The library makes me greedy. Confronted with thousands—probably hundreds of thousands of choices as my city's vast catalogue can be delivered to my neighborhood branch with the swipe of my card—confronted with unreadable-in-my-lifetime options, I check out tons of books. Books I’ve hankered for; books friends recommend; books with nice covers. Books I doubt I’ll read but will try a few chapters. Books my kids bug me for; books I think my kids ought to read. The sheer abundance makes me greedy, nearly ready to throw my acquisitions on the bed and roll in them like Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal.
And then I hear of people who don’t read. At all. Not just some unfathomable fake person invented by politicians or the media, but actual humans. With no effort I can conjure the names of two I know personally. And again, these aren’t underprivileged people with sad or scary back stories—no, these are both college-educated, middle class women much like me. And yet they don’t read. Now, that’s not strictly true. Both happen to be magazine readers. But reading for enjoyment? Novels? Nope—not interested. Not even once, in one woman’s case. Not one book read for pleasure, ever.
Reading has been perhaps the single most sustaining delectation of my life. I was in the third grade when I dethroned my sister as the family bookworm. I well remember Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett. I still have a copy of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, by E.L. Konigsburg, and all the Little House books. (And if you’re detecting a hint of narcissism in my choices, I might as well admit that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s middle name is Elizabeth.)
There’s been only one exception in my ongoing read-a-thon since then. The year after my very needy son was born, I literally had no time to read, and I missed it horribly. I remember holding my baby and glaring with envy at my husband as he read the newspaper over a bowl of cereal, my hungry eyes denied by my own silly mother guilt. Long nursing sessions should have provided time for dozens of books, but I was derailed by an awkward two-handed technique. (Seriously, don’t ask.)
After that first year, I couldn’t bear the loss. Somehow I found time, even when I had none. I polished off Harry Potter one through four in thirteen days when my son was two and my daughter under a year—the first movie was coming out, I knew I’d want to read the book before I saw it, and then couldn’t put them down. I find my eyes roving for the printed word when I have nothing to do, like an actual physical craving. So far this year I’ve read about fifty books, mostly novels—and it’s been a busy year.
My son became a bookworm in a single day. Mother’s Day, to be exact: 2006. We were at my mom’s house, and she had twenty or so Secrets of Droon books, Tony Abbott’s chapter series. My first grader picked up book one and about ten days later put down the last, and we barely saw the kid’s nose in the interim. From reluctant reader to addict in one afternoon. Because he found the right book.
It’s no secret there’s a fair bit of snobbery about genre fiction. I still puzzle over my husband’s fondness for fantasy and sci fi, and literary readers are stereotyped for rolling their eyes at bodice-rippers. But clearly all these books have passionate fans. Fans who read.
Not everyone is going to love my books. I know that. But I think of my two non-reading friends, and consider one’s interest in fitness, and think she might like my manuscript about kickboxing women. The other is the mother of a young girl, and I wonder if my middle-grade work would be something they could enjoy together. Just one book. One chapter, one day, and the library can morph from another big box to a bottomless treasure chest, the source of a lifetime of delight. And that book, that life-changing tome, might one day spill from the labors of my pen.
That’s not why I write. That’s a much more complicated issue, and not something I’m sure I could even explain. But it’s a really nice by-product to contemplate.
One book, one life. Changed.