We thought it would be interesting to ask people the simple question: Why do you read? Here's our first installment, a fascinating article written by my dear friend Stevi Carroll, who recently started her own blog, Geezer Chick:
Davin asked me to write about why I read books. In a spirit of full disclosure (isn’t transparency all the rage these days?), I have to admit that until I was around 12 or 13, all I read were comic books, Archie and Veronica (see Sherman Alexie’s TONTO AND THE LONE RANGER FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN to see how those characters can be used), Little Dot, and Richie Rich are a few I remember now. Sixth grade brought the Oz books to me, and I ate them up like candy, but they were better for my teeth. I spent seventh grade in Jeffery City, Wyoming, a mining town of 24 houses, around 100 trailers and a bunkhouse. I presently have a library larger and more diverse than the loaning library housed in a small room in the Quonset hut that also served as the movie theater, hair salon, dance studio for ballroom dancing for the teenagers, and church, Catholic Mass on Monday evenings. I was a little light on the reading that year. I lived in a larger town for eighth grade, and I don’t remember if St. Joseph’s School had a library or not. I did not venture into any public library that might have been available, but to help me pass the summer in another new town, my father loaned me his copy of James Michener’s HAWAII, and by the time I stepped into St. Joseph’s in the fall, I’d finished it. HAWAII was my first ‘grown-up’ book, and I still have that copy. Then the big switcheroo happened. My family moved to Redwood City, California, on the San Francisco Peninsula, and there I found a real public library. Whoa! Years after my first pass through those library doors, I wandered in and saw a book called HOW TO CHANGE YOUR OWN LAST NAME. That was my magical ticket to the last name I now have.
Another full disclosure: I’m white. When I was in second grade, my family lived in Grand Junction, Colorado. Uranium was a hot item lighting up defense contracts, and Grand Junction was part of the Southwest USA’s mining business. For some reason, two Negro girls were in my class. One chilly day, we were lined up around the classroom in front of the radiators when one of the girls admitted she had to go to the toilet and asked permission to leave the room. The teacher said no and the girl urinated on herself. My skull crawled with discomfort. Around that same time I think I may have told my father not say ‘nigger’ in our house anymore. I might have made that up because I wanted to say that. Moab, Utah, another uranium town with both a mine some place outside of town and a mill just across the Colorado River, is where I spent third, fourth and fifth grades. One over-90-degree summer afternoon, a cattle truck pulled up the dusty downtown street as my mother and I stood waiting to cross it. When I saw Navajo women disembark from the back of the truck dressed in heavy skirts and thick velvet blouses, looking hot and dusty, I asked my mother why these women, a number of men, and a bunch of kids rode into town in the back of a cattle truck. As I recall, she said, “They like it like that.” To me they looked hot and sticky; she might have been right. Right? The bed of a hot dusty cattle truck for miles across the desert. I really wondered about that. During eighth grade in Rawlins, Wyoming, and St. Joseph’s School, I got to see white superiority and Latino inferiority, except for the kid called Speedy Gonzales who was a really versatile athlete. As I said before, ninth grade took me to the Bay Area so for the first time in school I got to see real Black/White separation with the kids from East Palo Alto hanging together, except for the athletes, pretty much away from the White kids and vice versa, or rarely the twain should meet. One of the first books I remember checking out of the Redwood City Public Library is MAN’S MOST DANGEROUS MYTH: THE FALLACY OF RACE by Ashley Montagu. Books not only entertain me, they also explain what I observe and wonder about.
Topics other than race have interested me over the years. The Holocaust threaded its way through my pleasure reading a long time. The Vietnam War era held some sway with my reading for a while. Nuclear weapons have had their moment to be held close to my heart of reading. Murder mysteries have helped me see the bad guys get theirs, especially helpful when I would like someone or a few people removed for their perceived misdeeds. I’m always happy when I see timely topics lived out in novels.
I think it was November when the school district I taught in celebrated National Education Week. If it’s national, I guess it wasn’t just my school district. I’d bring in a number of books that have helped me become the person I am today. I’d take in different kinds of books from HAWAII to this transactional analysis book I credit with saving my life to BETWEEN PARENT AND CHILD to THE PROPHET. Often, my youngsters would be impressed by the sheer number of books I’d read. When I’d tell them I’d read EVEN more books than those, whoa, big geek points for me.
I love the ways authors craft sentences. Although I do not remember the exact quote, I do remember that in A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN, Virginia Woolf uses a woman’s flowing hair to describe the flowing branches of a weeping willow. Elizabeth George is such a card in CARELESS IN RED. I listen to books as well as read them. CARELESS is a CD book. As I drove in to the gym parking lot, EG via her book was talking about how thin a medical examiner was by saying, “as thin as a spinster’s hopes for marriage.” Thirty years ago I would have wanted to rip her stomach out (nonviolently of course) and feed it to her, but recently? I sat in my car laughing for a minute or two. Maybe BEING PEACE by Thich Nhat Hanh helped with my transformation; I know that book helped me not take teenage snottiness personally.
I usually have a book or magazine with me. I never know when I might have to wait for a few minutes and what better way to pass my time than reading a passage or two or perhaps a poem or part of a news article. Books slow me down. One of my favorite times of day is when I go to bed. I warm up some milk, brush my teeth, put on my jammies, and snuggle in with a book. I might get two pages read or four, but no matter how many I read, I know when my eyelids get droopy, I can close my book, shut off the light, and have a restful sleep.