Nerdy bookishness

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.

 

 

14 thoughts on “Nerdy bookishness

  1. I loved reading this slice about your nerdy bookishness. I share your sentiments expressed in this sentence: “If I get busy and don’t read for a day, I get cranky and mean-spirited and stressed out and unhappy.” I wonder how many ills of the world could be solved if we could just get more people reading!

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  2. I have not been a good reader the past few years – mostly because all the behaviors you describe for yourself when you are reading – well that is me too. I completely leave the world – and sometimes I don’t really want to come back. But I’m like you – I could probably never name a favorite book. But I am curious what you are reading now… and now…. and now….

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  3. You are the definition of a reader. Love how articulately you described reading as the fabric of your being. 🙂 But seriously…which books do you love? Throw us a bone@

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    1. You might have to narrow that request down to a genre or a century or a period in my life or something! I think I might have to write another slice about books that have been important to me.

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    2. Ok, I have not forgotten about your book request, and I have been thinking about it all month.”Books everyone should read” is kind of a terrifying category, because it sort of depends on what sort of genres you like. Therefore, I picked a lot of books from a lot of genres! In no particular order: 1. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Brilliant. My students used to take them home and make their parents read it because it was so good, and then steal the books so they could keep them. 😀 Searing and savage and beautiful. O’Brien won the National Book Award for Going after Cacciato, but that, to me, feels like a warm-up for this novel, that he had to mull over and mature for a couple of decades before he could write it. 2. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. Heart-breaking (and definitely read the rest of the Border Trilogy too.) Nonfiction: 3. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I am not a climber, am totally non-adventurous, and knew the outcome of the events he wrote about before I read the book, and I still held my breath while I read it and gave everyone around me updates on the characters. Science fiction: 4. Hyperion (and the other three books of the Hyperion Cantos) by Dan Simmons. Different, thought-provoking, compelling, fascinating, sci fi version of The Canterbury Tales written by a former English teacher, and also stars John Keats as a major character. 5. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Everyone should read this at least once! General silliness category: 6. The Erye Affair by Jasper Fforde. Hard for bookish people to resist a novel set in a world where people can travel into books. Also ridiculously funny. Classics: 7. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. In college, I kept telling myself that I had to put down this amazing book because I had tons of assigned reading to do, and then remembering that this was my assigned reading! 8. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. A little known Dickens work, but engaging, complicated, and very funny- and also uncorrupted by everything you think you know about the book, since most people don’t read this one. Memoir: 9. West with the Night by Beryl Markham. The writing in this memoir about the life of the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from set to west is stunning, and the events in her life are amazing. Modern classic: 10. Beloved by Toni Morrison. Complex and challenging and important and wonderful. One of the few that I can read year in and year out with my students and ALWAYS find something new.

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      1. This is an incredible list!! I have to look into these for sure! I LOVED The Things They Carried, but haven’t read the other ones. 🙂 Thank you so much for the list! I appreciate you taking time to do it.

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  4. Loved every word of this! I always slice about books a few times during the month. It does make for an easier slice since there is always so much to say about books. My favorite part was about books speaking to you. I can never quite figure out why I choose to read what I do at a particular time and moment. Something about the book just speaks to me!

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    1. I’m glad to know I am not the only one! For part of my teaching career, I worked with high schoolers with low reading skills in our reading workshop, and one of the things they had to do was read, every day. I figured book talks would be a great way to introduce them to things to read – and discovered that I am terrible at them! “Yeah, I really liked this one…um…because…it’s….good…” is not a great sales pitch for grumpy teens!

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  5. I love that you wrote about your reading life in a way that still feels like a story about you (rather than a book review), and I love the craft you used – the variety in sentence and paragraph structure makes it fun to read!

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