I’ve been reading a lot lately. What is “a lot”? Well, my goal was to read 50 books in 2014. As of the end of July, I’ve already finished 46. So, a LOT.
Part of the reason for the recent spike in numbers is the discovery of two new forms of reading: audio books and the Kindle app on my phone. Since January, I’ve listened to audio books almost exclusively in the car. I’m not very up-to-date on the news of the world, and I’ve probably missed out on at least a half a dozen new pop songs, but I’ve “read” fourteen novels while sitting in traffic or running errands, and I think I’m a better person for it. Without audio books, my current total for the year so far would be 32, just about on par with my goal. But with them, I’m looking at a possibility of 80 or more books this year, which is pretty cool.
I live in a household with no e-readers or iPads (shocking, I know) but this year I discovered the Kindle app on my phone and put it to use. It’s still not my preferred format—I’ve only read four books this way so far—but I do find it useful for reading in bed. My husband can’t sleep if I leave the lamp on, but the dim glow of my phone’s screen doesn’t bother him, so I can read long after he zonks out. Unless the book makes me laugh out loud like Graeme Simsions’ The Rosie Project did. Then I’m busted and have to turn off the phone. (To read Lauren Henderson’s review of The Rosie Project, click here. I agree with her completely.)
All this reading has made me look back on my life as a reader with Wonder Years-colored glasses.
I don’t remember exactly when I learned to read, and I can’t clearly conjure up the process, but I have vague memories of not being able to read at all—staring at the words on the page of my dad’s newspaper or my mom’s novel and wondering what they said, or holding up a book and pretending to read it, making up the story as I went. I also remember, later, practicing my reading with the Sunday comics, things like Garfield that had few words and familiar themes.
That’s about as far as the memory goes. I couldn’t read, and then I could. I don’t recall much about the steps in between.
But once in a while I get a glimpse of that blurry phase in the middle. Due to fatigue or distraction, I misread something, and all of a sudden I remember that struggle, how exhausting it could be trying to decipher the BIG words on the page. Today it was the word “mythmaking” in an article in Writer’s Digest. My mind wanted to divide it after the y instead of the h and, for just a second, I was thinking, “My-what? My-thmaking?” Of course, it only took a moment for me to realize my error and move on.
A few months back, though, I was reading Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made aloud to my husband in the car. The author described a house called “Manyoaks.” About the fourth time that I said, “Man-yokes,” Mark stopped me. “What are you saying?” he asked. That’s when I realized my mistake. The house was named “Many-oaks” not “Man-yoaks.” We laughed for miles.
Once I learned to read, I was a good reader but not a voracious one. I watched a lot of TV and played a lot of video games and spent a lot of time in my backyard. Although I loved buying books from the Scholastic catalogues, I didn’t always read them. I wouldn’t call myself a hyperactive kid, but I don’t remember having the patience to sit down and read a book long enough to get into it. My mom likes to talk about how hard it was to get me to do my weekly assignments out of the “home readers” we were given. She says I was very critical of them, always asking, “Well, why did they say it that way? Why did they write it like that?” I guess I was born an editor.
I did enjoy being read to though—Mom read me the Bunnicula books and Dad read Hank the Cowdog—and in the sixth grade when we read Bridge to Terabithia as a class, I learned how much fun it could be to study a book as a group. That love followed me though middle and high school where I enjoyed analyzing the novels and dissecting them, but still often did not actually finish them, if left to read them on my own.
It wasn’t until college when I started truly reading for pleasure. I bought books and stayed up late reading them. I wrote in the margins and swapped titles with friends. I started a journal where I listed all the books I read and discovered the value of never going anywhere without something to read.
For years, I’ve craved the “home of overflowing books,” that image that’s such a staple in books and movies about teachers and writers and scholars. In these scenes, there are always floor to ceiling bookshelves lining the walls and someone is always having to move a stack of books off a chair for someone else to sit down. There are books tucked everywhere in the room and at least two or three are always lying open. I love these rooms, these scenes. I want to be these characters.
Only recently have I realized how close I’ve come to achieving that dream.
I do live in a house of books, and I read them, and I love them, and if you want me to, I’ll talk to you about them all day long. However, thanks to the public library and audio books and my Kindle app, there’s still room for you to sit down when you come over. I’m more likely to have to move a cat off a chair than a pile of books.
In interviews, most writers say they were bookworms as children. The phrase “read everything I could get my hands on” comes up a lot, as does the description of books as their “closest friends.” In a way, I’ve been envious of those childhoods, slightly embarrassed at all the required reading I left unfinished, all the coming-of-age titles that I didn’t read until I was already of age. But I’ve come to embrace my own history with books. It may have taken me longer than some to discover the beauty of reading, but I’m here now and I’m happy. I don’t think it matters how I arrived.