I hated to read when I was a kid, and actually, all the way up through high school I couldn’t stand it. Most of what I was reading was for school, and I wasn’t a fan of school. I wouldn’t realize for many, many years that my distaste stemmed from an inherent flaw built within the education system itself, but that’s a different story, and one that I could not possibly have explain in elementary school, even if I wanted to. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the books that we were reading, the stories, I mean, and the writing but I never liked someone else telling me what to do, and what to read, and especially what to think of what I was reading. David Foster Wallace suggested that the point of a Liberal Arts degree is to teach people how to think, and as insulting as that sounds, he posits that the intent is more deeply-rooted, which is to say, that the point of a Liberal Art degree is to teach you that you have control of what, and how you think. I’ve always liked that position. Maybe because we’re not offered that through high school, there was always a right and wrong answer to everything, which, of course, indirectly teaches us that there are right and wrong answers to life. Hmm, well any well-adjusted adult would argue otherwise.
Anyway, because I was told what to read, and what to think about what I was reading I didn’t enjoy the act of reading. It was lost on me. It was lost on me until I picked up Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I don’t remember where I found it, I don’t remember how I found it, all I know is that I couldn’t stop reading it. I loved it. And, in many ways, it changed my life. I discovered a love for reading. I, of course, read the follow-ups to Hatchet: The River, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Return, and Brian’s Hunt. I started looking for books to read, on my own, and found a way to enjoy them. The school’s required reading lists never ceased to irk me, though I learned to find joy in story, especially if I was offered the opportunity the read the book on my time, such as our summer readings. That’s when I read Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country for the first time, which introduced me to a different type of author, and a different kind of story. It’s still mainstream, of course, which, you know, eh, but as an introduction to the fact that not everyone was afforded the same lifestyles that I had been privileged to—what argument would you really want to make in opposition?
If, at this point, I’ve lost you then I think you should consider looking into writings by African, Asian, and Middle Eastern authors, both fiction and non-fiction. Another good introduction writer, but to Middle Eastern writing is commercial and Noble Prize Winning author Orhan Pamuk—he’s Turkish. I bring them up only because they inspire an entirely different type of genre, an artistic writing style that is unlike anything you might be familiar with. The only thing that might come close here in the United States, that’s more mainstream at least, is the more obscure works by Beat Generation authors: Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, etc.
I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately, and not necessarily what I’m reading, but more how I’m reading it, the act of reading in, and of itself, and how that translates in different places. As an example: close your eyes. Now picture yourself reading. What do you see, how does it look? Are you sitting on a chair, next to window, with a cuppa tea, as the rain settles just outside the window? Are you in bed, winding down, the day is done, and your attempting to settle your mind with a book? Or are you on a bus, or the subway, on your way to work, or anywhere with a book in your hand? I have found myself in each position, enjoying reading in any way that I can, however when I picture it, when I picture myself reading, I am almost always on the subway. For two years, in New York, I lived in Parkchester, in the Bronx. I would commute to Manhattan every day, not to my ‘day’ job, but to wander the streets looking for a new café, or to end up at my trusted MUD Coffee, either way the commute allowed me to read. A lot of people read during their commute on the subways and buses. That’s a major factor when understanding why people living in cities read more than those in rural areas, it’s largely due to public transportation. I loved it. I loved riding the subways, and I loved reading on the subway. Currently I’m living in Boerne, Texas. I small German town in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. The very mention of public transportation might actively upset people here. In part because they love their cars, but also Boerne is fairly affluent, and some people fear that public transportation means catering to low income families, which might mean that more of ‘them’ will show up. Despite that being unlikely, it’s also unfortunate that our politicians are refusing to address that fundamental problems that create low income, poverty stricken communities, and people—that’s probably another conversation though. Anyway, without public transportation the means to read while commuting diminishes, unless you’re like me, and you read while driving trusting that all the other idiots on the road will recognize how important I am, and drive around me, accordingly. Just kidding, I only sleep when I drive…reading would be stupid, haha ha ha.
I often sit at a coffeehouse and read, which I’ve learned recently created the problem appearance of being social. I am kind of a socialite in Boerne, a lot of people know me, from numerous circles floating about, and when sitting at a coffeehouse I’ll find myself in conversation after conversation and losing reading time. I have a difficult time reading at home, I don’t know why. Perhaps my house doesn’t exactly feel like a home, I don’t always feel comfortable in the house. There is a tree, at the river, in the center of the town, which has a large branch forking from the trunk that is established perfectly to rest on and to put your feet up. I used to lay there, for hours, and read. That park is always crowded with people now, and children running around, playing, feeding bread to ducks adjacent to signs that implore visitors not to feed bread to ducks, and that even offer a list of alternative food sources. It’s difficult for me to concentrate there. That’s most likely related to the fact that it would be hard for me to ignore the people there. I’m a people watcher.
The point is that I’m reading less than I otherwise would. I can feel the loss. I think that is part of why I want to open Communitea Books, my bookstore. I would love to create a place for people to read, for me to read. Surrounded by like-minded people, people whom explore the human experience in story, and whom might want to share that experience with others.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.