Why Did I Stop Reading As I Grew Up?

Why Did I Stop Reading As I Grew Up?

As I kid, I cared about books and only books. What happened?

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The strangest thing in the world to me is that I am an English major who, for many years, read nothing but the books assigned to her in classes. When I was little, I practically swallowed books whole. My parents tell stories of how I'd come home from school, pick up whatever book I was reading at the moment, and lock myself in my room for the next three hours. In fifth grade, I was one of two students in my class who had read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I eagerly participated in the "Battle f the Books" competition with my friends. Reading was never a problem for me. So why did I stop?

I was still an avid reader in middle school, though my choice of fiction was usually of the YA variety, featuring witches and vampires and tragic (or maybe not so tragic) love stories. My friends and I were the nerdy kids in our classes, and we were generally known for being pretty into reading and writing. We passed around notebooks and wrote circle stories, and if one of us had read a particularly good book recently, the novel would quickly make its rounds through the entire friend group.

Now, I know that a lot of things get the blame for children reading less. We love to blame iPads, social media, and online games. Not all of that is untrue. I'd like to make the argument that, in my particular case, there were two key culprits—television and a poorly constructed method of teaching English in schools.

I mentioned that I still read in middle school, and I did. The fact is, kids, and especially the creative ones, need fictional stories to keep them going. I needed some kind of storytelling in my life, and I found it in books. Granted, I also found it in Harry Potter fanfiction, which I read an increasingly worrying amount of as I progressed through my early teen years. Eventually, however, the Tumblr phase ended, and I moved on to bigger, better, more socially acceptable things. I am, in fact, talking about television.

I have always needed some sort of fictional storytelling in my life, and television has provided that with ease and great comfort. Watching tv is a passive activity, as opposed to the active pastime of reading. It requires less work on my part, though I do find myself significantly more impassioned by the narratives I see on my screen than most of my friends. When I really think about it, television was the real game changer in my reading habits. I was so consumed by the stories I saw on tv; I had no time or energy to fit in stories from books.

I don't want to just blame technology, though, because I think the American education system also played a significant role in my decreased interest in reading. School makes reading boring; this is something the general populace seems to agree on. However, I'd like to argue that it isn't the "boring" nature of books like Dickens' Great Expectations or Emily Brontê's Wuthering Heights that teaches us to hate reading.

As an English major and appreciator of "required reading" books, I personally adore the works of Steinbeck, Twain, and Joyce, but I acknowledge that many high schoolers find them tedious and hard to get through. However, throughout my years of school, I noticed that it wasn't usually the books themselves that students had a problem with. The complaints poured in, but they generally regarded a hatred of the unnecessarily long time spent analyzing every little detail of a novel that students were otherwise not inclined to read.

Again, as an English major, I support lengthy analysis of "boring" books. Details matter, and I wish I could convince my classmates of this point. However, the real travesty of high school reading was, for me, how little reading there really was. I found myself reading books I didn't like for months, which made my general approach to reading one of boredom and annoyance. I was already so busy, why bother with the three or four chapters due this week? The real problem was, as I read each book chapter by chapter, I didn't pay attention to the story so much as I did to the details.

Now that I've moved on to college, I've been forcing pleasure reading back into my life. I know, it sounds counterintuitive. The thing is, I love books, but I have trouble starting them because I constantly feel as though I should be reading them for analysis. The reality is that, to really enjoy reading, I need to read for the whole story first. Analysis matters, but the reason that we read is first and foremost to satisfy our need for storytelling, and until I've achieved joy from the story itself, I will never find pleasure in reading.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender Is Still Iconic, And Here's Why

Although it's a children's cartoon from the 2000s, ATLA remains one of the greatest shows ever made.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender ended in 2008, but I've watched the full series at least ten other times since then. I was a big fan of ATLA when it was first airing, but sometimes I marvel at how lasting it's impact is over a decade later. I've seen ATLA bumper stickers and tattoos depicting the four elements, not mention that I myself have a "Jasmine Dragon" sticker on my laptop resembling the Starbucks logo. ATLA was incredible. It's witty, fun, emotionally impactful, interesting in plot, and filled with relatable characters. "Korra" was a nice attempt to follow up on a passionate fanbase, but it ultimately didn't resonate with viewers to the same degree. That said, sometimes people wonder why I'm still so invested in a kid's cartoon from the 2000s. Here's why.

The show referenced a variety of cultures from around the world

If you've watched the show, you've probably realized that there aren't actually any "white" characters in the Avatar-verse. Not that European cultures aren't valid, but it is notable that the show was created as an appreciation of cultures that often go overlooked. The art and music were heavily influenced by East and South Asia, and the different nations clearly reference Asian and indigenous traditions. Earth Kingdom cities were based off of real cities in East Asia, and the culture depicted drew from various East Asian nations as well. The same applies to the fire nation, which was originally modeled off of Japan and China. The water tribes have their foundations in Inuit and Sireniki cultures, and the air nomads are based on Tibetans, Sri Lankan Buddhists, and Shaolin Monks. There are many other historical references throughout "Avatar," including a nod to ancient Mesopotamia in the Sun Warriors.

The characters were complex and relatable

"ATLA" didn't just give us a typical group of teenage heroes, with each one fitting into a typical mold. They were complex and realistic, and that's what made them relatable. We saw Aang balance his role as Avatar with his personal moral philosophy, all while experiencing the onset of puberty and young adulthood. We watched Katara struggle with responsibility as the main female role model in her family after her mother's death. We observed and related to Toph and Zuko's complex relationships with their families, including the influence that an abusive parent can have on a young life. We experienced the struggles of inferiority to "better" friends with Sokka, and even learned about toxic friendships with Mai and Ty Lee. These were all growing kids and teenagers, and nothing could have been more genuine.

"ATLA" gave us some incredible, strong female leads to look up to

Katara was truly the first feminist I ever encountered on television. Not only did she become a master waterbender in the span of weeks, she also taught the Avatar! And the whole time, she reminded us that strong fighters can be feminine too. Meanwhile, Toph showed us that just because a person has a disability, doesn't mean that they are defined by it. In fact, Toph's blindness only enhances her abilities, rather than holding her back. We also encounter powerful female characters like Azula (I know, she's evil, but that doesn't make her any less of a prodigy), Ty Lee, Mai, Suki (and all the Kyoshi warriors for that matter), Smellerbee, and even Princess Yue (who literally died for her people, mind you).

It made a deep, dramatic topic witty and fun

It occurred to me recently that "Avatar" is basically about imperialism and genocide. The Fire Nation decides to take over the world through military force, and it does so by exterminating an entire people and occupying and colonizing everyone else. For such a deep topic, you wouldn't think the show would be quite as fun as it is, but it is. I've restarted watching, and I find myself constantly laughing. With Sokka's sarcastic comments, Iroh's oddities, and everybody else's regular quips, "ATLA" is regularly lighthearted and never takes itself too seriously.

There's some real wise advice throughout

Finally, what "ATLA" is really known for, is its heart. Uncle Iroh provides us with a regular understanding of the world around us, encouraging us to see the world in balance and look for our true selves. His wise words ring true throughout childhood and adulthood. The underlying themes and messages of the show, including balance, friendship, love, and loyalty, all serve the greater purpose of advising the audience.

In summary, "Avatar" was amazing. If you haven't, I highly recommend you do. If you have, maybe go rewatch!

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