Those of you who know me, even a little bit, know that the title of this post is far from true. I do love to read.
One of my earliest memories as a child is of the time my father came home with a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia books, just for me. I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the first time at the age of five, and never looked back. Reading became a compulsion for me – I devoured not only fiction, but magazine articles and newspaper clippings and the backs of cereal boxes. I carried a book with me everywhere I went, and I still do, thanks to the Kindle app on my phone. When I was in the eighth grade, I was grounded from extracurricular reading for a month, and it was torture. I actually resorted to reading my math textbook, which in all honesty felt like scraping rock bottom.
So yes, I love to read. But should I?
I’ve taken to listening to audio books as of late. It started over the summer with The Chronicles of Narnia, which I borrowed from my friend Wendy. It seemed fitting somehow, as they were my introduction to printed chapter books, that they usher me into the world of audio books as well. I fell in love with the concept, got an Audible membership, and now whenever I’m in a situation that precludes my reading a book, you’ll find me listening to one.
For the past few days, I’ve been treating myself to Sissy Spacek’s interpretation of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I must say is absolutely remarkable. If you’re skeptical of the audio book idea, I encourage you to give this a try. On Thursday, I listened to a chapter about the Scout’s (the narrator) first day of first grade, in which her teacher becomes angry when she realizes she already knows how to read and demands she tell her father to stop teaching her things at home. Scout’s reaction to this left me breathless:
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
I had to back up and listen to that line multiple times, again and again, completely unhinged by the swift, bone-chilling beauty of it. For the rest of the day, I walked around unsettled, unable to get this turn of phrase out of my head. Even now, two days later, after I’ve listened to much more of the story, I can’t shake it. It’s haunting. It’s terrifying. It’s true.
During the summer of 2013, my kneecap slid out of place because I exercised in subpar shoes for several days in a row and didn’t stretch properly. While it righted itself later that same day, for weeks the joint refused to behave. It popped and cracked and didn’t always want to bend the way I needed it to. I had never loved my knee before – I’d never even thought about my knee before – and there it was, interrupting my life.
Reading is more than a hobby or an interest, despite the way we tend to treat it in this day and time. Less than one hundred years ago, knowing how to read was sacred, a skill hard to come by. In some places, this is still the case. I started thinking about how the simple act of knowing how to read has affected my life.
I wouldn’t be working, at least not at the nice job I have now. I wouldn’t have graduated college or even finished high school. I wouldn’t know most of you, and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with those of you I did know because I wouldn’t be able to write letters, Facebook, e-mail, or text. I wouldn’t have gotten to know my husband, because while we met in person, a lot of our initial interactions were online. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to write and publish a novel of my own.
I have rarely, if ever, been grateful for my ability to transmit information from the shapes and lines we call letters. I don’t think I’ve ever thanked my mother for teaching me how to read. It, among many other things, falls into the category of stuff I take for granted, and this line from this book published before my parents were even born has brought me to my knees.
I am humbled. I am grateful.
I can read.