I’ve always been a reader. My dad talks about how he’d come home from work exhausted when I was a toddler and I’d run up to him with piles of books. And demand that he read them, over and over and over …. And of course there were the many reading anecdotes from childhood and youth, such as reading while walking; my attempt to read while riding a bicycle (waste no time!); my mom’s teasing me about my hand being in “lock mode” since I held a book in it so constantly; staying up nights when I was in high school and reading 1 – 2 books before falling asleep (mom, did you know that I did this? I really shouldn’t have, but I just couldn’t put them down. I recall re-reading Little House books this way!); reading The Hobbit at age 8 during a hurricane on Reunion Island; and setting a goal of reading 100 hours during a 7th grade reading challenge. I believe the next highest target was 50 hours, and the others were significantly lower. (Total side note: I don’t think I read as many hours as I claimed to have read during that period. I believe that, though I read a massive amount, I was too embarrassed to admit I hadn’t made my goal, and the pressure was such that achieving the goal was given the highest praise, not getting close. An example of early poor moral character, and/or the damaging effects of praise & reward in the educational system).
All these years later, I’m still a reader – I’ve never stopped. And the flashes of “oh, I’m really a reader” keep coming. Here’s a few.
1) My 3 greatest fears are choking to death (I believe my epiglottis to be defective – I frequently have bad choking episodes); being cold (despise being cold! With a passion! I plan ahead in almost every circumstance to ensure I will have the clothing I need to stay warm); and not having sufficient reading material. The thought of being stuck somewhere without something to read induces near-panic. Possible wait in the doctor’s office? Definitely bring my current novel, plus maybe something for work, and he usually has a couple magazines I like so I should be good. Etc.
2) I read a lovely, romantic story online about a guy who arranged a surprise visit to NYC for his girlfriend’s birthday, complete with helicopter ride, gorgeous hotel, tickets to the theatre, etc. My two reactions were a) How lovely; no one’s ever done anything like that for me! and moving swiftly on to b) Did he pack the book she was reading at the time? Because what if it was left at home on the nightstand and suddenly she’s whisked away for a few days and has to wait to finish her book? Oh, that would be awful! She couldn’t (I couldn’t??) relax and enjoy the experience. Yes, if it were me, I’d spend the whole trip wondering what happens next in my book, waiting eagerly to return to pick up where I left off.
3) In recent conversations, I’ve noticed that I reference things I’ve been reading up to 3 times per conversation. Somehow, whatever you’re talking about, I’ve read something that I think relates. And I’ll tell you about it. It might be a novel, or a recent NY Times review, or an editorial, or some new information from a non-fiction book I’ve been exploring, but whatever it is, I will share it. You’re welcome, and I won’t be too offended if I don’t hear from you again for a while.
With all this reading, I wonder if I’m developing anything like expertise (reference back to … yes … the book Talent is Overrated, reviewed here a while back). Am I an “expert” reader? I would say no, since developing true expertise (aka the 10,000 hours type of exceptional knowledge and ability in an area) also requires working at the edge of your ability. I would need to be critically analyzing while I read; stretching my limits in terms of genres and complexity; and doing something with the knowledge (reflecting on possible rewrites? applying what I observe in a particular book to my own writing? simply writing about what I learn?). I wonder if some percentage of my reading time might contribute towards the hours I need to put in to be an expert writer … but I think the same problems apply.
Oh well. I don’t read to become an expert. I read because when faced with the printed work, my am wired to engage with it. It brings me enlightenment, distraction, escape, amusement and professional growth. Long live reading!