I have always loved books. From the tattered copy of Wizard of Oz my mom used to read to me, to crisp textbooks in college, from guilty pleasures like the Sweet Potato Queens to challenging fare like James Joyce, from prose to poetry, from autobiography to the wildest works of fantasy. I love books, I love stories. I love turning pages. I love the creak of the binding when you crack a book open right to the center. I love the feel of the paper, I love the words rushing by, I love the weight of a book in my bag, I love the smell a book carries. I love reading.
From the very first day I realized I could stare at a page full of letters and work meanings out of them, I have been hooked. I carried a copy of the first book I ever learned to read ("See Spot. See Spot run....") around with me until it literally feel apart, then my mom stitched it back together for me and then I carried it around some more until it practically disintegrated. There were two things I consistently got in trouble for as a child. One of them was my tone of voice (I have always had a penchant for too much snark) and the other was reading when I wasn't supposed to be. Reading at the dinner table. Reading instead of practicing the piano. Reading while I waited for mom to pick me up from school instead of "socializing" with the other kids. Hiding in the bathroom with a book when I was supposed to be doing chores. Other kids got rewards and incentives for reading. My parents were trying to figure out ways to get me to lay down my books long enough to actually live my life. What can I say? I was hooked. Still am.
But it wasn't until I lived with Lori that I really learned how to really read a book. Lori and I lived together during my second year out of college. I was working, I was through with school, and I was high on the freedom of reading purely for pleasure again. And for the first time, I was friends with someone who was just as much of a bibliophile as I was. Lori and I would sit side by side on barstools at the kitchen counter, books propped up against the window pane, sunlight streaming across the pages, and read through our lunch breaks. I would step into the kitchen in the morning to find Lori, a bowl of cereal, and a book. Evenings meant an episode of a TV show or movie and then curling into blankets on the couch for more reading. We traded old favorites and discovered new loves in literature together. And we talked. And talked. And talked. About the books we were reading.
At some point, I realized that my way of reading was very different from Lori's. I usually whizzed through a book quickly, hungrily. When I read a book, I was a little bit like a sponge sitting on the ocean floor. I let everything sort of wash in and over and through me. I absorbed the entire book as it moved past me. If there was anything that stuck in my fibers, I digested it and it became part of me. But I wasn't exactly conscious of the process and I used little selection, no discernment. I just sort of let the book happen to me, then moved on to the next one.
Lori, on the other hand, read slowly and carefully. Precisely. She had a way of taking a book in and holding it- all of its pieces together and in place- and distilling it down to its essence. She paid attention to nuance. She analyzed sentence structures. She took concepts the author vaguely alluded to and fleshed them out into existence. And she did it all with an effortless grace and obvious enjoyment, not like she was plodding through an assignment. Gradually, my book-talks with Lori began to shape the way I read. I found myself digging deeper into the books I read, stretching my capacity for experiencing them, developing my understanding and my skill.
It's something that every English teacher I ever had was probably trying desperately to teach me, I'm sure. But it only hit home when I got to watch someone else do it over and over again, day in and day out. It has exponentially increased my already voracious love of books. And I like to think it's made me a better reader and, hopefully, a better writer as well.