I used to read everywhere. Lying on the floor, in bed, in the tub, under a tree, in a tree, on the ground, in the car, at the dinner table, in the living room while everyone else was watching TV, late at night, under the stars, on a train, walking to and from school, in school, in restaurants, under a table, under a trailer, in a deer stand, on the edge of a field, beside a campfire, in a tent…whew! I guess the one place I didn’t do much reading was church because that would have gotten me slapped.
I read everywhere. I probably couldn’t remember all the places if I tried, and what I put down here doesn’t begin to exhaust the list. When I think back to all the places I read it feels, well, kind of heavy in my mind. Like there were a lot of them.
Anyway, I read everywhere I could, whenever I could. I was voracious. I read everything, and I loved it.
I partly read to escape my life, but I also read because I enjoyed the physical act of reading. I liked carrying a book or a magazine around with me, its pages dog-eared, spine cracked. It seemed like it was always ready. There was something about it that felt right to me.
I will always remember the very first book I bought with my own money, and where I read it. It was a comic book about Hot Stuff, the Little Devil. We were living in Pearl, Mississippi at the time. I sat on the gray concrete stoop outside our front door and read that comic book while my baby brother took a nap. It was the beginning of a long, and often lonely, journey.
I say lonely because reading is a lot like writing. It’s a bit of a lonely exercise. Unless you are reading for someone or in front of someone. Otherwise it’s a solitary act, much like writing. Which is why they go so well together, I guess?
As I got older I read less, but I read more critically. Over the years, especially as an adult, I stopped making it a point to finish whatever book I started reading. I used to be proud of that. I outgrew it fast enough when I began to understand it’s not how much you read, but how well you read.
I very much believe a good writer must be a good reader. Not of books, but people, too. Writers are always watching people and reading them in an unobtrusive way. We watch how they act and move and speak and change, and are changed, by the world around them. We read other people, and ourselves, and the world, as they circle around us.
We never stop because I think it’s sort of innate behavior with writers. I don’t know if it’s something you can teach. Maybe. If not it should be.
But all that reading doesn’t go to waste. When I attended a family reunion a while back one of my relatives pushed his little boy forward and said, “He wants to be a writer like you. Can you maybe give him some advice?”
I did. I told him the best thing he could do right now was read. “Read as much as you can,” I said, “and everything you can. You like fantasy and that’s what you want to write, so that’s what you should read most. But you should also read mysteries, romance, science fiction, history, everything. Keep doing that, and the writing will come.”
I often think of my little relative from time to time and wonder if he’s reading. I used to lie in bed late at night (0n a school night, no less) and have the bathroom door cracked just enough so I could see the page and make out the words.
Is he reading? I expect he is. If he’s a writer, even at that unformed age, I can promise you he is reading.
I did it. You did it. Yeah, I bet he is, too.