Reading, I think, is one of those things which you either really like or dislike. I definitely belong to the former category. Ever since I was a small child I loved reading. There’s nothing as comforting, as to curl up on the couch on a rainy day, with a pot of tea and a good book. To put aside your to-do list and worries and to lose yourself in another world. Joining the main character on an adventure, or to solve a murder mystery or to try and save the world. To feel the excitement of a chase, the sadness after the death of a character or the relief when the main character is still standing at the end of the story.
I can vividly remember the first time I ventured into the adult section of the local library. I was about thirteen years old, when I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer. All those rows of bookcases with thick volumes beckoned me. There were so many stories waiting to be read.
Here I discovered the existence of fantasy books. Which I found surprising. Even in the serious world of adults, people had written about wondrous and strange worlds. Multiple times a month I would drag a heavy bag of books back home, filled with new stories. I became a master in reading under the covers, while walking down the stairs or while walking through the house.
When going to school, turned into studying and eventually working life, I remained an avid reader. Reading was something to unwind and to relax. To leave your own bubble and to feel and live the life of someone else.
Your brain at work
Reading may feel like a relaxing activity, but your brain is still working hard. First of all your eyes have to focus on the letters on a page. Next you have to move your eyes in a coordinated fashion along the line. All the way to the end of the page and then jump to the following line. While at the same time processing the words and attach meaning to them. Then you have to place the words into context and remember what happened before. All while trying to stay focused and concentrated, by ignoring non-important disturbances.
When you look at it like this, reading becomes the result of a complicated interaction of the different parts of your brain. Well, that’s what I discovered when that interaction became disrupted.
After my accident it took some time for me to realise that I’ve had a brain injury. In the beginning, I only knew that I was very tired, that everything took more effort and that I had double vision. Reading was no longer a relaxing activity, but became a very heavy task.
Ten minutes of reading would wipe me out. I had to follow the line with my finger and close one eye in order to read a sentence. Books with exciting political intrigues became much too complicated for me to understand. Reading thick books was out of the question. I would have to remember far too much information.
Those first months were tough. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me, couldn’t do anything and couldn’t even pass the time doing something that I loved. Would I ever be able to enjoy a good book again? Would I be able to read new books of my favourite authors? And if I couldn’t read how would I pass the time?
Having to adapt
Hope, stubbornness and perseverance became my metaphorical crutches. I was determined to get as close as possible to my old level of reading. Luckily technology also helped. The double vision made reading difficult, but I didn’t need my eyes for audiobooks. Thanks to a thoughtful gift of a friend, I could escape to another world in between rehabilitation treatments. Ten minutes of listening, slowly became thirty and finally I could listen for a whole hour, without having to take a break.
Reading an actual book proved to be more challenging. Here a ruler was needed to follow the sentences. However in combination with simpler stories and thinner books, I eventually managed to read books again! Technological advances have also helped. Nowadays by using an e-reader you can change the spacing, margins, and font size. Which makes reading a lot easier.
Reading for me is now mostly a relaxing activity. I still have to take regular breaks, to give my brain the opportunity to process all the information. A change I’m more than willing to make, as it means I can still enjoy reading a good book.
This week the long-awaited end of the third trilogy of Robin Hobb will be released. Which inspired me to write this post. Her ‘Assassin’s apprentice’ was my first foray in the world of fantasy books. I’ve read (and re-read) these books in school, between exams, on the beach and during reintegration. Consequently I can’t wait to settle in with my e-reader and a pot of tea and revisit these old friends. Which also will provide another opportunity to practise making responsible choices and taking timely breaks. 🙂
Do you like reading? Which kind of books do you like? How taxing is reading for you?