For years I’ve pondered the etiology of my reading habit.(1) No one in my immediate family reads, or at least no one did back in the day. I had no one to turn to curiously and ask, “Whatchadoin?” No one saying, “Yes yes. Just let me get to the end of the page.” Reading is perhaps the one behavior/habit in my life I did not pick up or emulate from someone else.
Yet here I am: a full-grown human being who despite living in the most entertained nation on the globe, despite access to all manner of diversion, despite the constant erosion of time and attention-span…here I am: a person who makes time to read.
And I mean that. I do things like: get some reading done early in the morning and think Okay, got some reading done so now I can do less important things like shower, poop and eat; secretly sometimes hope Ashley wants to go shopping so I can sit on the sidelines and read; open a book after Thanksgiving dinner as others indulge in some tryptophan-induced slumber;(2) plan meals around having a free hand to turn pages; occasionally walk into street signs and garbage cans because I didn’t look up in time; take ‘bathroom breaks’ just to sit and read for a few minutes.
Technology doesn’t ease my longing to read. With a smartphone and the right app I can read literally anytime, anywhere, provided I’m awake. There’s nothing to stop me from grabbing a few quick sentences just like a heroin junkie rubbing some powder on his gums. I can have books read to me whilst I clean the house or corral six manic kittens. With today’s tech, the words avid reader are at a level previously unimagined.
But for all this, I never knew why. Why I started. Why I began always to keep a book with me. Why this morphed into keeping two books with me, and so on until my backpack was always kinda full. Why I forewent sleep to stay up under the covers with a flashlight. Why I always got a library card within the first week of moving to a new town.(3) Why I ate lunch alone often enough. Why I still do, and do so by choice.
This even explains why most non-fiction doesn’t keep my interest. Non-narrative non-fiction doesn’t have a chance with me. I’ll read pretty much anything but if it doesn’t tell a story I won’t make it to the end. And this despite a rampant curiosity and a fascination with details, minutia and motivations. I’ve said for a long time now, “I’d just rather learn about the real world through its fiction.”
Now I get it. Just now. Today. And it is this: I read fiction because, for me, fiction pushes back against the walls of loneliness.
For whatever reason – probably just my own neuro-chemical make-up – the world has always been a lonely place. Or, to put it more accurately, the world has always been made up of me and a bunch of people I don’t know how to connect with. Fiction bridges that disconnect. It gives me something made by another human being, something that took time, effort, pain and love to create, that I can understand. That I can relate to. That I can, myself, love.
Loving people is hard; loving what they make is far easier. And for whatever reason, I chose to love people through their stories. And so yeah. I guess that’s what it comes down to. For me.
- If using the word habit connotes addiction, know that it is intended to do so.
- Or lie calorically stupefied and inert on the living-room floor.
- I could never go on the lam; my whereabouts are always public record thanks to my need.