Article follows the poster
A nice fellow named Brian interviewed me for the Radio Reads event day coming up, and that article should be somewhere else in this issue. I’m sure it’s fantastically well written, so I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a related story.
I don’t know how many books were in your house growing up, but in mine there were many; too many, probably. My mother was quite the reader, and she would often read in the living room while the rest of us were getting our senses extracted by television.
“Mom, are you watching? Mr. T just threw a guy through a window!”
“Yes, I’m watching, James.”
“But you’re reading,” I said, as though it was the ugliest thing.
She said she could keep up with both, but I didn’t entirely believe her, and I was too busy enjoying the A-Team. But, the A-Team only goes so far and eventually I wanted to find out what really was the appeal of books.
Scouting around for something to read was a quest in my house. We had a back set of stairs that were once an access for an attached apartment, but my father hastily converted them up with bookshelves and painted them schlock white. The bookshelves rested along the strip of floor that looked perilously down those old, closed-off stairs. The stairs themselves were stuffed with boxes of books, and so was the floor in front of the bookshelves – boxes upon boxes of neglected books. I suppose there wasn’t any other room in the house, with my mother reading at the rate she did, so that section was written off as a kind of library gone-by.
As a kid I would climb over those boxes—perilously standing just over the top of a creepy stairwell, trying to find something to read; some undiscovered treasure of great interest and wonder.
To my parents it was only a neglected bookshelf and storage space, but to me it felt like an endless dusty Library (with a capital, like a mythic place) that held the potential to contain any volume on any subject, even if they were usually only murder mysteries, histories, or romance novels.
Most the books in our house belonged to my mother, and as such were drawn from only a few categories—murder, history, and bodice-ripping romance. Having no particular interest in murder, being unable to keep up with the complexities of history, and thinking girls were icky, I would spend hours adventuring on top of stacked boxes trying to find books of an ‘other’ category, essentially dangling over a considerable drop down a back stair-well filled with things that wouldn’t break my fall.
I found some things to read, though.
I remember sitting in a near-bed of Lego (that I refused to clean up off the living room floor) reading Rudyard Kipling while my mother read some Napoleonic war book, both of us watching Murder She Wrote on the television. I always had trouble reading while something else significant was going on – pretty much anything else – but my mother was doing it (or claimed to) so I was determined, even if I had to read every line three times. I would have preferred to read in a vacuum-sealed sound-proof room free of traffic and interruption, but those rooms are hard to come by. As a result of going over every line many times, I came to know Kipling well. It sounds like I grew up with a monocle over one eye and a “tut-tut” on my breath to say I read a lot of Kipling – but it was that or trashy romances, and girls, as I said, were icky. So, I read the classics; the ‘other’ category I found in the stairwell. I don’t know if this made me a better person, but I was only a mediocre student so its influence could not have been too profound on a practical level. On a conceptual level, it was kind of a big deal.
This is what reading means to me; the kind of construct that surfaces when you suggest to me a good time reading – climbing dangerously on top of stacks of boxes of books in a deserted wing of an old house, pawing through over-stuffed, dusty shelves, searching for treasure – then, reading in a living room floor in front of the TV, partly distracted both by the Lego pieces digging into my stomach and partly by Mr. T or Angela Lansbury. Even as I’ve grown to read many things in university, and now I’m in the Sadleir House Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club (look us up on Facebook) – there I remain in my mind still reading on the floor about the Indian jungle as Jessica Fletcher solves murders in the background.
I don’t know what reading has been to you, but if you want to hear what it is to other people – that’s what the Radio Reads event is for, people connecting as a community over the heart of reading. “Wow, oral narrative!” screams my Cultural Studies degree excitedly. “That’s so interesting!” And it makes nifty radio. Tune in Monday January 26, 92.7 FM. This isn’t just a shameless plug – the point is that our experiences can come together and be shared. This is what reading means to me. What does it mean to you?