I just finished reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. It’s a fictional story about a boy who crash lands in the wild left to his own devices to survive. It’s a great story of inner and outer resilience focusing on only two main characters: Brian (the boy) and nature. His very real plight is coupled with his thoughts on his struggles/accomplishments to live and his memories of his “normal” life back in civilization.
But I’m not really here to critically review the book — although it was an enjoyable read. I want to highlight the fact that I treated it as a gateway back into reading fiction and the additional and larger benefit it’s providing. More on that in a minute.
The dreams we have as children fade away
When I was a kid (teenager) I enjoyed reading. I grew up in a house where my father and brother read books. Actual, physical books. Naturally, I took to this influence and did what any kid would do, chose fiction. Sci-Fi, fantasy, some biographies and autobiographies filled my list. As a kid we’re filled with dreams and imagination. We like to fantasize and visualize ourselves in the protagonist’s shoes and even write our own short stories and comics.
As we get older we are pressured to “grow up” and go to college, get a job, and navigate the ongoing pressure of a new, ever-evolving social life. We direct our focus inward toward self-improvement and optimization and away from our outside world of learning within the myriad of subjects school exposed us to. Consequently our reading habits either shift or decay altogether.
The self-help trap
Naturally, when we start reading again we have a tendency to reach for the latest self-improvement book. Usually it’s by some new and up and coming author that (in reality) writes a 300 page book that could easily be summed up with a 1000 word article. They follow the classic template of introducing the problem, fleshing out several points as a solution and then revealing just enough to leave room for another book for you to buy later. Additionally, much of the self-help material is recycled from ancient lessons that have been around for centuries. But that’s another story.
Whether it’s books, articles, podcasts, or videos we become sponges for self-improvement material. We make it our mission to consume as if trying to convince ourselves we are making progress.
The power of quitting and starting
My son is at the age where he’s reading books for school. He’s always been an avid reader (I’m a proud dad), but now that he’s reading more for his formal education it’s piqued my interest even more.
I’m taking a look at everything I’m consuming and giving all of it a hard look. I’m becoming a harsh critic of my reading, especially. I’m a huge believer in whatever you’re intake is your outtake will resemble.
I’m starting to quit all the self-improvement stuff and will try reintroducing fiction back into my life. After reading Hatchet, I realized that fiction has the opposite effect of self-help. Instead of tirelessly focusing on me, I’m able to finally relax and direct that attention on something other than me. I can, once again, be the audience, be entertained, and have a choice whether or not to relate to the story, find lessons, and/or just sit back and enjoy.
I must admit that it is a welcomed breath of fresh air. So far, I feel like some sort of subconscious weight has been lifted. Maybe it’s taking away at least some responsibility I’ve given myself to be more perfect and optimized in life.
It’s nice to take a break from yourself every once in a while. To take the pressure of a little and just enjoy the spectrum that true reading for reading’s sake can give you.
The hidden benefit
As I’ve said, Hatchet is a great story. It’s a great gateway read for me to get back into the fiction world. It’s an easy, focused read that presents real, relatable challenges. I recommend it.
A welcomed benefit has been the fact that my son had it as assigned reading. This enables us to discuss the story, talk about what we liked, and I can see his writing ability improve. It connects us on yet another level. I’m directly involved in his work without it seeming too intrusive or hovering over him. Also, he will know I’m involved and will be more open (hopefully) to talk about things.
I encourage you to diversify your reading if you haven’t already. I’m only in the infant stages of getting back into it, but I really do think that fiction, among other categories instead of self-help, can provide timeless lessons to help us understand the challenges of life.
What about you? Have you made any shifts in thinking about what you consume? Do you have any recommendations for my next book of fiction?
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