Well, this isn’t quite “what I’m reading”. Except on a grand scale. What you see here is one-third of my total book collection.
Some of these are books I’ve already read; weird reference books that I picked up when I was doing some freelance research work for a couple small theater companies, some old childrens’ books I’d loved as a child and rediscovered as an adult, a set of the Sandman graphic novels a friend has been gradually giving me over the years, a set of graphic novels on history that an ex turned me on to, and most of my textbooks from a fantastic course in Irish literature I took in college. But others I’ve not even cracked open – most of those things piled on the floor on the bottom left are things I’ve spotted on the streets here, huddled in a box someone’s left out on the curb marked “free books”. I always stop when I see books left out on the curb, and I’ve found a few treasures that way. Or I’ll get a book from family, or once in a while I’ll actually buy something (somewhere on the shelf is a copy of David Duchovny’s second novel, which I got because it dealt with the Boston Red Sox and sounded hysterically funny; also because it was by David Duchovny).
I was a rabid reader when I was a child; obsessive Sesame Street viewing taught me how to read at the age of two. My parents still talk sometimes about how I read all my third birthday cards on my own, and my father will talk about taking me along shopping and noting the double-takes people would give when they saw tiny me wandering around behind him and reading the signs aloud (“men’s trousers, tw0-nine-nine-nine….mens’ shirts, special sale, two for one-two-nine-nine….”) They were pretty pleased that I was such an avid reader, if a bit intimidated; I don’t really remember my parents reading to me, but only because I remember more reading to them. Sometimes I would sit in when Mom read to my little brother, but for the most part I was a solo reader and I was happy with that.
And I am also grateful that my parents let me be that. When I was a kid, I would often wander out into the living room and pull something random off of their bookshelves that looked interesting, and read that. And my parents had a book collection as eclectic as my own – my mother had a few old textbooks on graphic design herself from when she studied art, and my father favored a lot of pop-sci fare, like Chariots of the Gods. For much of my childhood I was obsessed with my parents’ collection of the Time-Life Nature Library, a pop-sci series on natural history published by LIfe magazine in the early 60s. I didn’t actually “read” all that much of it so much as I would look for the pictures liberally scattered throughout and read the captions (the texts were a bit dry), but I was obsessed with them.
The one and only time I remember either of my parents challenging me on anything I’d read, it was a copy of Watership Down my father saw me reading when I was ten. “Are you really reading that?” he asked, dubiously, when he saw me carrying it back to my room.
“Yeah.” I frowned. “What’s wrong?”
He took it from me – which he usually never did – and eyed the placement of the bookmark. “When did you start reading this?”
“About…two days ago?”
“And you’ve already read all of this?” he asked. “You’re not skipping, are you?”
“No!” I barked. I was relieved that he wasn’t going to take it away, but also insulted that he thought I’d been skipping. How dare he!
“Hmm.” He looked at me, then opened the book to a section a few pages back from where I’d stopped. “Okay, so…if you really read it, tell me what happened when they got to the river and Fiver was too tired to swim.”
“Blackberry finds a piece of wood and they use it as a raft,” I instantly said.
“Hmm.” He eyed me, then turned to another page. “Okay – what’s the real name of the rabbit they call ‘Bigwig’?”
Dad didn’t say anything that time. He asked me one or two more questions, both of which I instantly answered, and he handed me back the book with a grudging apology. I finished the whole thing about four days later.
I kept on as a voracious reader after that, all through high school, and then college, and then into my 20s. And then in my mid-30s…I started slowing down, largely because I was trying to juggle about three theater careers at the same time, one of which was the research gig. Any time I had to read had to be spent looking up esoteric data or reading unpublished scripts; I didn’t have the time or mental bandwidth to read for fun. And the books built up, and are still building up.
That’s part of why I finally stepped away from theater – I had no free time for my own self. I couldn’t see any theater if I was always in rehearsals, and I couldn’t read anything for fun if I was always reading for work. Worst of all, my own writing was running dry – I wasn’t reading anything myself to replenish the well.
It’s still been slow going getting back into a reading habit again. But I’m starting to wake back up – I discovered a book club that deals with the weird sci-fi niche I’m fond of, and I’m dipping back into the backlog again. I found my own set of the Time Life Nature Library and that has pride of place in the house (I still only read the captions), and every so often, I will finish a book and bring it out and put it on the curb for someone else.
My hoarding is appeased by a sign I saw once in San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore – “Buying more books than one can reasonably read in a lifetime is the soul’s way of trying to reach infinity.”