese words combine two characters. This fascinated and amazed me. It’s like all words are like Greek or Latin prefixes. Imagine all things electric start with “electro” and the second word shows you what kind of electronic it is, like the word “cerebrum” for brain. The Chinese word for computer is like that made up word electrocerebrum. And here’s the cool part, look in a dictionary, and you’ll see all of the word combinations that start with electro.
So imagine me, sitting in my tea house, sipping my jasmine tea and I come across the word for TV. “Huh, that’s cool. I can say TV now. But what does that second character mean?” Turns out, I can just look it up in the dictionary, and discover that it means “vision.” How cool, that television uses the word vision. I wonder how that is used. So I look up all the ways that vision is used in combination. I come up with another half dozen words (there are more, I’m just lazy).
Every time I learn a new word, I can learn another half dozen, just by following the connected compound words. /Tangent
When I found myself back in English speaking country, I binged. Not only did I have to finish my degree, finally, but I was starved for the written word. I found myself unable to recall words that I had been able to easily recall, and proficiently use, before going abroad. I attribute some of this to learning the other language. I was making new connections, learning new skills. But I was also not stretching my English muscles. My English language conversations during that year abroad were limited when interacting with the local population (of course).
I had a similar experience in Japan, the first time around. This time in Japan, however, is different. Due to the constraints at work, I haven’t read much more than email, business reports, or web content for much of the last half a decade. This strikes me as fundamentally wrong.
So I’m on a binge again. I’ve eliminated video games and drastically reduced watching TV. If I have free time, my nose is in a book. Interestingly, I both love it and find it hard. I have no patience. I read something interesting and I find myself looking up that thing on the internet. This is worse when I’m reading on my iPad, which I do a lot. I have to force myself not to surf. I almost feel like I’m a kid again, and I need that bookmark as my goal. Otherwise, I’ll go off and try to complete an email or search some content. Still, I’m loving my binge.