As the Bookworm Turns…

I fell hard for reading the moment I figured out how to do it. My head was in a book pretty much constantly…in the car, walking downstairs, under a backyard tree, in bed with a flashlight, even…to their great annoyance…when I went over to a friends’s house. My concentration was total, the escape from life complete. Once while waiting for a bathtub to fill I was, naturally, reading… only to be abruptly and frighteningly interrupted by pounding on the bathroom door and a chorus of frantic cries. The tub had overflowed, the floor and my feet covered in water , water was pouring into a clothes closet on the first floor…and I hadn’t even noticed…so lost was I in whatever magical world I was temporarily living in.

It made sense that I loved books so much. I was a “good” reader, but more than that…there was so much I wanted to hide from. My family environment was an emotionally difficult one , with more (metaphorically speaking) land mines than Princess Diana ever railed against. It was intense and surprising, a household where a small child could never know whether the next moment would contain laughter ( a highly prized commodity in my home) or actual rage. We lived on a wider spectrum than many families I suspect and while there are , in the security of hindsight, some benefits to that… to a child , well , it was pretty scary. In a book I never knew what was coming next either but I knew I was safe… so books are where I planted my feet, my mind and my heart.

I was an exceedingly odd child:  bookish, introverted , anxious and awkward. I not only read books…but also sought self confidence by quoting from them (without attribution). On the compliment I received for the armful of bangles and rhinestone earrings I had surreptitiously appropriated from my mom’s jewelry drawer and was wearing in a seventh grade classroom, “Thank you.” I said quite grandly, “I feel naked without them”. (Thank you Trixie Belden). And whenever I could drop it in, actually with rather impressive (or alarming, depending on your viewpoint) frequency, “My life is just a graveyard of buried hopes.” (Thank you Anne of Green Gables.) I am sure you can imagine how this was received by my middle school peers …pretty much guaranteeing that only a few would actually talk to me.

Changing schools and my hairdo between middle and high school gave me a new lease on adolescent social life. Upper class-men (being clueless to my long established hopelessness) took a shine to me in some amazing stroke of Providence ..leaving my peers to follow suit. I was, miracle of miracles, in with the “in-crowd”. And while I no longer had to read at the lunch table for survival , whenever I could , I read and read and read.

I am probably still very odd but as I no longer have masses of class-mates to eagerly point it out to me, I am likely just not as aware of it. I still struggle in large crowds of people. I still can feel anxious. But I’ve learned to cover my shyness and anxiety with (mostly) adept social ease and I have the great good fortune of wonderfully loving  friends and family. Life as an adult is a less treacherous path..

And still , for decades, I read and read and read .

Reading taught me that life can be viewed by a multitude of perspectives, that other viewpoints have validity. It has given me the gift of “being” in other times, other places, other cultures and mindsets. Reading was my first teacher in being human…and it remains one of my very greatest teachers.

But something is shifting. While I still read the paper daily and the New Yorker with frequency, I can now go days without reading a book. My attention is far more easily called away . I don’t know if it is because I am older and this is something that just “happens” with attention span or if my real life is more compelling…or even if because I most frequently these days use an electronic “reader” , making the experience subtly different and somehow less rewarding.

This makes me deeply sad and I wonder if this passion for books will come back to me,  I miss what they have always meant to me … and I miss the deep concentration that let a tub overflow…

I wish I could again read and read.

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14 Responses to As the Bookworm Turns…

  1. Robby Levy says:

    This would make Jeff so happy if your speculation about e-readers is true! His book store needs revelations such as yours, if only to examine whether there is truth in it or not..love your stuff, angel.all of it. Can’t believe you weren’t always “cool.”

    Xo/robby

    _____

    • thank you Robby! I’m not the least bit cool…I am just surrounded by cool people :).Re, real versus virtual books , I do think it is a different experience and I do think it affects attention span. It’d make a great graduate study for some young psych student out there- A friend just sent me a “real” book in the mail to read… and it feels nice to have it in hand !

  2. Jenn says:

    Oh I would have friended you in 7th grade in a heart beat!! By that point I had already read Trixie Belden AND Anne of Green Gables!! I was very much a reader–but for me–a “fog” had set in about the end of 8th grade and never lifted again until my Sophomore year of COLLEGE. I just could not read during that time. Maybe because my teenage brain was shrinking to its now adult size? I am not sure.

