Why do you read?

I'm the most prolific reader in my group of offline friends. And since I don't drink alcohol, I turn down most invitations to go downtown to the bars. I always use the same excuse - "No thanks, I'm gonna read a book instead." So I've been asked a bajillion times why I read. I'm putting it under a cut so I don't take up too much space on your dashboards.

 

 

My Dad is my best friend. He pretty much raised me alone, though he kept marrying nutcases in the hope that I'd finally have a "mother figure"... which didn't work out well. His first attempt was a mixture of Cinderella's stepmother, a drill sergeant, and the witch from Hansel & Gretel. The term "redhead stepchild" refers to me, I'm convinced. I spent two years living in a closet on a mattress - technically, I was grounded for two years and could only come out for school or meals. She took away everything I had ever owned - bedroom furniture, clothes, toys, everything - because I hadn't done anything to earn them. I was 10, so I dunno WTF she expected me to have done to earn it. At school, I sold my lunches (pudding cups!) to save money to sign up for this Scholastic book club thing. I had to convince a teacher to allow me to have the books shipped to her house and she would give them to me one at a time. I could easily claim that I checked the book out of the school library and only having one book at a time supported that.

 

My only escape from that closet was The Baby-sitters Club. In two years, I spent every moment I could with the club. I fantasized about being old enough to baby-sit, knowing that I'd get out of the house and do scandalous things like eat snacks between meals and go swimming in the neighbor's pool. I might even meet a cute boy! I'd earn money and be able to buy things that my stepmother couldn't take away from me.

 

After a while, she realized that taking everything away from me from the get-go limited her ability to punish me. She couldn't take away my toys, she already did that. She couldn't ground me again, I was already grounded. But she had noticed that I liked The Baby-sitters Club books. So she signed me up for another round of books for my birthday. I got three books delivered not long after. I got home from school, saw the box and took it to my "room". I was halfway through the first book when my stepmother got home and went nuclear. I shouldn't have opened the box, it was addressed to her, not me. So I had just broken some federal law and given her the ammunition she needed to punish me. She popped me across the face with the book, which can I just say - fucking hurts. And then locked me in the closet for a week. She told my school that I had stolen books from other students and convinced them to suspend me for the week. I think she figured the bruising would be gone by then, my school mates would hate me, my teachers wouldn't trust me, etc. All I knew or cared about was that I was never, ever going to read a book again.

 

My father didn't waste much time. Before the week was over, he let me out of the closet (haha) and said he was divorcing my stepmother. Everything would go back to normal, he was so sorry, blah blah blah. But I was pretty messed up after two years of mind-fucking. I stayed in my room, I did my homework, and I watched tv. I didn't go anywhere near a book that wasn't a text book. I had no friends. I was somber and unhealthy. I had been that way for years now, but Dad didn't pick up on it until the wicked witch was gone.

 

And he was upset. He felt like my being sullen was his fault. So he stopped picking me up from school in the afternoons and had me take the bus. The only bus that came anywhere near my house was the one that stopped at the library. I'd be dropped off around 4pm and my dad would pick me up at 7pm. He knew me well enough to know that being surrounded with books was a temptation I couldn't ignore for long. It took me a little while to get up the nerve, but I finally started to explore the shelves. I'd covertly snatch a book off the shelf and hide in the bathroom to read it. Eventually somebody found me out and told my father. My grandmother had been a librarian there, so when Dad called and said "I'd like to buy some comfy chairs to place in the library", nobody argued. He had 3 cushy chairs delivered and they set them up around the "teen fiction" section. And every afternoon, for three hours, I'd read Fear Street novellas and anything I could find that was written for teens. Curled up in a comfortable chair in front of a floor-to-ceiling window that looked out on the playing fields of the college next door. The librarians would put the newest books on a specific shelf, so I would always know when there was something I hadn't already read. It was a weird sort of healing that was exactly what I needed to beat back the shadows left my by stepmother.

 

I still won't buy physical copies of books. I don't want them to be taken away. If I can't get it from the library or in e-book form, I wait until I can. The books I do own aren't special in any way. I think I've got Judaism for Dummies and some beading books for making jewelry. Oh, and the signed books I got in a GR giveaway, but those are in hidden in a dresser drawer. Logically, I know my books can't be taken away, but I'm not logical. If I ever wrote an autobiography, it would probably be titled "This Chick is Totally Unreasonable".

 

I read because reading saved me. I don't think I would have survived as mentally intact as I have without The Baby-sitters Club and the local library. And of course, my Dad. So, I give my heartfelt thanks to Scholastic and the Mobile Public Library - you saved at least one kid's life.