Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Bookworm

I have a dirty little secret to confess.

I don't read very much.

Before you all faint in despair at what the world is coming to, let me explain. I am a born and bred bookworm. I distinctly remember the taunting, snide comments from the kids on the middle school playground as I slowly walked out the door, reading. Slowly walked to the benches, reading. Read the whole recess. Slowly walked back in, reading. Reluctantly had to put the book away to listen to the teacher explain something I already knew. Cynthia Voight, Scott O'Dell, Madeline L'Engle, Margurite Henry - I devoured them all. I even tried Uncle Tom's Cabin. (Tried, but even a fifth grader had her limits.)

Needless to say, I loved the gifted teacher who also taught 5th grade history. My parents are history teachers, and she knew I already knew more than any other kid in the school about the American Revolution. She let me keep reading, God bless her.

Like I said, born and bred. You can guess where this led me, right? Bachelor's in English, and on to Ohio State for the Master's (where, if you remember, I was known as the Queen . . . aw, go read the post yourself).

But two things happened in grad school. One: A love of books wasn't enough. I also had to love theory, and I couldn't. I just couldn't. I will never forget the day the post colonial professor looked at me as I interrupted an argument about what it meant that Friday didn't have a tongue in a retelling of Robinson Caruso to demand to know where it said in the book that he didn't have a tongue.

"You are such a literalist," he sneered. And I knew I didn't belong any more.

The second, more important thing was that the OSU Masters in English didn't require a thesis. Nope, it required an oral exam, on a predetermined list of the 75 or 125 or some arbitrary number of the greatest literary works ever written in English. All your major players were there, your Beowulfs, your Canterbury Tales, your Hamlets. But there were others, some I'd never heard of.

I had three months of no classes to read. Three solid, uninterrupted months to read. The only distraction was the 7:30 a.m. Comp II class I taught. Then back to read some more.

Finally, back in my comfort zone, I mowed through the books. You know Dickens, right? Dickens, who never met a word he didn't use (sucks to have bills and be paid by the word). A Christmas Carol may be short, but just about everything else tops out at about 800-900 pages.

I read Bleak House, quite manageable at 598 pages, in one day. And, just because I had time left, I started another book, and read another 175 pages before my eyes began to cross.

Yup. Born and bred bookworm.

But 90 solid days of reading can wear a person down. I already knew I wasn't going to continue. I passed the oral just fine, and began packing to come home. I packed up all the books, the ones I loved. Boxes and boxes of books.

And they sat. For months in my parents' barn. For more months when I got my next apartment. I didn't get them all unpacked before I packed again to move in with my soon-to-be-hubby. I unpacked and repacked when we bought our house. It was the first time I'd touched them in years. The only time for years to come.

I didn't read another book, a novel, a piece of fictional literature, for almost five years. And I didn't miss it.

I read the paper voraciously, and all the business magazines my hubby got. I still read, just not books.

Slowly, I eased back. I did a condensed novel in the ESL class I taught. I started reading Dave Barry's humor column collections, and then read his novels (hilarious, of course). Big Trouble was the first real book in nearly six years.

And I read it in less than a day. It was good, and it only took about 4 hours. But it was the only one for months.

I'm reading again. I like to pick up a book when I'm stuck on my novel because, whether it's good or bad, it kick starts my brain again. But I've been stuck a bit on how to get to what happens next. So I read two books in less than two days. I read Stephanie Meyer's Twilight in less than six hours, and that includes dinner and playtime for the toddler.

And that's the problem. When I'm enjoying what I read, even just a little, I want to keep going. But now I have a life that demands my attention. I really cannot read more than one book a week, because otherwise it turns into a time-suck, and suddenly it's one in the morning, I've got to get up in 4 hours, and I haven't written a damn thing, more or less picked out the kid's clothes for the morning.

It's not easy being a bookworm.


CM said...

The speed at which I read depends hugely on what I am reading.

For instance, having obtained Harry Potter 6 at 12 AM, I finished it at 3, and had read it a second time by noon the next day, after sleeping not-quite eight hours.

The average 300-something page romance novel takes me around an hour and a half.

Crime and Punishment was 5 hours. I remember this vividly because I read it in the middle of a hurricane. Bleak House took 8--but I stopped to make notes because at the time I was writing a book set in a similar time period, and Dickens has a ton of historical detail.

On the other hand, it apparently takes me infinity years to read Moby Dick.

Sarah M. Anderson said...

Now, see, I read the first hundred pages of Moby Dick in about 45 minutes. But then, time slowed to a crawl. I think it took two weeks to finish that danged thing. There's a reason I do British, not American lit.

BTW, you took notes on Bleak House? I cannot wait to read your stuff. Cannot wait.

Andrea Dickinson said...

I'm finding the more I write, the more I get sucked into reading entire books in one or two sittings. My hubby even commented that I am always doing research. If I am not cooking or taking care of the boys, then I am writing or reading, though I have been trying real hard to maintain a daily exercise routine. Hard to get up at 6:30 to exercise when I have been reading until 1:30 (or later)in the morning.

Caley Greene said...

I read at the pace my life allows. I've never done the speed reading thing, so me things that makes me an average to slow reader - but I love to read, and do as often as possible, so I don't really mind at all.