Majoring in struggle: The challenges of being a slow reader

When people think “English major” they often envision a literary expert: the kind of person who read Faulkner in utero, enjoys 18th century literature, reads books in one sitting, and always wins at Scrabble.  

Hyperbole aside, I’m sure there are English majors who match this description. But I’m certainly not one of them. In fact, I didn’t really enjoy reading at all until my sophomore year of high school and even then it wasn’t an instantaneous thing. It’s been a gradual progression.

I’m an English major because language moves me. I read because I appreciate it as both an art and an escape. And I believe language is the root of power. I want to be an English teacher because literature wasn’t always something I loved but now the discipline of English is one of the most pervasive things in my life.

But English is still something I struggle with because I’m a slow reader. In fact, college overall is more difficult when you’re a slow reader because reading is everything. You read your textbook, you read scholarly articles, you read your peers work, etc. The reading never stops. Here’s how I deal with it:

1.  I have to reread sentences.

I lost count of the number of teachers who have asked: “You ever read something and then two seconds later you have no idea what you just read?”. But each time this question is posed I’m always the one nodding her head vigorously. Reading, and then having to reread, is the story of my life. What’s frustrating about this is that I know it means I wasn’t really focussed the first time. That clearly, I’ve dropped the ball. Which brings me to my next point

2. (Sometimes) I have to read aloud.

This is especially helpful when I’m sleepy because it wakes me up. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve occupied an empty classroom in Law Hall and paced the room as I read my chapter aloud. So many more parts of your brain are active when you read aloud as oppose to reading silently. And reading aloud guarantees that I will at least be moving in a positive direction. Often, when I’m sitting at my desk doing my homework, 10 minutes will pass and I realize that I haven’t actually read a thing… I’ve just been sitting at my desk, falling asleep.

3. I am still circling names.

When you’re reading, nothing is more discouraging and frustrating than not understanding the plot. I’ll look from a text like, wow. I have no idea what’s happening. And as I try to figure out how the basic meaning of a text written in English could elude me, I remind myself that sometimes you have to go back to the basics. Sometimes you need the sheet of notebook paper next to you with a makeshift family tree, the who’s who of a text. And despite how horrified your second grade teacher would be, following along with your finger or pen is a helpful way to focus.

4. I google summaries of what I just read to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

During the class discussion of a novel, occasionally someone will mention something in the book and I’m like “…when did that happen?”. So yes, if I’m struggling with a text I will read a chapter by chapter summary (don’t read the analysis, it will just mess with you and it may result in inadvertent plagiarism).

5. I read ahead.

Whenever it’s possible, I try to get ahead on my readings. Especially because “fast reads” are a lot more rare for me. If it takes you an hour to read, chances are, it’ll take me 3. Fortunately, on the block plan, it’s a lot easier to get ahead. Since I only have one class, I can put all my energy into that (which includes any free time I happen to come across). And with block break, I can usually start on (or finish) monday/tuesday’s homework on the saturday or sunday before class.

I may not get my homework done before dinner, I probably won’t even get it done before midnight, but that’s okay. I’m a slow reader. But it doesn’t matter how easily I get from point A to point B, all that matters is that *I get there.

*unless it’s a standardized test, in which case I have problems.


One thought on “Majoring in struggle: The challenges of being a slow reader

  1. Exactly, my problems. I have to reread stuff all the time and it takes me forever to read the chapters from my textbook each week. Glad to see Im not the only one, I guess…

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