What follows should not make much sense to you. At least I hope it doesn't. But today it dawned on me that I have only recently gotten into reading. On my own time. As a hobby. In just the past year or so, I have finally evolved into one of those semi-intelligent (looking) beings who has a book in his hand most of the time. And I think this is a good thing.
Here is why.
Once a discouraged, pigeonholed youth, I have known far too well the pain of scoring a lowly 18 on the reading section of the ACT exam, and the labels that come with such a poor performance. An 18, guys. For those of you not familiar with this standardized college-admissions test, each of the five parts - English, math, reading, science reasoning and writing - is scored out of 36 points. And for those of you who flunked the math portion - either out of sheer lack of numerical inclination or the fact that you forgot to bring a calculator on exam day - my reading score of 18 is equivalent to 50 percent. See: abysmal. See: beyond repair. See: half-broken. See: chance.
This was my problem: I was always the slowest reader in my grade, missing reading assignments and deadlines left and right. Regardless of the book or subject matter, I was usually stuck somewhere around page 13, re-reading several times over the 12 that came before it. And this took me days. It was frustrating to say the least. I would fall so far behind that I'd have to resort to relying on things like CliffsNotes, the early Web and simply what my friends and random passers-by told me happened in these acclaimed works. Little did they know they held such power, and every bit of my trust. They could have told me anything. They could have told me Holden Caulfield is a transgendered individual struggling in the wake of a botched sex change, coming to grips with his/her maritime responsibilities aboard the USS Mushroom Stamp. And lest I forget "The Catcher In The Rye" is an autobiographical memoir of J.D. Salinger's mixed-up prepubescence at sea. You see, I would have taken all of this at face value, and failed, miserably. By all accounts, I should probably still be in high school, repeating literature courses in dizzying, merry-go-round fashion.
It's not that I couldn't retain anything I read, my mind just tended to wander and think about other things while my eyes followed strings of words, left to right, down the page, only going through the physical motions, no further. I would catch myself doing this and have to re-read what I had just skimmed past, what I had failed to process. This was my problem, and it became rather apparent on the ACT, where would-be scholars are forced to read a series of passages and answer corresponding sets of questions. A tall order for yours truly, back then. This was the opening of the kimono, so to speak.
Perhaps most confounding about my test results (once my immediate family and I let go of our explanatory theories of miscalculation, results mix-up and severe damage to my temporal lobe) was that I did fairly well on the other sections, somehow managing a 32 for English. A 32! I wasn't sure what a 32 signified, but I knew it was a hell of a lot better than an 18. And I remember wanting to shave a couple points off that score and reallocate them to my valiant attempt at reading. My letters to the ACT board went unanswered, so I assumed this was not allowed.
Thank God the ACT averages your scores from all five areas for one composite score, or I may have never been accepted into a university. If there was no composite score, admissions departments would have just laughed at my applications, feeling bad enough to want to help me, but not bad enough to help me with their own education programs. So they would have sent me another program - complimentary copies of "Reading Rainbow" - instead. I would've felt insulted. I also would've watched all the episodes after getting over it. Every one of 'em. Because that was a good show.