Posted in Commentary, Memory Lane

Random musings on reading

A coworker commented the other day how much she liked my reading “mudflap girl” decal on my car.  After work, as I paused to appreciate it again, I realized that the sticker was obsolete.  I need one reading a Kindle, now.  I made the switch in July after taking a test drive of Scott’s through a whole book and finding out that I really liked it.  Prior to that, I’d been reluctant to consider going digital, which is kind of funny given the gadgets I’ve collected over the years, but then again, I still buy stationery and write with pens.  How was I going to dog-ear pages that held bits of wisdom I wanted to be able to find again?  Turns out, there’s a feature for that.  And I love my Kindle.

I love not having to keep track of my bookmark.  It’s always on the page where I left it.  I won’t have to buy anymore bookshelves (which I don’t have room for anyway) because Kindles hold thousands of books.   I don’t have the guilt pangs of seeing a growing stack of unread books piling up on my nightstand; they discreetly wait their turn on the device.  And physically, reading is easier, because a short novel and a 500-pager weigh exactly the same and can be handled by one hand; my wrists are happier, as are my eyes.  When my eyes are tired, I can bump up the print size; this’ll come in even handier as my eyes age with the rest of me.

The one thing I don’t like about it (and this was pure genius on the part of Amazon) is that I can no longer share books with friends, because to do so would be to be without my Kindle for however it longs to take them to read it.  All I can do is give recommendations.  Which is kind of a bummer, because people who are readers like to share what they read with their other reader friends.   The other thing I don’t like is that they just dropped the price to almost half of what I paid just three months ago.  Natch.

I think I heard the complaint most recently from Scott, but I hear it all the time, about how people don’t read anymore.  I tend to think that’s not true.  I think probably the same percentage of the population are avid readers since literacy and public libraries became widespread.  People cite TV and computers and videogames as the things that prevent reading, but I watched TV every day growing up, and most days now, and am on the computer constantly, and yet I still read, and always have been a reader.  Granted, my experience is not everyone’s, but I suspect that most readers are curious, and take in information via all available media; for those who love books, and love learning, those other things are an addition, not a replacement.

I think being a lover of books is equal parts natural inclination and positive exposure.  Some people are hooked early, and some people are grateful to graduate from school so they can leave reading behind.  The latter were never touched by the magic of books, of a library full of any kind of adventure you could think up, I guess.  They do not know the bittersweetness of being in the middle of a bookstore, feeling a little sad that you’ll never be able to read ALL the books that interest you, let alone all the books there are, in a single lifetime.

I was one of the early ones.  I don’t actually remember a time when I couldn’t read; my mom tells me I was reading before kindergarten.  In 1st grade, I was in a combined 1st-2nd-grade classroom, and quickly worked my way through the SRA cards. (Remember those?)  Ms. Ricci had the 2nd-graders doing book reports, and for every one they did, they got one of those sticky dots on a shape (it changed periodically—sometimes it was a feather, sometimes a Christmas tree or Easter egg) with their name on it on the bulletin board.  I can’t understand what the appeal of those little sticky dots was for me, but knowing myself after long acquaintance, it was quite probably the recognition factor.  I imagined that the world was dying to laud those who amassed a bunch sticky dots representing the impressive number of books they’d read, and I wanted to be among the laureate.  So being the proto-nerd I was, I begged my teacher to let me do book reports, too.  She was no doubt baffled by such a request, but as it harmed none, she made me a feather, too, and I was on the road to being the sticky dot valedictorian.

What can I say?  6-year-olds are naive.

By 4th-grade, book reports had lost their shine, and I’d already figured out that any moron could write a decent book report by reading the information on the back cover or dust jacket flaps.  I still read, but book reports were a waste of my time, and I completed them in the aforementioned manner. I’d moved on to bigger and better things:  I hung out in the school library every chance I got, including after school, with Sister Aquinata, who was surprised to hear “I already read that,” when she suggested Little Women to me.  I once stayed so late that I decided it would be a good idea to call my mom to come pick me up from school, since she’d already be home from work.  Instead I got yelled at, because I was supposed to be home taking care of my little brother, not hanging out at the library.  That was a loooooong walk home that day.

When I became a teacher, I learned that a lot of kids are big readers, but adolescence often interrupts that, and some never return to it.  Which is too bad, because I’m convinced that academic success belongs to readers.  Readers are exposed to so much, not the least of which being language, that they have the prior knowledge necessary to make the acquisition of new knowledge easier.  You get the allusions; you have the vocabulary to figure out new words and make connections to foreign languages.  And maybe, you learn to trust books as valid sources of information, and are more receptive to them in general.  Schools are tough places to be if you’re not a fan of books and reading.  I used to tell my study skills students that I could teach them all kinds of tricks and strategies, but reading regularly was the best thing they could do for themselves if they wanted to improve in school.  I don’t know that I sold anyone with that spiel, but I know it’s true.  Reading made me the insufferable brainiac I am today.  And I will stand up straight, push my glasses back up my nose, and wear that label with pride.

