Sunday, December 3, 2023

It's Embarrassing To Admit This...


It's embarrassing to admit this, but...

I really only started reading about two years ago. Before that, reading was the most mundane, yawn-inducing task I could think of. It wasn't fun or energizing; it was dull and torturous. 

When I was in high school, I wasn't particularly scholarly, to put it mildly. While I did well, I didn't excel. Most, though not all, of what I read was required for my various classes. Though, now that I think about it, there were various poetry books and short stories I enjoyed. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's, A Coney Island of the Mind; Philip Schultz's, Failure; and Nikolai Gogol's, Diary of a Madman come to mind. I also enjoyed the dystopian works of Paul Auster. 

Barring these few, but notable, exceptions, I did not read. This, in turn, effected my diction, and still does to a degree. I recall one particularly embarrassing moment in a mathematics class I took freshman year. On the first day of class - which is, of course, a prime opportunity to make a good initial impression on your teacher and classmates - the teacher wrote out a function on the dry-erase board and asked, "What does it mean to negate something?" I, confidently, but stupidly, answered, "It means to interpret directions when traveling to a desired location." The teacher, understanding that I had conflated negate with navigate, called on the next person, who answered correctly. I slouched in my chair, retreating from the room in sheer embarrassment. "How could I be so stupid?", I wondered. 

This, however, was not an isolated incident. Many a time, I found myself making similar lexicological blunders. I soon began to realize that my lack of reading was becoming problematic. 

While I did read more as an undergraduate in college, it was still trivial. I often took ages to finish a 200-page book, opting instead to noodle on my guitar (which I do not necessarily regret) or watch YouTube videos. 

It wasn't until I became a Masters student at NYU, that I started to take reading seriously. I was in the big-leagues, so to speak, and intellectual laziness was not an option. It was at this time that I began my research into social capital literature. I meticulously analyzed the works of Robert Putnam, Francis Fukuyama, Alan Ehrenhalt, and various academic journals. This all eventually culminated in an extensive 25-page literature review on the various uses of the term, social capital. 

Class participation at NYU was often competitive. Answering the professor's question accurately and with intelligent insight was of paramount importance. And the professor's approval of your answer was perhaps one of the most validating feelings you could feel. Conversely, his dissatisfaction with your answer hurt like hell. It did for me, anyway. 

Some students, though, were pitifully reticent. I never could understand this. Why would you not at least want to try to stand out? I was easily the most loquacious of all my peers. But I always made sure that my contributions were relevant and substantive. Otherwise, your contribution isn't much of a contribution at all. 

This required me to read... a lot. I spent many long nights at Bobst library going through the course material with a fine tooth comb, frequently stopping if there was a word or concept that I didn't grasp. I don't believe in glossing over something without comprehending it. I always had to hit pause, and figure it out. 

After graduating with my MA in politics, I became a real reader. My time as a fastidious studier taught me, not to read passively and with indifference, but with focused attention and enthusiasm. 

2023 has been, far and away, my most productive and plentiful year, as far as reading is concerned. I am burning through books at a rate I never thought attainable for me. I look forward to buying used books online, even if it means my queue is busting at the seems. If I don't read something this year, I will surely get to it by next year or the year after that. Reading is something I actually enjoy now.

To be sure, I still pronounce words incorrectly, make myriad grammatical errors, and often have to stop to look up the meaning of words when I read. But that's okay. I've learned to accept that that's okay. Before, I would punish myself. But now, I accept my mistakes and - as cliche as it sounds - take them as opportunities to grow. 

I wouldn't be surprised if this very blog post is replete with errors, but whatever. As I continue, I am sure I will grow.  


  1. The rise of the smart phone, the internet, and the decline of the importance of the book and making a habit of regular reading among the youth of America has clearly resulted in a serious academic decline. As you pointed out- vocabulary and communication skills suffer greatly. While the decline in grammatical intelligence and intellectualism amongst the youth can be attributed to many other factors, reading is at the forefront of this. Glad to hear you are beginning to become a regular reader. I was fortunate to have a father and a grandfather who, though not particularly literate themselves, greatly emphasized reading in my formative years and made sure I did not follow in their footsteps regarding the pursuit of literacy.

    1. I think these are all serious contributing factors to be considered. I know that I am frequently glued to my phone. I hate that. But I am aware of it. And, like you, I come from a pretty well-read family, but, for whatever reason, I often neglected it. But no longer! Thanks for the comment!

  2. Was there a single author that inspired you to read long and deeply? Mine was Orwell..

    1. Good question! Not sure I could boil it down to one... Francis Fukuyama is certainly up there. Russell Kirk, too!