The prodigal reader


Don’t get me wrong. I used to read a lot. I remember my gramma teaching me to read when I was four, and when I read a whole Curious George, she gave me a prize: a little toy lion standing proudly. I was thrilled, and I associated getting prizes with reading.

In the years that followed, I read not only more about delightful monkeys, but everything I could get my hands on. There was a pattern though, as it got drier and drier—comics, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, autobiography, philosophy, and finally textbooks. My writing, too, went from superhero stories to fantasy to modern-day mundane life, peppered throughout by academia and essays. I got older and my taste got more “mature”, which to a reader means “boring”. All throughout, the little “Lion of Literacy” stood on my bookshelf, representing my and our culture’s ability to read and write—and getting dustier and dustier.

At the end of high school, just before university, I thought I should give my writing teacher something, since it was a great class (12 students, all friends) and I felt I owed him something. I was throwing out some old junk when I came across the Lion of Literacy again, and of course it was perfect. But I realized I’d lost that childlike wonder that draws you deeper and deeper into a story, whatever else I’d gained. But I just felt like I didn’t have time. Last year, all I read besides course work was C.S. Lewis—Narnia, you exclaim, that’s not that bad!—ah, no. A collection of his letters—a 1,700-page tome about his daily life as a professor. Actually, it was volume three.

I’m ashamed to admit that going into this year, I’d only read two books over the summer, both nonfiction. I was more or less lost as a reader. But by chance I met a friend from another program—English specialist—and, though we didn’t really keep in contact at first, when the Christmas break came by I found myself bumming around with nothing to do. I phoned the friend to hang out. We set the date for a week from the day—“Why so late?” I asked. The reply? “I’ve got so much reading to do.” “But school’s over.” “School!?” laughed the friend. “Is that what you read in your spare time?”

I blushed, as I often do. “I don’t read in my spare time. I mostly watch movies, play games, play music…” “Stop right there. Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray?” “Um, no?” “Well, now you will. What about Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day? No? What have you been doing with your life!” Before long I was bogged down with titles of masterpieces—and, thank God, it’s the kind of friend who shows you neat things and then hounds you until you get around to doing it so you can actually have a conversation.

What happened? It was amazing! I was reluctant at first; years and years of dry, technical writing had ruined any association with prizes or proud lions. The first book started off slow, but I hardly noticed when it grabbed my attention, made me fascinated, and soon had involved me so thoroughly that I forgot there was another world—no, millions of them—waiting in those pages.

I don’t have a lot of time, still. But I get by. I have multiple friends suggest their favourite books to me, and I exchange mine with them. I steal time in commuting, in bed before going to sleep, and even, er, in the washroom. Whatever! I get my fix in bits and pieces; I’m a reader again. My writing teacher would be proud. No, scratch that—I’m in this for Gramma and Curious George.