I have a strange relationship with books. Sometimes I go on book binges. Other times I go through book droughts. I rarely ever buy a book, and when I do, I have to buy it on sale, or as a gift for someone. I almost exclusively read what I consider to be “great books,” rarely “wasting my time” with the mediocre, and the same goes for movies and television shows. The only exception would be when I read non-fiction, usually biographies or autobiographies, and books on economics, history, or sociology. Then, I only need to be interested in the subject matter and not so much the writing style.
I grew up borrowing books from libraries rather than buying them in a bookstore, but since I left my hometown in 2005 I don’t think I’ve even stepped in a library (except for the grad school library, which was small and academic, and which I used as a study hall). So, for the past 5 years, I’ve been pilfering books from friends and relatives. When on vacation or staying at someone’s house, I tend to read what I find in the spare bedroom (Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue), or books left behind by strangers. Buying books used to be prohibitive in my family due to the cost, but even now, when all of us are doing better financially, we rarely buy books that aren’t on sale at Costco. Unfortunately, to date none of us can boast an impressive, or even semi-decent library of any scale. Hopefully one day that will change.
My husband and I agree that someday we’d like to be the proud owners of a library with built-in, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookshelves filled with our favorite books. We both love to read, and I think we’re both a little inconsistent with our reading habits, although since my husband bought his eReader he’s pretty much working on a book (usually science fiction) at any given time and he’s usually able to go through them pretty fast.
From elementary to high school, I would borrow the maximum number of books allowed by the library, sometimes just grabbing what looked interesting from the cover, other times going by lists of “great books” I’d found somewhere. On the weekends and in the summers, when I didn’t have to wake up early for school, I would read sometimes until 4 or 6 in the morning. During these all-night reading binges, I’d fall asleep and dream that I was still reading, and I would read entire sentences in my sleep, seeing the page before me, and the sentences in themselves would make sense but often when put together with other dream sentences I would read in what felt like incoherent circles. In high school, inspired by my tenth-grade English teacher’s advice, I kept a master list of my favorite books. I need to find that list and continue to add to it. I think I read the greatest books during my high school years, and that’s when I learned to be impatient with any books that weren’t “classics” or “instant classics.”
College turned reading into a chore. For the first time in my life, I was forced to read books because they were assigned and because I had to write papers on them. A lot of the books weren’t great. A lot of the non-fiction stuff was mind-numbing. I picked up the Harry Potter series along the way, and other “children’s books” recommended to me by my friends, because they were quick, engrossing, funny, and clever. They were the complete opposite of the books I had to read for school.
These days it’s not uncommon for me to start up to 11 books at a time, finishing them one by one, or not at all if they don’t past my rigorous test of not being mediocre, or if they were just boring. I’ll also make serious literature leaps: yesterday I spent the morning reading two volumes of a Canadian comic book (Scott Pilgrim), and by evening I was working on a 1000-page posthumously-released Chilean noir novel featured in the NY Times’ 10 best novels of 2007 (Roberto Bolaño’s 2666).
My relationship with books goes through stages, and is constantly evolving. It’s similar to my relationship with and commitment to writing. I want to make the effort to stop my writing drought. We’ll see how it goes.