Thursday, March 1, 2018
In an Attempt to Explain Why
If the reading police stopped me today, I would surely get a ticket or a citation for the number of books I currently am reading. My record is 15, but I usually hover around ten to twelve. Who knows, they might even arrest me with a disgusted shake of their heads. You might hear them mutter, "Why in the...?"
My reading habit goes back to the very beginnings of my memory. I have no memories of anyone ever reading to me, although I don't doubt that someone probably did as I was the youngest. Nor do I have memories of anyone hounding me to read or making a chart to encourage me to read. I just did it. All. the. time. I have no clear recollections of anyone praising me for it. I have never received any awards or prizes. When I was a kid the library didn't have summer programs or incentives. No fanfare when we entered the library EVER. Yet, for some inexplicable reason I became a reader. Perhaps if I brought this up with a sibling, one of them might say, "Oh, I take credit for that! I did it!" And then a long narrative would begin. I think I'd have a little inkling of a memory if that were true.
We always had a bookshelf. No one thought to cater to young appetites, so I read what was there as my skills grew. I read my father's Farm Journal magazine, the newspaper, and even my mother's Relief Society Magazine with its pitiful fiction. I memorised all the titles in our bookcase too. My grandmother's cases fascinated me because at least someone had added My Friend Flicka and a few other horse books there as well as a few children's classics Her books were housed in old apothecary cases--one of which I inherited where I now store my Icelandic knitting wool. These solitary bookcases shaped my early habits. Their presence dictated that forevermore I would have a shelf of books or a bookcase of books or the library room of books that I now have.
My circle of friends did not always include readers. Some of my friends had no interest at all. I would play happily with them, but when the time came to go home, I knew my book friends were there to continue the same commradery my human friends gave me. But then as I got older, my friends WERE readers, and we went regularly to the library, shared titles and carried on literary conversations. My graduating class was unusual that way. We passed around books like candy. It seems we were ALL readers! I still remember big thick books read in high school with yellowed softly worn pages or better still tissue-like pages which signified not only a book's extreme girth but it's classic nature. As a junior and senior in high school I was employed at the local movie theatre. I remember the intimacy of sitting in the box office with a little space heater perched on a stool reading reading reading. Every now and then someone would come to purchase a ticket, but not very often. That suited me just fine.
I remember hiding books inside my textbooks in school. I remember sneaking off to a quiet corner of the house to read where no one would interrupt or find something more productive (wash dishes, clean bathtubs) for me to do. The reading habit is so ingrained in me before bedtime that I have been known to read phonebooks when I get caught without a book in a hotel! It has ALWAYS been about the book for me.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend with whom I worked in a university library thirty years ago. When I asked her what she does she said, "Well, mostly I read. Nonfiction." One would expect as much from a retired librarian now widowed. Isn't it wonderful? She told me she'd recently been reading books about adult attention deficit disorder which she professes to have. But I was fascinated by her reading habits. She also has a "fetish" for printing off copies of what she reads. She used to love standing at a copy machine during her librarian years! Sitting in the presence of such magnificent life direction almost felt confessional. I admitted my weakness, we smiled knowingly at each other, and the rest of the money-grubbing world can just blast right on by us.
Does reading get in the way of my life? Most assuredly. The dust accumulates, the conversations go unsaid, the sonnets go unwritten, and the concertos go unplayed. That is a choice I've made. I read for joy, for knowledge, for reinforcement, for a foray into my soul, and for the quiet zen of the ages. I buy books, I give books, I trade books, I crane my neck to see what strangers on trains are reading, and I jot down countless titles of books to read on any scrap of paper available. I find those scraps everywhere and wish I'd saved them all so I could paper a corner of my library with them.
There, my attempt to explain why. The why has never really concerned me. Mostly I've just been about the how. The everloving how. And the when. The nagging relentless when. And of course, the what. The what. The what.