on Reading.

This post was somewhat inspired by another blogger I read…though I don’t really answer her questions, it got me thinking….

As most of you know, I’m a librarian. As such, the natural assumption is that I’m a voracious reader, and I’m well-read. I think a lot of people assume that librarians are typically the quiet type, who sit at home and read every spare moment they get- and I suppose sometimes that’s true. However, I am not one of those “types”. In my new position, getting settled in with a larger group of librarians, I want to know what everyone reads. Being constantly exposed to more books than one  could imagine sets a person up to choose whatever they like- and see things they never knew they might like. It’s by and large one of the reasons I chose this profession, to be exposed to things that startle and amuse- to pick those things up and page through them to see if it would strike my fancy. Sometimes I surprise myself, and more often than not, when asked “what do you read?” I say, “Nonfiction.”

In library school, for the most part I wasn’t given a list of books to read. There are too many books for librarians (or anyone who works in a library for that matter) to recommend. There are lists of classics, lists of mysteries, lists of bestsellers and lists for just about any genre one could imagine. And with these lists, there are specialists who HAVE read every book on that list- and thank God for them, because those are the people I turn to, who can recommend books to those patrons who as for “age-appropriate adult fantasy for a fifth grader” ?! So as I settle into the new group, people have asked me what I read, I’ve replied with Nonfiction, and I’ve been wondering why I have navigated to this genre- since I spent the better part of my youth floating around in wonderful fiction stories and books. Why Nonfiction now? Am I just a boring nerd (as Gabe would say)?

In library school for a Young Adult literature class my professor assigned us to write our Reading History. Start with your earliest memory of learning to read, and go from there throughout your reading life, ending in the present. It was fascinating to do, and I need to find that paper. Though I don’t really need the paper to remember- but forcing myself to delve into my own reading history told me alot about my own reading habits, and also about my childhood and adolescence- how I used books to escape, to pass time, to be someone I wasn’t, to have control over my exposure to new things (my parents never censored what I read like they did the tv). And from learning to read from flash cards my mom made when I was 2 years old, progressing through to series fiction like The Boxcar Children, then regular fiction like Toby Tyler or Eight Weeks with the Circus, to Catcher in the Rye and eventually Stephen King and Dean Koontz, I read a lot as a kid, not as much as a teenager, and then returned to books as an adult when I was unhappy — again to escape. There are the books that stick with you- the ones you remember crying at the end and feeling like a fool in public as you do so, the ones that strike a chord and you feel the need to pass it along to one friend or another…and through all of this thinking about my Reading History, I’ve drawn some conclusions as to how I ended up reading mainly nonfiction these days.

I’ve had some tremendous storytellers in my life. Mainly my dad and his family, who tell stories aloud that will make you laugh until your sides hurt. Mainly the stories are about family history of he and his brothers on the farm. But I remember as a child going to bed and he would come to the bedroom to say good night and I would ask him to TELL me a story dad, don’t read it- TELL it, because he was a magnificent on-the-spot story-teller. I wish so much I had remembered each one or tried to write them down. He could plant a visual image of a forest or two “squirrel friends” into my young head within seconds. He was amazing.

I’ve also read a tremendous amount of stories- good ones. All of those wonderful fiction books as a kid and young adult- and even the few I’ve found in adulthood (Pat Conroy, Natalie Goldberg to name my two favorites)… they’re amazing storytellers. However- I can’t remember the stories. They don’t stay in my head. I can tell you that book was good, or that one was excellent- but I can’t remember (unless I’ve just finished it) why I liked it so much. Much like movies, it’s either good or not worth the time. Nothing more sinks in.

So as an adult and I linger in the nonfiction stacks of the library, I’ve come to realize that I want truth. I love a good story as much as the next person but anyone can tell a story- not everyone can tell a GOOD story- but I must really like your voice in order to read what you’ve written. And as an adult I appreciate the dirty ugly truthful stories more than anything else. We all have those inner feelings that we don’t want exposed, so I tend to like memoirs that do just that, expose the author so I feel close to them, like they’re sharing their dirty laundry sotospeak.

I also like nonfiction because I tend to remember the facts that I get from these books. The facts seem useful in some way to life- whether I’m reading about the food industry, parenting, politics, or history- those things stick because they’re real. They’re fascinating to me because they’re concrete facts. I read with an open mind and recognize that the author is not God, the author is the voice telling me the facts- but for some reason I’m just drawn to the truth in these books. I guess for now I’m tired of stories.

But having a baby makes me think of how he’ll remember his first reading experiences. We read books- I let him touch them and drool on them, and eventually I know he’ll rip out the pages and color on them…much to a “collector’s” dismay (Gabe and I both have collections we love). But I want Simon to experience books in the same way I did, to use them however he needs/wants to…I hope that ends up happening.

But I’m always meaning to share the books I read with others. The truth is, I rarely finish a book cover to cover. I have the guts to drop it if it doesn’t grab me, which is a good and bad trait all at once. There are a few that I haven’t given up on yet- because I believe eventually the story will enlighten me. I keep those on the shelf and pull them out on days off or vacations.

So I just encourage other people to think about reading in the same way, not just what do you read, but WHY? It’s pretty interesting to go through your Reading History too. I’m glad that working where I’m at is forcing me to revisit this.

(steps off soapbox)

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