Spontaneous Reading: 2016 and My Personal Literary Revolution by McKinsey Crozier

To say that I read constantly would be an understatement. Many of my childhood memories occurred while peering over the edges of a well-worn paperback (usually Harry Potter, let’s be honest). I love reading, so much so that my family has grown long-accustomed to and long-annoyed by the fact that I forget to engage in discussion because I’m too busy reading and processing books. But this year, I feel like I grew more as a reader than I ever have before. According to my GoodReads reading challenge, I read 164 books in 2016. More than the numbers, though, it was the most exciting, eclectic, interesting, surprising, and transformative year of reading I have ever experienced.

I embraced the difficulties of this past year through choosing to encounter and embrace my own intellectual difficulties, cutting down on the trashy romances and taste-testing new genres, reading my first mysteries in years, sampling some business guides, and even diving into the political tension through reading extensively about not only my beliefs and candidates, but also extensively about the candidates I did not support. I read books about other countries, ways of life, and struggles beyond those of my small, Midwestern town. I read books I thought I wouldn’t like. I read books I grabbed at used book sales without looking at the titles. I borrowed books from my grandma. I asked people I just met what their favorite books were – and read them.

In doing all of this – what I call “spontaneous reading” – I learned more about myself and the world around me than I ever would have imagined. Before the past year, I didn’t know I would read self-help guides and enjoy them. Before 2016, I didn’t know that my dad and I could share books – and have us both enjoy them. Before 2016, I knew nothing about Nigeria, and now I dream of traveling there. Before 2016, I read exclusively things I had vetted and examined and asked friends about and carefully perused reviews about online. Now, I read… everything.

Reading is an eye-opening experience, but only if you let it. You see, reading expands your knowledge, but in the same way that eating too much Thanksgiving turkey makes your pants too tight, learning a lot from reading stretches and challenges your boundaries. The problem is that before the past year, I wasn’t reading a whole lot that made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t reading enough books that scared me, touched me, enraged me, enlightened me, embraced me, taught me. When you read books that are lukewarm, you begin to feel lukewarm in your knowledge and spirit. When you refuse to get uncomfortable, you lose the benefits that make reading so enticing.

“Reading is hard, and ‘hard’ is necessary.” My English teacher has this statement hanging on her classroom wall. Before, I always brushed past it. Reading might be hard for some people, I would think, but it’s not hard for me. I breezed through novel after novel without reflection or thought or care. Reading was easy.

Now, though I smile when I see that poster, because I have had so many nights over the past year where I began a book with a sigh of resignation instead of pleasure. However, I have finished more books with a grin on my face than I have in the last several. Now, reading is exciting and challenging and exhilarating. In all honesty, I sometimes feel like quitting. Reading is hard. Really, really, hard.

But hard is necessary.

To make 2017 your year of spontaneous reading, here are 17 challenges for more passionate, exciting, eclectic, challenging, infuriating, spontaneous reading:

1.       Borrow a book from your grandma (or another family member).

2.       Ask a librarian or bookstore clerk for a recommendation. The more obscure, the better.

3.       Go to a used book sale, and get a book you think you’ll hate. Read it anyway.

4.       Close your eyes and (safely) walk around a library or bookstore and pick a book randomly from the shelves.

5.       Look at bestsellers in other countries and order one.

6.       Think of a political issue you are especially passionate about, and purchase a book arguing the opposing opinion.

7.       Trade books with friends.

8.       Read a book from a new genre.

9.       Find a book that stretches your vocabulary.

10.    Ask for books for your birthday. No gift certificates allowed.

11.    Find a book about a religion, culture, or lifestyle you are not familiar with.

12.    Ask people you just met what their favorite books are.

13.    Read a children’s book.

14.    Read something you will never need.

15.    Find a book about something you’ve always wanted to do.

16.    Think of an issue you are relatively neutral about. Read about it, and see whether your opinion changes.

17.    Read a book about a historical event that does not involve your home country.

McKinsey Crozier (@feelthesunshyne) is a junior at Cadillac High School in Cadillac, Michigan, where she is passionate about reading and writing that enhances personal learning and growth. When not reading and writing, she enjoys traveling, art, and playing tennis. She loves time spent playing music, making cat videos, experimenting in the chemistry lab, and baking cupcakes.