{ Saturday, November 16, 2002 }

Reading and the Problems It Causes

I've just about reached the point at which I am willing to declare reading a personal vice. I'd place it higher on the "problem" list than smoking.

For starters, when I go shopping, I can deny myself anything I don't need except books. When I go out looking for retail therapy, I find it in the bookstore. And it's hard to tell yourself that you don't need another book. Because you do. Because learning is good. Because reading is fundamental. But I don't. I don't. I intentionally avoid the bookstore. Because I don't need to impulse purchase books... I don't. I do it all the time.

I can't have a library card. I ought to ask my mother to write this next paragraph for me. Because my inability to deal with the library is legendary in her mind. About once every two weeks I consider mailing back some of the library books I have accidentally stolen over the years. Accidentally. Really. The ones I want, I've bought copies of for myself. I know that after several years, the library prolly has written off some of these books, but I don't intend to keep them. I just haven't returned them yet. I will though. One of these days.

Did you know that some libraries will actually send you a letter from their attorney threatening legal action if you don't return a book? Even an eight year-old whose only overdue book is "Ellen Tebbits". I think the actual retail value of that book was less than five dollars. The library refused to let my mother buy them a new copy. We hunted the whole house until we finally found that damned book. This happened several times, actually. It takes a long time before they send you that letter.

So, the library is out of the question because I can't use it resposibly. I know I'm not eight anymore, but I checked out three books in college. Two of them are still on my bookshelf. I own my own copies now. I just haven't returned the ones I borrowed in 1999. Nope. I am not borrowing books. It's not fair to everyone else.

Then there's the issue with the reading. I'm a one sitting kind of girl. I pick up the book, I set it down finished several hours later and the entire world has to go on hold in the meantime.

Today. Today was supposed to be a productive day. It started out well. I got up. I got dressed. I checked my e mail. I got off of the computer and down to the bank before it closed. I rode my bike about ten miles roundtrip in the freezing rain to drop something off. I ran to the store (in Emma's car! And it wasn't *that* scary this time) and bought bread, cheese and dishwasher detergent. I helped clean the kitchen. I made dinner. I sat down to eat it. I saw a book.

Three hours later, I have now read Thumbsucker. It's an okay little novel. But in those three hours I didn't smoke, I didn't finish my dinner, I didn't answer the phone, I didn't make plans for tonight, I didn't finish helping with the kitchen clean-up project, I didn't get up and let the cat out, I was cold for at least two chapters before I bothered to pick the blanket off the floor and cover myself up.

It wasn't even a very good book. Besides which, it wasn't mine to read. It was Emma's book, checked out of the library. I left her bookmark in place. You just can't go leaving printed materials in the living room unless you want me to pick it up and read it cover to cover. I'm not going to move the book, no I'll read it right there where you left it. I won't lose your place. But I will sit down and not move until I've finished the book or magazine or flyer or whatever printed material you left lying out.

And I have been like this for as long as I can remember reading. I would manage to finish my book on the way home from the store in the car (after they had dragged me out of the store with the book half read, my hand marking my place while they scanned it. No one was getting me out of there without the book I had started). I can't have books in the car if I'm driving. Nope. They have to go in the trunk. Because otherwise, I'll try to read at red lights. Last weekend, I started reading Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (I think that's the title), that I picked up while at someone else's house. I think I read about 40 pages. All week long I have been thinking about how I need to finish that book. How I just left it, unfinished.

I don't finish anything else, but I almost always finish a book. The only two I haven't been able to stomach were Red Badge of Courage and Heart of Darkness. I couldn't do it. I try again every couple of years, because they are taunting me on the bookshelf.

My sister selects her purses on the basis of how many books she might be able to fit into them. In college, I never saw her sleeping without her head on an open book instead of a pillow. My father actually built himself a loft bed because his books needed more space. My mother had to stop reading everything but newspapers for a little while because she got so immersed in books that she decided she was being a bad parent while she was reading. I'm from a family of readers. Maybe it's genetic.

Shelly and I have talked about how we're readers. How we think there are some people out there who just don't finish every book they start; who sometimes see a book, lying around, with nothing stopping them from reading it, but they don't; who can leave a magazine on someone else's coffee table untouched; or who can trot their way through a book, making it last more than two days; who can go to sleep with a novel unfinished. We're not sure how those people work. Because we can't do it.

When I had a job, I wasn't allowed to read on worknights. Because then I'd never go to bed. I'd have to sit up and finish the book before I could fall asleep. Even when it was a re-read.

I can't stop myself. I don't know if I've ever really tried though. I don't think I want to. But I do want the record to note, that I am beginning to think that my compulsive reading habit might be a vice and my cat definitely agrees. He'd like me to please stop the writing nonsense too and play fetch with him now.

posted by mary ann 9:10 PM