Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Learning to Read: A Romantic Comedy

Written by: on September 1, 2021

My relationship with reading began in Mrs. Owen’s second grade class at Russellville Elementary School in East Tennessee. When the reading period came around a few classmates and I filed ourselves outside and into portable classrooms. While the rest of our class tapped into the magical land of books I played remedial “video games” meant to teach me vowel sounds, simple words and sentence structure. This portable classroom taught me how to play hangman, and more importantly, it taught me that the world of books was one I was not invited to explore. 

The reading program, Accelerated Reader, took my school by storm, and the kids who knew how to read continued honing their skill. I had yet to be initiated into the world of reading so I floated on the fringes, reading small children’s books to give the semblance of participation without the cost it required. Truly, I did not like reading. The kids who excelled in this art seemed to be relational escape artists and unathletic, which was the antithesis of the persona I was developing. At home, my father would get lost for hours in science fiction books – their intricate covers intrigued me but the tiny print immediately evaporated my sense of wonder. I saw books as a numbing agent meant to disembody and reincarnate into a make-believe world. The trauma from my childhood afforded me this opiatic state already, so I found no need to seek such an altered state in books.

My interest in reading was dormant; as a performative reader I did just enough to pass my classes and avoid social shaming throughout middle school and high school. It wasn’t until Dr. Sargent’s Social Psychology class in my freshman year at college that I woke up. It happened while reading a textbook written to explain why people do certain actions in certain groups. It explained my human need for acceptance, my fear of rejection and why no one talks in elevators. This book was not an anesthetic but an accelerant of emotion, cognition and imagination. I began putting my world together, and I was raptured into the fairy tale of sociological thought.

I enjoyed many of the books I read throughout my bachelor’s and master’s programs, but my skill in this area never developed. I became a better reader by reading more frequently, but I did not acquire best practices for comprehension or speed; I’ve already learned far more from Adler than I previously knew about how to read. Previously, I assumed two options when reading: to read or not to read. I thought reading books required I read every word, every page and a book can only be considered “read” if I follow this rule. Certainly this has been the measuring stick of many graduate and undergraduate classes – a larger portion of a course grade depended on the percentage of reading completed, and “completed” seemed to be defined by how much of each book was read. So, my reading skills are not where they need to be. I’ve been using an old operating system when approaching books, which leads to less bandwidth, and more crashes in the form of naps. 

My note taking skills are a little more updated. I use an annotated bibliography when researching or reading for content – skills I acquired in my first year in the Doctor of Ministry program.  Truly, I love reading, but I would love it more if this relationship had better communication skills. The inspectional reading approach is not something I previously considered, but has already paid off with Adler. Using my finger to guide my eyes across the page is a simple technique that challenges me to read faster, but comprehend without getting caught on each word. I have devoted myself to reading and note taking, but only in an amateur sense. I’m looking forward to gaining new tools and a fresh perspective to rekindle the flame once again.

About the Author

Michael Simmons

- Tennessee --> Oregon - Father to David and Bina, Partner to Liz - Portland Seminary Admissions Counselor - Spiritual Director - Companioning Center Leadership Team - Deep Water Board Member - Ordained Elder, FMC - Aspiring Jungian Theologian

9 responses to “Learning to Read: A Romantic Comedy”

  1. mm Eric Basye says:

    Hey there Michael. I loved the title and introduction! It is late; I am tired and ready for bed, yet, I couldn’t help but click and read your post! Thank you for sharing… I loved your story telling, transparency, and vulnerability. Well done.

  2. Michael Simmons says:

    Eric! Thank you for that generous comment. I enjoyed writing it as I had not considered my relationship with reading in this way. I’ve thought of it as two distinct seasons of life rather than a continual journey of growing in love. Peace 🙂

  3. mm Andy Hale says:

    Oh, I remember the accelerated reader program fondly. More specifically, I remember reading just enough of the book to pass the test to get the points to win a prize. Maybe the story of my academic life before undergrad.

  4. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Michael. I loved reading your post and appreciate so much your courage in persevering with reading. I’m looking forward to hearing how the journey of your growing love affair with reading continues. I’m glad you are joining our peer group!

  5. Elmarie, I agree. I’m very much looking forward to meeting you and our peer group. Excited for this journey!

  6. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Hi Michael. I too have reflected over the years that the trauma throughout my childhood was used as means to encourage my love of reading through the desire to jump into alternative realities. It is not lost on me that the Lord is able to use any and all of our stories to empower and equip us for things to come. I also resonated with the need to read every word. I remember in my undergraduate work, certain professors would ask us to report what percentage of the book we read. I wish more of the skills and techniques that Adler highlights were emphasized earlier in an academic career. I look forward to individually and collectively growing in our skillsets this coming year.

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Michael, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the picture you painted about the artful readers vs the persona you worked to nurture. Our formative years impact our lives much longer than we sometimes like to admit. Your mention of Adler’s reading technique is one that too caught me eye. I hope we both find success in applying this skill as we journey deeper into our year.

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Michael, I appreciate your authentic assessment of your reading skills, particularly that you have not applied it to its fulness. I’m sure we are all on a road of acquiring more developed skills.

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