Second Thoughts: A Path Once Forged

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” — Oscar Wilde. 

This quote has floated around my brain since my junior year of highschool. My English teacher had it as an epigraph on her website and I thought it rang particularly true for most readers. Many of the essays we discussed in this class mirrored this thought; that we are often the product of the things that we read. The quote asks us what kinds of stories that pique our interest when nobody is watching, when we are alone in a library running our thumbs along the spines of the books, where do we stop? What section do we pause at length and stare for a minute or two, at what genre do we take a book from the shelf and turn it open to the first page, when do we begin to skim the first chapter and at what point do we find we can’t put it down? 

Voluntary reading gives someone the chance to look into themselves and answer these questions, but one thing that fascinated me was one of my classmates who admitted they did not enjoy reading. They do so when they have to, but that’s the extent of it. My initial reaction to that was bewilderment. Why are you an English major if you lack the ability to be turned inside out by a text and have it rearrange the way you present yourself to the world? Apparently, the magic for them exists not in the reading but in the writing, and I understand that the process of constructing a piece instead of taking it apart can be just as thrilling. There are things to be learned about oneself through the process of writing. It asks you; are you patient? Are you kind? Are you able to look into someone’s eyes and experience their thoughts as your own? 

Reading and writing feel intrinsically connected to me, so it felt controversial to hear that somebody who wants to write does not read for pleasure. Though there are many ways to read and for pleasure is just one way. I suppose reading analytically feels like training for a marathon and for pleasure is like taking a light jog along the pages. Marathon running isn’t for everyone, but it does prove itself to be a skill useful for those who enjoy working towards a steady goal, like a grade, rather than reading with no outcome grade wise. 

For me, I find reading to be extremely valuable. I’ve always been pretty traditional, afraid to branch out and make bold claims such as, “I don’t like to read.” Though I do want to find better strategies to help me as a writer. It’s valuable to learn from those like Oscar Wilde and all of my English teachers who told me that reading is the best way to better your writing, but I want to find my own path towards that goal. I want to feel like I worked for it, rather than just following the advice given to me a thousand times. While that advice is useful, I think it’s important to not listen to the voices around you sometimes. What challenged me most about my classmates essay was their ability to do exactly that. I have never been one to drift from the path forged by others, but I think somewhere in the future, if I see a split in the branches of the forest, I might just carve my own way through it just to see what’s on the other side.

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