The World of a Child Bookgobbler
When people ask, “How many books have you read in your life?” I laugh. It’s all I can do.
My favorite book for a few of my childhood years was Black Beauty. The copy I had was 380-ish pages. On long car trips, I challenged myself to finish it in four hours. Then, I’d start it over. More than once, I read that book twice in a day.
“You’re going to need glasses by 25.”
I remember sitting down at a table at the library — probably in 5th grade or so — with a stack of books, which the other children looked at with disdain and confusion. “You’re going to actually read all those? Why?”
How do I answer that? What do you mean, why?
By that point, I had probably read more books than most of the adults I knew. But I didn’t know that.
“If you read any more, your eyes will cross.”
I set my school’s record for the Accelerated Reader program my 6th-grade year. More than 400 points earned. I remember I read Jurrasic Park; college freshman level, worth 20 whole points. There was an article about me in the local paper. I got a free pizza at Pizza Hut.
How many books did I read that year? I don’t know. 50?
“Get your nose out of the book, bookworm.”
(Fun fact: bookworms are only kind-of a real thing.)
In 8th grade, I took freshman English, and freshman year I took sophomore English. Then junior-level English, then AP. I took humanities classes and philosophy and art history and sociology. All reading-heavy. I read textbook chapters twice to study for exams. As an undergrad, I taught myself to read a little Foucault in the original French, for funsies.
“Hey, Brainiac! Is there anything you haven’t read?”
As a grad student, I read about 1,000 pages per week. Three or four classes or reading groups or a pile of student essays. Each class went through about a book every week (maybe two weeks for a book sometimes), plus 100 pages or so worth of critical and historical articles. Then, there was the workload from teaching.
As a mother, I’ve read my son between two and ten books at bedtime, pretty much every night of his life. Not to mention, the reading that has happened during the daylight hours.
“Ok, really. Put it down already, word nerd.”
Could I even take a wild guess at how many books I’ve read? Does 5,000 seem unreasonable? A wild guess at how many pages I’ve read in my life?… I don’t know; a cool million? Does that seem like too much? Not enough?
The world of a reader today
It seems that now, when the publishing era has been transformed and there is more content than ever before, I find less and less to actually, well, read. In reference to an old Janeane Garofalo joke, there may be more content these days, but there’s far less substance. (Watch it here. The joke starts around 12:45 and goes to about 16:30.)
Maybe it’s the same amount of substance, buried in the diamond mines owned by the modern content machine. Harder than ever to find, more precious than ever before.
It seems that far more of what I picked up as a child was gold. Perhaps I’ve edited the boring, the banal, the sluggish from my mind. Maybe I’ve simply forgotten the sludge I trudged through, carrying the jeweled memories I keep now in my heart’s inner treasure box.
A life spent reading creates a life unlike any other.
Reading — reading well and in large quantities — has supported every other thing in my life for as long as I can remember. Deep reading, truly connecting with words, has always connected me with my true self, with the world around me, and ultimately, with triumph in my endeavors, both on and off the page.
Reading makes an open world effortless. Go. Travel to any continent, through time, and into people, as effortlessly as a wish. Human storytelling and its effect on the individual is limitless. You can partake; it’s as easy as opening your eyes.
See the pages in front of you? They’re there for you. Entering them may change your life. They may become your new favorite destination and companion.
Or, they could be crap. It’s always a risk.
The reward is worth that risk.