Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On Reading

When I was in second grade, I developed one of my most used and abused life skills. “Reading an analogue clock?” the reasonable among you may ask. “Forming compound sentences? Learning contractions? Multiplication? Is second grade the year you developed your amazingly distinct “voice” as an author?” To which I say, you are very confused about education in the United States, I learned to do ONE of those things in second grade and it was the most useless of all of the above (spoiler, the clock). The more creative might query “Picking your nose discreetly? Breaking into a locker? Blowing bubbles with gum? Is second grade the year you developed your amazingly effective manipulation techniques and became a puppet mistress?”. Slightly closer.

Arist’s depiction of second grade Anya
(I’m the one with spectacular hair).

I learned how to read a book under the table and sing at the same time. It might sound strange or useless, but it has saved me from a lot of boredom over the years. We were practicing for a school program (you know the kind you see on America’s Funniest Home Videos where a tiny 8 year old vomits or faints or starts picking at the kid in front of them), and I was incredibly bored. I knew the song we were supposed to sing, I didn’t need the practice, I was annoyed that I had to continue to sing it because other people were making mistakes (this was an early warning sign that my parents ignored). So. I sang along with everyone else, but I was reading under the table the entire time. I didn’t get caught, which could have nipped this habit in the bud, so I continued to read under the table for the entirety of my school career. Every time we reviewed for something I understood, every time we watched a movie I had already seen, every time we had a worksheet that I finished early, I pulled out a book.

Not having any of it.

Since I was a weird eight year old, I have been a voracious reader. I used to stay in to read at recess (did not help my ivory complexion or my lung capacity), and check out a book from our school library, read it that night, and exchange it the next day for another. When my mom went to the mall, I stayed at Barnes and Noble and started a new book. I would have to remember which page I left off on when it was time to go, so I could return for my next visit (a habit that I’ve retained, which is why I NEVER use bookmarks) and finish. That’s how I first read all of the American Girl books, and then later Artemis Fowl (As did a number of other people, leading to the death of the American chain bookstore. Don’t put that on me! That was the failure of public education combined with the internet!  Meet in the middle and blame it on Starbucks? Fine.).

I read through carsickness until it didn’t bother me anymore, just like I read through the noise of my second grade class singing, my teachers lecturing, movies droning. Interrupting me while I’m reading is like waking me up from a deep sleep. I hate it. I buy my bags based on whether or not I can fit a reasonably sized book in it (other qualification is a cross body strap so I can pet or hold any animals I can encounter with two hands).

Don’t fucking interrupt me.

I think flying through a book series is the best kind of binging. I’m as prone to an impromptu three-seasons-of-Parks-and-Rec-in-a-day-what-is-my-life episode as anyone, but nothing compares to reliving all of the Little House on the Prairie books during a dreary work week. I like that I don’t need any semblance of set up or technology, which means I can be fully immersed in Almanzo and Laura’s spicy courtship in a matter of minutes, no matter where I am, all day. We’ve all had periods in our life that we wish we could fast forward. Since my first breakup, I have been relying on Rowling, Dahl, Jacques, and countless others to get me through the interminable time it takes before I feel ready to come out of that daze and face the world again. When I’m angry, I read. When I’m sad, I read. When I’m anxious, or bored, or have the hiccups, or need a distraction, I’m reading. It’s the only thing that has regularly soothed me, so make of that what you will (psychoanalyze away, Paul).

Those snakeoil salesman really should have gotten in on this.

Because this is the giant place reading occupies in my heart, I have a hard time hearing that someone doesn’t love to read. I always do this really obnoxious gasping “Really?!”, hand to my heart, whole nine yards. It’s like what are these people doing to get through life? You can imagine how this goes over. Which is why I can’t date people that don’t read, not that anyone would ever admit that. Everyone loves to read, just ask them (it’s totally not because they’re trying to impress you)! But I’m talking I have so many books I can’t fit them all onto a shelf and you keep finding them in my car/in my closet/under my bed/packed in boxes in my parents’ basement readers. The kind that don’t just say “oh yeah! I loved that book!” and never tell me anything they’ve read. I want people who have read things I’ve never heard of or gotten around to, who can also share my old favorites, or at least understand my wistful enthusiasm for the days I had enough time to read Little Women on the top balcony of my swingset during hours of actual sunlight.

I will NEVER forgive Amy for throwing that book in the fire. Or marrying Teddy!
The ultimate test is asking people to read your favorite book(s). I am not of the “that’s like asking me to choose one of my children!” camp, and not even because I hate kids. I do have a favorite book, but it’s not something I share lightly. Asking someone to read my favorite book is a huge deal, because very rarely does it end well. I better want a brutally honest assessment of my relationship if I’m going to do that, because my options are:

a) They never read it/put it off for ungodly amounts of time, making me feel as though something incredibly close to my heart is not important to them/what kind of reader are they, turning down a *favorite book ever* recommendation from yours truly?

b) They read it and hate it, thus ending our relationship.

c) They read it and have “criticisms” that they found online in an inane attempt to prove that they’re independent thinkers/not just sucking up to me/that they actually read it. It’s like listening to a high schooler’s sad attempt at the type of five paragraph essay they believe English majors write.

d) They read it and love it with the same whole hearted abandon that I do, and thank me for introducing them to their new favorite (this has never happened).

All things being equal, I have only a twenty five percent chance of not hating how this ends, and all things are never equal. So I’ll keep that particular litmus test to myself, and hope that you didn’t mind reading such a sincere and soul baring article from yours truly.



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