Why Do You Look At Me That Way When I Say I Love To Read?
I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t a reader. Despite not having a lot of money for extras when I was growing up, my parents always found a way to keep books on the shelves. There were shelves with children’s books, there were shelves with novels, there were shelves of old books and there were shelves of non-fiction—lots of non-fiction. At some point, my parents even found the money to invest in a set of encyclopedias, so there was a shelf of those.
I obviously don’t remember the first book that anyone ever read to me or the first book I ever read to myself. But I do have a dozen Golden Books that were obviously beloved (and by that I mean they are in pretty bad shape these days). Opening these books to read to my children was like greeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in years.
I grew up in a family of readers. My great-grandmother took a red wagon around the small town they lived in to help start a library. She passed along a love of reading to my grandmother who passed it along to my father who found in my mother a kindred spirit when it came to reading. My father, in turn, did his part in passing along an appreciation of books by spending evenings reading to my siblings and me. The three of us would curl up next to him in the hallway outside of our bedrooms and listen as he read to us from books we were years from being able to read ourselves, memorably Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
When I was older, I never went on a babysitting job without bringing along a book.I read V.C. Andrews, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Outsiders, and Go Ask Alice around that time, and I thought I was pretty grown up to be such a bookworm.Until a man I was babysitting for asked me why I never read any of “the classics.” I didn’t even know what he meant!
In high school, I finally learned what he had been talking about—it turns out I’d grown up with some of those classics right on my bookshelves at home. It was during those years that I discovered William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Emily Dickinson. Also, Danielle Steel, Sidney Sheldon, and Judith Krantz. I may have been introduced to the good stuff, but I wasn’t going to limit myself to only reading books written before I was born. College introduced me to Joseph Conrad, Kate Chopin, and Kahlil Gibran.
I can’t say that being a reader was a criterion for a husband, but I can’t imagine that I would have married anyone who didn’t love to fall into a book and lose himself. My husband and I rarely pass books back and forth; our tastes don’t overlap very much. We did, however, agree that we wanted our children to be readers, so, for the past 22 years, there has rarely been a gift-giving opportunity that didn’t include books for them. Every one of them started hearing me read before they were born, and sometimes we even all sat down in the hall for a children’s classic, like Peter Pan. Although, after doing that, I can’t imagine why my dad didn’t move that routine to a more comfortable spot! Here’s what I’ve learned about trying to raise a reader, to paraphrase an old adage: you can lead a child to the bookshelf, but you can’t make him read the books. I’ve got two readers—they devour books. And I’ve got one who has never enjoyed books. I love her anyway.
Two years ago, I went to a book club meeting. A friend talked me into it. She was hosting and really wanted me to meet the other ladies in the club. I was leery. I love to read and I thought I’d like to be able to discuss books, but I knew I wouldn’t like to be stuck in one of those book clubs. You know the kind I’m talking about: the clubs that get together but never discuss the book, with gatherings that are only an excuse to drink wine, eat appetizers, and gossip. But I went anyway. Only two people had actually read the book and we spent two hours gossiping. Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment; two months later I went to another meeting. And I’ve been going ever since. I’m not always thrilled with the books we read, but we always have great discussions and often talk to the authors over Skype.
When our book club leader decided to start a blog to keep track of the books, I discovered a whole new bookish world. A few months later, I started my own blog and my passion for reading has become something of an obsession. When you’re out there on the internet, talking to other bloggers, publishers, and authors, the list of books you want to read grows daily. When that happens, you have got to start reading faster. Last year, I read 121 books. There—I saw it—you rolled your eyes! In the past couple of years, I’ve discovered David Benioff, Michael Chabon, Geraldine Brooks, Yoko Ogawa, Wilkie Collins, and Michael Ondaatje. I’ve learned that, no matter what happens in the publishing world and what form books take in the future, there will always be people writing wonderful stories and people who want to read them. There will always be readers. Even if, sometimes, people give us that look.