Friday, June 30, 2006

That Thing You Do

This post from Bardiac

has me thinking about why I read.

I think I might have mentioned before on this blog, just a time or two, that I’m a book junkie. I have to have books – got to have them to read, got to have books in the pipeline, ready and waiting for when the books I’m reading (and I’m always reading at least 2 or 3 books at once) are finished.

And one big reason I married mr. delagar? He loves books as much as I do.

And when I was pregnant for the kid? the first thing we bought her – before anything else, before a crib, or a car seat, or even clothing – was a book. Not the Hippopotamus, by Sandra Boynton. And after that a translation of Aesop’s Fables, which she just this summer got around to reading. Her first piece of furniture was a bookcase. The day we brought her home from the hospital, her daddy read to her from Flaubert. We wanted – more than anything else – for the kid to be a reader. Not that we would have thrown her back if she hadn’t liked books. Probably. I suppose we still would have loved her if she hadn’t loved reading as much as we do. But, ai, I cannot tell you how relieved I was when, in fact, she turned out to love them like we do. The joy that rushed into me – that still runs through me like a river – when I look up and see her huddled in the white chair in our living room, her head bent over a book.

My kid’s a junkie too. Yay!

So I was trying to remember, reading Bardiac’s post, why I read the way I did as a kid; trying to think why I read the way I do now – why I’m driven to read like this. Obviously it’s a pathology. Because I can’t just take it or leave it. Without books I cannot live. I am always either reading books, or writing books, or thinking about books, or talking about books, or engaged in a quest to get books, or writing papers on books, or hunting for books on the net – if this were any other thing on the planet I were this obsessed over, if it were, for instance, marbles, or boots, or stuffed weasels, people would have thrown a net over me by now. Locked me up and medicated me.

Because it’s books, they’ve hired me to teach classes in it at a university. They pay me for it. Hah! Suckers.

Where was I?

Books. And why I read.

Bardiac’s mother read for escape.

I’m been trying to think if I read for escape as a child. If escape has any factor in why I read now. I don’t think it does, or did. I do remember, a few times, using books that way as a kid – when I was crying so hard I could barely focus on the page, and reading, and how after a few pages, I was all right. But these were rare occasions. The books aren’t that direct a drug, usually. It was pure joy I got from them, as a child. Now, mind you, I did read them to discover a world I wasn’t finding around me – I was remembering this reading this post

on One Good Thing the other day, because one of the reasons I loved Beverly Cleary’s books so much was they showed me a family life that was sweet and safe; I read those books over and over for that specific reason. And I knew it at the time, too. It was my first encounter with the notion of Utopian space.

But early on I began to read against the text. Nine or ten or eleven – I don’t remember how young – I began to write revisions of the stories I read. It started around the time that I began to think, well, yes, but what about this? when I was reading. I was still reading for Utopian space, for joy, for affirmation, to find new places and new ideas, but I was now, also, reading for measure, and mismeasure. That’s what you say being a girl is? I said, incredulous, reading science fiction novels. That’s what you say I have to be? That’s the space I have to fit into?

That’s what you say a woman is? I said, reading my mother’s historical romances. That’s what you say I have to be? That’s the space I have to fit into?

That’s what you say human is? I said, reading Norman Mailer, reading Ken Kesey, reading Harlan Ellison. Really?

(When I was fifteen, I read Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. Now that was just too scary. I backed way off from that. But I kept the book forever. I still have it. I became a feminist the day I finished reading the text, though I wouldn’t know it for years.)

When I was twenty, I wrote my own first novel. A really bad one, mind you. But it had a Utopian space in it. Heh. When I was twenty-six, I set up as an instructor of English. I started teaching other folks about books.

Why do I do it?

I remember – one of my earliest memories – my mother reading to me. I remember sitting holding the book afterwards, staring at the page, trying to force meaning to coalesce out of the letters (it wouldn’t – I couldn’t have been more than two or three). I knew meaning was in there, if I could only force it out.

Why do I do it?

Not for escape, though yes, for escape – to escape the locked-in prison of my own skull, my only self.

Books and words, text and narrative, they have built who I am. They’re the code that made my soul. I suppose some of me must be DNA, and fuck knows a lot of me is what happened to me as a kid, but most of me, most of me is what I have read. Which is always why I have read. On some level I have always known that: that books were my salvation.

Did I read to escape? Oh my fucking yes. Because what else was there?


CB said...

I am the same way with music, can't go a day without any, makes me crazy.

I like books, but pen and paper is a must too. Always has been.

When I was little I drew, no writing but that's a whole nother story, and sing to the radio.

zelda1 said...

I had a similar desire, when I was around 3 or 4 to know what the books said. My sisters, who were all in high school, read these huge books and they looked so important and when they weren't around, I looked inside those books and wanted to know what they said. So, I begged them to teach me and one of them did, she taught me the keys, the alphabet. Once I had that much, the rest came in leaps and bounds. I must read and when I can't read, I suffer and have to get a quick fix. I read two or three at a time too. I have more books than I have space and one of these days I want to have my own huge building filled with books, a, well a library. My daughter was a reader but my son still has not developed a taste for the written word. I think the Baby will love books, he already shows such an interest in books. By the way, I'm happy the kid loves to read too.