    Oh and one more thing– I love to hold a book. Yes I love my e-reader–because it is just too darned convenient to get a book on the darned thing. But I LOVE the feel and the smell of a book. I especially love old books… and I just feel all giddy when I’m holding one and settling in for a good read!! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this with The Writers’ Post– I hope you’ll share more– such a fun post to read 😀

    Cheers, Jenn

    • Thank you Jenn! That was interesting to hear about your reading hiatus…I am sure your brain did just have other priorities at the time :). Trixie Belden..who knew? I’ve had several emails from friends that also read those books…I didn’t realize they were so widely read! And thanks for hosting The Writer’s Post, I look forward to being part of the community!

  3. Loved your post. I can so identify with you, being a little lost child and a big reader myself. A couple of years ago, I lost the love for reading. I found it back this year thanks in part to my Kindle. Don’t get me wrong, I love ‘real’ books, but the e-reader is ever so convenient.

    • Thank you Corinne! It IS so convenient. I love hearing about a new book or reading a review of one, and moments later having it in hand. It’s kind of like magic! And it is reassuring to hear you rediscovered your love of reading through an e-reader, perhaps that will happen for me too and my falling away from it is due to other reasons. I think I miss the part of books where I am physically browsing through them in library or store…picking different ones up until one speaks to me…maybe that way I am more invested in it from the get go…anyway, time will tell and thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Jeanne Leonard says:

    Hi Chris,
    Thank God for books! What a saving grace. I’m sorry that circumstances made an “escape” to books essential, but what a safety valve (except for overflowing tubs). I love your quotes and imagining you in front of a class quoting Trixie (I’ll have to read her now) or Anne. My mother gave me her copy of Anne of Green Gables. I immediately identified with the tomboy, red head getting into trouble. It was as if I found a twin and made my own looks and behavior acceptable (in my own mind anyway). I would bike to the local library, finding whatever seemed to strike me and, after putting the books in my bike basket, drive home to our mountain ash, climb it and read for hours. I had forgotten that memory. Thank you for reminding me.

    Yes, I’ve gone through streaks of not reading as well. Or changing the categories of my reading.
    Maybe your acting has cut into the time or the necessity of it? However, I haven’t gone the kindle of e-book route yet. I love the feel of holding a book, there is a comfort and with a small paperback, I can tote it around in my knitting bag.

    Right now I’m reading a great self-help book, by Martha Beck, The 4-day Win. I’m looking forward to your book.
    Love and hugs,
    Jeanne

    • Oh Jeanne, I love your responses and I love the picture of you pulling a library book from your bicycle basket, climbing up the mountain ash to read your newest treasure! Thanks so much for sharing it!

      I think it’s not so much that i don’t have time to read so much as it doesn’t HOLD me like it always has…maybe I’m just reading the wrong books…

      You’ll have to let me know how you like the 4-day Win!
      Love,
      Chris

  5. Katie Gluck says:

    What a beautiful post! How I wish I could have been your 7th grade friend. I was that girl too–reading while walking, visiting my friends house, at family parties.

  6. Suzanne says:

    Can we start a society of formerly odd, bookish children? I missed Trixie Belden somehow, but devoured Anne of Green Gables and all the sequels, after I graduated from Ramona, Nancy Drew and company. In the small Mississippi town I lived in between 2 and 5th grades, the library kept Anne and her cohorts in the adult section– and I had to get special permission to intrude there (Perhaps they thought my interest was just a subterfuge to access Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins)! Only my thirst for reading and spunky female protagonists inspired me to challenge those formidable librarians. Despite that experience, I’m still a library and bookstore-based reader. I love browsing the volumes, perusing covers, book jackets, and all the neighbors on the shelves…
    Thanks for sharing your life as a reader and encouraging my own reflections!

    • Suzanne, Mississippi ?! I did not know this and need to learn more! Yes- those spunky heroines, I lived for their stories. You didn’t miss much in Trixie, kind of a low rent Nancy Drew as I remember. And oh those different library sections, yes! I remember distinctly when I was I finally allowed in the adult section, what a thrill! I really loved our small town library. When I went back to visit there after many years , the library was on my ” must visit” list!

  7. Amy Falk says:

    Finally got around to reading this Christine and SO glad that I did! I used to read so much when i was younger and also so enjoyed it! (I read ‘Gone With the Wind’ in 3 days, virtually non-stop! I rarely read fiction anymore, except on vacation (which has been far and few between in the past few years) I will not buy an e-reader (at least I haven’t thus far) and do not intend to. I look forward to a time in the future where I have the time and can give myself permission to spend it reading for pleasure… Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and yourself. I suspect the impact on me will last for quite a bit of time and reveal itself in different ways in the coming days and weeks.

    • I love hearing about you reading Gone With the Wind in three days! Yes! Those books that you only (reluctantly) put down to go to sleep at night…that is the kind of passion I remember. Thanks so much for your comment and if different things show up in the coming days and weeks, I’d love to hear about that as well!

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