Hyperlexia, or why I didn’t study English Lit at Uni

My mother tells a cute story of taking me to work at the Middle Eastern Technical University in Ankara when the babysitter didn’t show up. I guess I was around two years old. At the bus stop, I exclaimed “Bak anne” (Look mommy) “A-K-B-A-N-K-A-S-I… Akbankasi” In Turkey, public benches are often sponsored by banks. The punchline was some onlookers joking about how young college students were these days.

When I was four, and living in Ireland by now, I used to read my brother’s schoolbooks and long for the day I too could go to school. Nobody remembers teaching me how to read.

By age seven, I was getting into trouble for reading when I should have been “paying attention”. My teacher never did catch me out though, I’d know the answer to whatever question he asked me, even while secretly reading my copy of Jane Eyre hidden on my lap.

Reading, for me, was a bit like an addiction. I could never get enough. Phone books, leaflets, instruction manuals, nothing was too boring to read. This was the era before I had internet access, and so my choices were limited by what I could find at home. My mother has an extensive collection of books, and kindly let me at them. The one book I was explicitly warned against reading – Last Exit to Brooklyn – was devoured along with the rest. No book was too much for me.

In secondary school we were studying The Mayor of Casterbridge. Of course, I then had to go and read every single novel Thomas Hardy ever wrote. My mother finally had to ban me from reading nineteenth century novels when I was supposed to be studying. My peers were off drinking and partying and I was annoyed that I got into trouble for … reading.

Everybody marvelled how great I was at English. But I, myself, hated the subject. It’s one thing reading and enjoying a book. It’s another thing altogether to answer questions on it. Sure, I had great exam technique and could churn out the desired answers, but it bored me to death. It was then that I realised that I could never study English Lit in university.

I still spent every free second reading. And at last in University, I had unlimited access to thousands of books. After speed reading all my course textbooks, I scoured the shelves for other books to read, often with no link whatsoever to what I was supposed to be studying. I’d read at least a book a day, more during holidays when I didn’t have pesky lectures using up my time.

But still I would not discuss or dissect them with others. Except that one summer when my mother was a judge of an international fiction prize. She’d read a book and pass it on to me and I’d read it in a day and give her my opinion. It was payment for access to the books. I didn’t go into much detail, just used what she called my ‘laser-like focus’ and sum up my thoughts in a sentence or two.

When I first came across the term hyperlexia , I shared information about it on my Facebook page. A very good friend from secondary school queried my having it, as she claimed I had no associated difficulties with language. But she did not see the stuff I hid so well. How I can’t process spoken information so well, how I can’t follow audiobooks, how when learning French or German (classes I shared with her) I could not understand unless I saw the words written down. How, while I can follow movies if they have enough context, I cannot follow short YouTube videos without captions. She did not see how I scripted entire conversations and practised them in my head. Of course, I can’t blame her. I had everyone fooled.

I went through a period, after the birth of my kids, when I could no longer read fiction. I don’t know why. I blame exhaustion. But recently I’ve started being able to do so again. And I can’t wait to share my favourite books with you, fiction and non-fiction. But first a confession. I find myself, with this blog, attempting to write a few book reviews and share my favourite recent books. And struggling. So, forgive me if my reviews are brief and not that exciting. If I sum up my thoughts in just a sentence or two. It just reminds me too much of being in school! And of why I didn’t study English Lit at Uni.

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4 thoughts on “Hyperlexia, or why I didn’t study English Lit at Uni

  1. Interesting, I remember reading before I was in Kindergarten. So I was three or four years old (I started Kindergarten at 4 and a half or so) and remember reading the set of story books that apparently my aunt had bought me. I never thought anything of it at the time or later. I don’t remember if anyone actually taught me to read though or how it came about. I actually tended to like English classes in school though. Kind of…Love hate of sorts in getting stressed out wondering if I was doing it “right” especially since it seemed to be subjective or depended on certain things that were being looked for at the time by certain teachers.

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  2. Reblogged this on Flying yet falling and commented:
    Autisticzebra is the first person who’s described an experience that resonates with mine when it comes to books: I was also hyperlexic and didn’t want to study literature because that would have ruined them for me…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can relate to this, I was also an early reader (pre-school, and couldn’t understand why the other kids were struggling with ‘see spot run’, it was so easy!). I also have a much harder time with spoken language, it really irks me because I have to concentrate really hard when I’m having a conversation with someone, or else I’ll keep repeating ‘what?’, ‘Say again.’ (or more likely just nod and smile, like I know exactly what they said). So it’s nice to find that other people have similar experiences, it makes me feel less… odd hehe

    Meno<3

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  4. My experience isn’t quite as extreme as yours; nevertheless I recognise a lot of this. I did actually study English at uni, but half Lang and half Lit, and in retrospect I really wish I’d not studied the Lit bit. It put me off fiction for about three years afterwards. I’m fascinated by words and language (one reason I love writing), but also terrible at processing spoken language. I can’t do films without subtitles. And again, I’m highly verbal, but a lot of it is scripted. Daughter is even more like this than I am – she was decoding individual words at 18m, and a fluent reader by 2.5. She’s obsessed with books. Might steer her away from studying literature when she’s older – she has plenty of other interests anyway!

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