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Reader

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I’m not a reader.

Now let me explain.

I’m a damn good reader.  No disorders that I know of, comprehension through the roof, the ability to cold read, out loud, in public, strong as it gets.  I’ve been reading since I was a little over a year old, or so they said when I was growing up.

No, I’m just not a reader.

I grew up reading every day.  Prose, mostly, and that, contained in the sports section of the LA Times.  I never read comics, except for the papers on Sunday, and I was never encouraged to pick up a book during my childhood, except by command of teachers, and then, not until high school.  Along the way, I read some things, mostly by accident.  Some Peter Benchley… sharks fascinated me… and some pulp journalism style stuff you could find on the book rack at the grocery store while my mom stood in line to pay.  Besides that, the only two things I read like they meant something were Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, the World Book Encyclopedia, and the 1973 Baseball Encyclopedia.

But none of that is reading.

In the years that I should have been indulging my creative consciousness on everything from Swift to Burroughs and Dickens to Baum, I was memorizing batting averages, the etymology of 19th century English words, and the names the crew gave the mechanical shark in the movie Jaws.  I wasn’t reading, I was collecting… nonsense, mostly.  I read quickly.  I read to absorb, to obtain, and to satisfy curiosity, not for the love of the words themselves.

At least that’s the way reading was explained to me.  That it was a love affair with words, and with the stories that the words would unfold for me, if I would only let it be so.  As you might imagine, school was a nightmare for me.  I got by, barely.  Not by reading, but by listening.  I listened to every word the teachers said, and made copious notes.  Page after page of classroom notes, writing down every meaningless detail of these frustrated storytellers, never once looking inside the textbooks they ordered us to read.  Because of this, obviously, math was a killer.  English was hard because all the questions on tests were neatly tucked away inside the books I didn’t read.  History worked for me, because teachers of history fancy themselves “historians”, and would rather act out the full contents of the books themselves, than leave the interpretation of history to the transcribers of history.  I took notes, and answered the questions from them. 

That didn’t work out so well, in high school, or in college, after.

I gave reading one more shot in my 20s.

The girl I was seeing was a reader of book club selections, and I would read books over her shoulder, at night.  For a while, I became a reader like she was a reader.  Picking novels that sounded interesting based on my already-cultivated curiosities.  Bad sports stories, the occasional adventure, and spooky stuff.  Spooky stuff that would have caused childhood me to keep both hands and both feet inside the covers at night.  Blatty’s Exorcist.  King’s Stand.  A bunch of other crap I barely remember.

In this time, I realized that I read the way a cow eats, deliberately, and not in any hurry.  Not the way a predator hurriedly consumes its prey, but slowly, chewing on words and phrases, taking them all in, and then barfing them back up in the form of re-reading without actually finishing the book first.  It took me forever to read a book this way, but when I was done, I maybe knew the stories better than the authors.  

Then the girl became wife.  The wife stopped reading.  I stopped reading.

Because I’m not a reader.

At this point in this story, I’ll save you the exposition of the next 30-something years.  I’ll just tell you that, while I am not a reader, I am reading again.  I have to.  Something I discovered about the silence that only reading brings.  The silence that, I didn’t know until now, brings healing to a soul that fed on only noise, and a mind that, for most of a lifetime, knew only confusion and pain.  Words and stories that should bring healing, and a minimum of confusion and pain.  From Murakami to Bradbury, Goldman to Gibran.  I will read these, soon.

I’m not a reader, yet.

But I’m going to be.      

 

© Copyright 2017 William S. Friday

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