I like to read. I will read almost anything. I do not come from a family of readers. I visited my first public library when I was eleven. It was a revelation. My babysitter, who was a voracious consumer of paperback romance novels, took me with her at the beginning of the summer. The librarian let me fill out a form for a card even though my parents weren’t with me and then, this magic thing happened. I got to walk through stacks and stacks and row upon row of book and pick out any one I wanted and take it home. The books weren’t all children’s or young adult literature as was the case in the tiny school library. There were books about everything. Novels written by everyone. The covers of some books even had people kissing.
I didn’t know where to begin so I started in the A’s in fiction. I would checkout whatever struck my fancy based on things like if I liked the cover art or the author’s name sounded not too off. Every Saturday that summer, my daddy would take me to the library after all of our chores were done and I would roam the quiet, cool stacks while he dozed in a chair by the magazines. If there was extra money and time, he and I would then go to the early show at the movie theater, sneaking in our own M&M’s.
I would like to say I spent the summer reading Austen, Twain and Tolkein but that would be a lie. I read every Agatha Christie mystery the library had and that was about as sophisticated as I got. I spent the summer reading Robert Ludlum thrillers, Sydney Sheldon melodramas and every paperback that featured a strong-jawed, bare-chested man and a disheveled woman in a hoop skirt – every single one of them. This did little to improve my ideas about adult relationships.
Books are where I go when I want to be entertained, when I want to be challenged, want to escape, want comfort, or to be excited, to learn something about myself, about other people, the world at large. I go to books when I am happy and when I am sad. I find in them most everything I need.
In a world where all of life can turn inside out in a second, words are my constant. Literature, history, biography, poetry, theology, philosophy, all of it, it all feeds me. I fall into the pages of a novel, thinking I’ll learn something about life in 19th century Russia but often discovering something new about myself. In books, in the words of others, I discover I am not alone. I am not the only one who has felt disconnected by my difference. I find as much truth in fiction as I do in any history book.
When the school year started up and I began junior high, I kept up my reading but school was constantly getting in the way. I would get in trouble for reading during class. I need to repeat that. I would get in trouble for reading during class. I understand why the adults might have been a little put out. It has to be hard on a teacher’s ego to know the weird, quiet kid can maintain a 100 average while listening with half an ear. Carrying around four hundred page novels did not endear me to my peers. As disturbed as teachers were, students were even more put off by my habit. It would be another decade before I would have a close friend.
All of that seems so odd now. How could you not like someone because they read books? Why weren’t my teachers at least neutral about a kid who showed such enthusiasm for words on a page? Why didn’t people around me do more to feed that fire rather than throwing so much cold water on it? Who knows? People are weird. Books are not.