When I enrolled in my Master of Arts in English program, I knew it was going to be reading-intensive. Duh, right? Dense research studies, memos, essays—you name the type of writing, and I guarantee I read mountains of it on a daily basis. For me, the scariest part of starting this degree was the battle I knew I’d have to fight with concentration.
If you’ve struggled with concentration for years, I’m in your corner. This may sound bizarre, but for most of my life, I’ve found it difficult to focus not only on academics, but even on activities I thoroughly enjoy. I like to paint in my leisure time, but I’m so easily distracted that nearly anything can interrupt my artistic flow and make me spring up from my chair. It’s even hard for me to sit still for a great movie. I’m not sure why this is the case—maybe I have ADHD, or I might just be an incredibly distractible person with no real diagnosis.
As a child, reading was one of my most beloved pastimes. I can’t pinpoint what changed this for a period of time. Maybe it was that books became more complicated as I got older, requiring more brain power to comprehend. At a certain point, I realized I was no longer absorbing what I was reading. My mind wandered. I’d skip over sentences—paragraphs, even. I’d close a book after “finishing” a chapter and think, “What happened in that chapter?”
I went through an era in which I didn’t read books at all, despite genuinely wanting to. For years, it was the same dismal cycle: I’d read the back of a book and think, “Well, that sounds interesting.” I’d then proceed to buy it and look at it wistfully on the shelf for months and years, wishing I had the willpower to sit down and read it properly.
I ended up finding a solution within the practice of reading itself. I explained the problem to a friend, and he suggested I read aloud to him over the phone. (This worked out well, as he’s also interested in reading classics.) This, it turned out, was the breakthrough I needed to enjoy literature again. I discovered that when you read out loud (this can be done in a whisper if you’re not alone), it becomes nearly impossible to skip parts. My experience is that if I revert to reading silently, I automatically start to skip around again.
Each day, this friend and I read a chapter of a book out loud together. In this way, we’ve conquered “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf, and “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte (I’d had this one for three years). We’re currently in the process of reading “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. It’s like a book club, but so much better. Anytime there’s confusion or just a fascinating tidbit, you have someone to discuss it with immediately. And it’s not as heavy a time commitment as you might expect. Just one chapter per day.
In addition to this intensive book club, I’m always reading a side book by myself. My current pick is “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips. It’s a beautifully written novel that’s fairly easy to read on the side of Dickens!
We’re all destined to struggle with some aspects of life. Concentration is always going to be a challenge for me, but if I keep reading those long passages out loud, I know I’ll be able to internalize them. It’s my way of interacting with the material, and it works for me.
Even if you don’t have trouble focusing, I highly recommend reading aloud with a friend to enrich the experience.
About the Author:
Desi Driver is your go-to gal for the topics we usually keep under wraps. Risky or risqué, heart-wrenching or heartwarming, traumatic or tense, dark or daring, this anonymous outlet allows real women to share their honest stories safely and privately. Unfortunately, in today’s world, we cannot always be as open about some of the toughest topics women experience every day. But Desi can. She may be anonymous, but she is still real, fresh and inspiring.