I’m happy to report that I’m reading for pleasure again. For most of the last seventeen months, I’ve found it very difficult to read for personal enjoyment. Sure, I’ve read lots of stuff for work. Journal articles. Research papers. Numerous books. But nothing that I would consider “reading for entertainment.” Before the pandemic, I would regularly read a book or two a month for sheer pleasure. But when the pandemic hit, I found it hard to concentrate on the narrative contained in my novels of choice. Each time I’d pick up a book and begin to read, my mind would wander off and I’d think about the existential dread from the global pandemic. And then I’d put the book down and try to find some other method to quiet those thoughts. I played a lot of games on my smartphone and logged a lot of time on social media through most of 2020.
But here I am, back to reading for pleasure. I’d love to say that the pandemic is completely out of my mind, but maybe I’m just better at quieting those distracting thoughts. Practice makes perfect, I guess.
As I’ve started reading novels again, I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff I choose to read for pleasure versus the stuff I read academically. When I read for pleasure, I usually like to read stories about the solo spy who is trying to save the world or solve a crime or stop some mammoth tragedy from happening. If you watch action movies, you’re probably familiar with the characters. Characters like Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, and Jack Reacher are the typical protagonists. Over the years, I’ve read most of the books with those guys. Lately, I’ve been reading the Grey Man series by Mark Greaney. The Grey Man is an ex-CIA agent who becomes an assassin-for-hire. Despite his profession as a paid killer, the Grey Man is actually a hero because he only takes jobs where he hunts down bad people. In one book, he fights a drug cartel. In another, he works to take down a group of human traffickers. Each book contains some wild premise with a twisted plot, but the books are so far removed from my daily life that they’re great entertainment.
While my “pleasure reads” focus on the solo spy who is off on some lone adventure, my “scholarly reads” tend to focus almost entirely on communities of people coming together to work and learn. I did a quick search through this blog’s archives and found that I’ve mentioned the word “community” in over fifty different posts. In fact, as I’m writing this post, I’m surrounded by no less than five different books on “communities of practice.” So, while I’m entertained by the adventures of the solo spy, the educator in me sees the world much differently. Although I could try to explain the difference, I’ll let Etienne Wenger do the heavy lifting. In his book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, & Identity, Wenger (1999) considers the nature of learning within communities and writes:
“The primary focus of this theory is on learning as social participation. Participation here refers not just to local events of engagement in certain activities with certain people, but to a more encompassing process of being active participants in the practices of social communities and constructing identities in relation to these communities… Such participation shapes not only what we do, but also who we are and how we interpret what we do.” (pg. 4)
I know that might be heady stuff. But for me, it captures the fantasy of fictional characters like the Grey Man. While it’s great to read about lone spies who run off to save the world, the rest of us are shaped by the communities with whom we are fortunate to participate and learn from. And as we’re nearing (hopefully) the end of a global pandemic where we’ve been forced to isolate from one another, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.