I have seen a number of slices on books in the last few days. (Yay, books!) This feels slightly like cheating. If I had known I could slice about books, I probably would have been doing that every day, all along. My secret dream job is to be able to read and write about books all day long. The problem with real jobs is that you have to read, edit, review, etc. whatever books that other people tell you to read, and where is the fun in that? (Although, given that my career as an English teacher is predicated on the fact that I tell other people what books they have to read, I realize that makes me kind of hypocritical.)
Anyway, all of this has me thinking about books. Well, I pretty much always think about books, so now I am just thinking about books more in terms of explaining my bookishness to other people.
When people find out that I am a reader (or even that I am an English teacher), they tend to ask me what my favorite book is. I long ago realized that this, for me at least, is an unanswerable question, so I am inclined to say “whatever I am reading now” or “whatever I am reading next” to make them go away and stop distracting me from reading. This annoys teenaged students a great deal though. They are genuinely curious about what I read, and why I read. Some of them even want me to tell them about the books that I am reading.
Now, of course, I am an experienced enough teacher to recognize a delaying tactic when I see one, yet, sometimes I see a genuine interest from my students. (Pro tip: If they ask you at the beginning of lunch instead of when you are handing out a test, they really want to know. 😉) As a result, I have ended up with a different question circling my mind, one that might be more relevant to what students and others are actually trying to ask, but cannot quite articulate: why do I read? What is it about reading that makes it something I want to do? In a country where researchers say the the average number of books read by American adults per year is 12 (I’ve already read 13 since January 1) and 26% of American adults have not read a book in full or in part in the past year, the fact that I am a reader is an anomaly, and asking why is a valid question.
I cannot answer that question either.
You might as well ask me why I breathe.
I read because I cannot not read. I don’t function. If I get busy and don’t read for a day, I get cranky and mean-spirited and stressed out and unhappy. I don’t think I can live without books. I certainly am incapable of imagining trying to live without books. Just typing that sentence made my stomach knot up and I got anxious. Possibly this means that I am a book addict. If I twitch at the thought of having nothing to read, do I have a problem?
If I am reading, I will forget to eat.
I will forget to sleep.
I fall so far into a book that I do not hear anything that is going on around me.
Not even someone standing behind me,
shouting my name.
(I thought I had outgrown that, but my husband says no.)
I am not hiding from the world. I am very fond of the world. I am not reading with an agenda. I learn a ton from what I read, and I think even more about ideas that bloom from my reading, but that is not my driving purpose. I am a sucker for a challenge, especially if it has boxes that I can check off (Type A, OCD heaven!), but I cannot manage reading challenges. I do not want to read a book just because the title contains an anagram of my mother’s maiden name or because the cover is lilac, or because it is one that I always thought I should read, but did not. I simply do not function that way. If a book looks interesting, I will read it. I don’t have a list of criteria for what makes an interesting book though, much to the chagrin of anyone who actually tries to buy me a book. If a book speaks to me, then I will read it. Some speak quietly, whispering sinuously in my ear. Others waft words from far away until I track them down. Some jump up and down on the shelves, waving their arms and screaming “READ ME!” at the top of their little book lungs. There’s no rhyme nor reason to it. When it is right, I know, and then I read the book.
I read because it is the core of who I am, the central kernel of my personality.
I love it.
There’s no other way to explain it.