When I was three years old and living in Singapore, I would go to the Berenstein Bears section of the bookstore and, reciting the my parent’s bedtime stories, pretend to read out loud to onlookers. I don’t remember these incidences - they were recounted to me with amusement by my parents years later. But I don’t doubt them. It’s not hard to believe that even at an early age I was a pretentious twat.
When I was nine, and my sister seven, my parents declared a new household rule: no reading at the dinner table. My sister and I, grumbling beneath our breaths, never stopped stealing glances at books placed covertly in our laps. This ruse never went unnoticed, but every now and then, it was ignored.
I took books into the shower, and my mother would get mad at me when they turned up warped from the steam. After several warnings and failed attempts on my part to hide the evidence by flattening the pages beneath other books, I started tossing books into the laundry, pretending to drop them in the toilet - anything but admit that the continuing indignities Enid Blyton was suffering had been my intentional doing.
When our nightlights were finally confiscated to stop us ruining our eyes in the dim light after bedtime, we read in the dark. No cell phone to light the pages - I didn’t have one until I was 15.
At 13, I entered High Nerd territory, when the Star Wars Expanded Universe became mine. Tolkien, Rowling, and Colfer crafted parallel realities, each unique and perilously vast, a magnetic constellation of literary behemoths that never failed to catch me in their gravity.
That year, my shortsightedness hit -5.00. My glasses grew thick as gummy worms.
When I finally made it to college, I cheated on books for a long time. The only things I cared about were dancing, passing classes, and whether I had enough money left over for the clearance section of Urban Outfitters after pissing it away on cocktails with suggestive names and taxi rides for girls at the bar.
I came crawling back.
Ryan Holiday wrote my favorite advice about books:
Books are an investment. I hear from people all the time who tell me they plan to buy this book or that book. Plan? Just buy it. I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I’d never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it. Not money, not time, not my own laziness. Don’t wait around for some book you want to read to come out in paperback – trying to save $2 or $3 is the wrong mindset. If it’s a book you’ll read, then read it now, not in a year.
"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." Desiderius Erasmus
On a typical day in Chicago I spend two hours on the L or waiting for the bus and if I’m lucky, I see two other people carrying books. Scores more just tap away at their phones. Tap, tap, swipe. Tap, tap, swipe, tap, flick. Pause.
Calling them out would make me a bigger hypocrite than I already am. Too often I’ve got my own head down, eyes glazed over with a flurry of hashtags and upvotes. To the casual observer, phones make people virtual black boxes. The man opposite me with the olive shorts and the immaculate chest hair could be doing anything - promoting an unfortunate selfie or watching James Deen or writing the next great American novel. Tap, tap, tap, swipe.
But not a day goes by that I don’t find myself wishing everyone carried books. Not for some pseudo-intellectual fantasy. If we were all carrying books, I’d know just that much more about everyone else on this bus. I’d have more clay for my bricks, more fuel for the fire of the wild assumptions I use in my daily daydream where I imagine having to take out everyone in the room using only the tools within arm’s reach. A little window into the private lives of strangers.
Plus, I’d finally have a reason to talk to that girl with the pink toenails who takes the 72 on Mondays.