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Our Reading Lives

Reader Shame: Failing Reading

Dana Staves

Staff Writer

Going through life with an apron tied on and a pen in her hand, Dana Staves writes about books and food. She also writes a little fiction. She lives in Maryland with her wife, their son, and their cat.

I am here to admit my secret reader shame:  in 7th grade, I was failing Reading. I knew in an abstract way that it was coming. There were reading logs, you see, that we were supposed to keep each month. On a printed spreadsheet, we were asked to account for the minutes spent reading—at least 30 minutes a day—and at the end of the month, turn in our log, and that made up the bulk of our Reading grade. (Reading class, as it turned out, didn’t include much actual in-class reading.)

When the time came at the end of each month to pass our reading logs to the front, I sat there, a clean, empty spreadsheet in front of me, my name at the top. And that was it. “Quick,” my friends said, “just write something. It doesn’t matter if it’s true.” There was no time to manufacture 30 days of reading life, and beyond that, I was too literal, too honest a child to make up such information off the cuff. What would I have read? And for how long? Do I just say 30 minutes a day since that was the expectation?

So I handed in the spreadsheet, blank. It was so wrong because  I read constantly. I read books and Teen magazine articles. I read in the evening and on the weekends; on the bus ride home. Far more, usually, than the 30 minute minimum per day. But I could never ever remember to fill in the reading log. Reading was natural, ubiquitous. It would be like remembering to fill out a log for putting my socks on each morning, or turning my light out each night. It just happened; I didn’t need to log it.

The dreaded progress report came back:  Reading, F. My first F. I was failing Reading. I took the carbon packet home for my mom’s signature and suffered through her receiving this incomprehensible truth. “How are you failing Reading?” she asked.

It was easily remedied, this whole thing. Fill in a reading log. Turn it in with all the little squares full of numbers and titles of books. I would like to say this only happened once and I was back on the straight and narrow, but that’s not the case. Every few weeks, I got a new failing grade in Reading, and every few weeks, I had to repent and fill in the spreadsheet—30 minutes a day, blah blah blah—so I could play ball.

I recently asked fellow Rioters with kids, is this still a thing? Are school children still made to quantify their reading lives with spreadsheets? It is. They are. I wonder, isn’t there a better way? I imagined that life must be so different now, with technology and all. Isn’t there an app for that? Apparently not.

To my delight, I also found I wasn’t alone—other Rioters had similarly hard times with logging their reading lives. Some had parents who were willing to meet with the teacher and work out a compromise. Which is really wonderful.

As for me, I survived Reading. I passed with an A, in the long run. But I’ve carried this weird blight with me through my reading life, and no matter how much I love my data, my spreadsheets, my Goodreads lists, I am still reminded that in 7th grade, this idea of tracking my reading baffled me so that I was actually failing Reading. If 7th grade Dana could see me now, with my pie charts for diversity break-out and my Goodreads challenge…oh, if she could see me now.