It is reading that has transported me, challenged me, comforted me, explained things to me, and developed in me the love of the written word; I’m a writer because I am a reader.  Reading looks different now, thanks to technology, but I’m still the same reader I’ve always been; even when I’m messing around on the internet, most of what I’m doing is reading blogs and articles and conversation threads.  Oh…and adding virtual sticky dots to my Shelfari bookshelf.

Old compulsions die hard.

So what about you?  What’s your relationship to books and reading?  Old friends or nemeses?  Old school or digital?



I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “Random musings on reading

  1. I don’t remember what it was called, but we had a reading system in grade school in which you chose short books to read and got to mark them as you read them (I don’t think we were required to write a report). Being somewhat competitive and born into a reading family, I breezed through those sets of books. Loved reading then…love it now. I love having access to worlds and people I will never know or experience in real life. I always like the book better than the movie!!!

    I had an employee that never once read a book voluntarily, and it showed in her work. Her limited vocabulary, lack of focus were a real draw-back for her and I attributed it, in part, to her lack of interest in reading.

    I still read real books, mostly, but do have a few “books” on my iPad. We have four rooms in our house that are loaded with books, and my partner and I begin and end almost every day with a session of reading.

    1. Do you find you have eyestrain reading a lot on the iPad? There is none with the Kindle, and also, no fingerprints on the touchpad. But touchpads and I don’t really get along anyway, so perhaps I was biased to begin with. Glad to know another competitive reader. 🙂 I knew you were the sister I never had and always wanted!

  2. Like you, I’ve been a lifelong reader. I started reading very early too–I long thought I taught myself by age 4 1/2 (courtesy of Sesame Street, according to my mother), but I can’t argue with the date imprinted on the book my mother bought me to test that I was actually reading and not reciting from memory…and it says Jan. 1983, which means I was a few months past my fifth birthday. (On an egotistical note, I much preferred being able to say I taught myself to read when I was four, versus age five, but oh well. Five is still plenty early!)

    I’m a Kindle lover too, completely converted earlier this year when I bought mine–to replace the B&N Nook that I first bought, and didn’t like nearly as well as the Kindle my sister bought shortly after me. I wouldn’t buy or read image-heavy books on it (like instructional books on photography or software), but I absolutely love reading novels on it for all the reasons you said–easier, more convenient, more comfortable, etc., etc. (and it has a light!! I can read in the dark while kiddo(s) sleep in the same room!!). Ironically, I’m irked when I have to read a “real” book–like when I reread several of my hardback Harry Potter books this summer.

    The big “ah-ha!” moment came for me when I finally read a book I liked on an e-reader (the Hunger Games trilogy last fall, incidentally). Previously I’d been somewhat indifferent and undecided on what I thought of the device and format…but it turns out that my ambivalence had nothing to do with the device and everything to do with the poor writing of the books!

    I was a little surprised, but relieved and dorkily pleased all the same, when I realized that of all the things/interests/hobbies I have or do, the one I hope Anna embraces most isn’t dancing or music–it’s reading. Please, Lord, let her love to read!! So far, she’s a really good reader too, especially for being only 1 1/2 months into first grade, and she’s constantly writing out little notes or stories or whatever (woohoo! and generally with correct spelling! double yea!), but she’s still prone to just looking at the pictures versus actually reading when she’s on her own. Which is all still fine and dandy (and age-appropriate!), but I definitely have to hit my own internal mute button and not tell her she needs to read and not just look at pictures. Tiger mother, me? Nah, not too much. ;o)

    Glad you love your Kindle!! I keep meaning to try out the newly supported library book feature, but haven’t gotten that far yet. =)

    1. Even when I was teaching in private school, I was surprised to learn that their goal was for kindergartners to just know their letters…I was 29 years old and I hadn’t realized that everyone doesn’t show up at school reading. That might be because even at the earliest grades, they separated us by ability, so I didn’t often hear those who struggled.

      Your Kindle has a light? On the machine, or did you buy the add-on one?

  3. Hyper-reality: I’m writing about what I read. What I read was what you wrote about reading.

    Books are awesome. I still read book-books. I did read a short Lovecraft novel on my Android phone’s 4.3″ screen. It was a test run before taking the full-on e-plunge. While I didn’t mind e-reading on my phone, I never got around to committing to it as a primary reading mechanism. I’ve kinda avoided Kindles and Nooks because I figure I have enough lcd screens between laptops, desktops, netbooks, and smartphones. Anyway, I have tons of paperbacks that I’ve horded over decades of reading. I was in my basement the other day looking at all my books, and I really need to purge.

    1. It’s like those 3-way mirrors in department stores where, if you set them up just right, you could see an infinite number of yourself.

      I hear you on the too-many-screens problem, but was surprised that the Kindle doesn’t feel like another screen. The E-ink is just different, and just as comfortable to my eyes as a book.

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