It’s my mother’s fault, really. She is the one who started this whole affair.
From the time I could barely toddle, there we were at the library, in the picture book section. Yes, that’s me, below. This is how it all began.
But looking at pictures was not enough for my little ambitious soul–and I did not want to be read TO. I wanted to read.
And so it began. My mother taught me the sounds of each letter when I was about three years old and I was reading by four. The Cat in the Hat was the first book I learned to read—and I believe I had it memorized before I could actually decipher the letters.
But that was not enough. I wanted more.
Once the door was opened to me, I greedily devoured most of the children’s section and moved on. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in third grade. Sons and Lovers in fifth grade (I don’t think it ever occurred to my mother to censor my reading.). Jane Eyre in seventh grade. And then came the self-help books (What can I say? Old soul in young body.). I was tutored by no less than Dr. Wayne Dyer and Leo Buscaglia on the finer arts of love and assertiveness at the ripe old age of 12.
I read after school in my bedroom, at the dinner table and in the car. I read to the exclusion of the world around me. I began to read as a young girl with messy hair and big glasses with a serious prescription. I continued to read as a teenager who primped and fussed, and thank God, got contacts.
And still, I wanted more.
It never stopped, really. Sure, during grad school, I read mainly assigned texts on negotiation and economics. Just as Leo and Wayne had helped shape the way I saw the world, Susan Faludi fueled my feminist leanings during my twenties with Backlash. When a new mother in my thirties, I read behavioral and parenting books while nursing my sons. Through oh so many diverse stages of life, my thirst for pretty words, startling combinations, the turn of a phrase—has never disappeared.
My children have been raised to know their way around a library. And they know when I walk in the door of our local library, I will make my customary pause and breathe in deeply. I love that smell. The smell of paper. Of ink. Of possibility on the page.
They, of the Kindle generation, do not quite understand. And yet, the Kindle sits unused more often than not as they turn pages. Real pages. There’s something about the hunt for the book in the stacks. The energy you feel in a library. The adult you see being taught how to read. The student being tutored in some foreign language. The people who schlep to the library because they have no computer at home—and yes, those people still exist. The solitary types in the quiet reading room, reading either for a class or just because.
I’ve often tried to identify the energy. I think it’s hope. And community. A love of reading is the great equalizer. You could be turning the same page of the same title that a head of state is reading. The wealthy cannot keep Shakespeare to themselves. And the middle class, God help them, need to be shocked out of their malaise—at times—by the latest Fifty Shades of Grey. Or perhaps something more contributory, like Night by Elie Wiesel.
I’d go on, but I need to go read to my son. And then to myself. It’s a heady evening at our house.