Out of the Book Lover’s Closet
I decided to start this blog for two reasons.
1. THIS is my coffee table.
And folks? This is just two months’ worth. I only write 4 reviews for Shelf Awareness per month, I have all this overflow… You see where a blog would just sort of happen on its own.
2. I have spent my entire life head over heels, heart-poundingly, life consumingly 250% in love with the written word. (Sorry, spoken word. It’s not you, it’s me. I hope we’ll always be friends.)
During my childhood, other children treated my somewhat fanatical (okay, completely fanatical) love of reading and learning with confusion and skepticism. Once we passed the picture-book-appropriate age, other children progressed further and further into the realms of socializing, sports, video gaming, and all those other activities normal people enjoy. I, on the other hand, progressed further into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, poetry, and Jean Craighead George (still waiting for my wolfpack, by the by).
I was painfully conscious that my peers had extremely different interests from mine. I also knew from television and kids’ magazines that normal kids found school and learning boring, ergo I knew I was not normal. I knew that normal kids thought of reading as boring, as evidenced by the fact that we had a program in middle school called Accelerated Reader that required us to read books and test over them for a certain number of points per term. So from a very young age, I was very defensive about being a bookaholic. I was convinced the other kids would pick on me for enjoying reading (which, to be fair, they did. Jerks.) If anyone asked me what I was reading, what it was about, etc, I tried to cleverly prove my normalcy by saying something like, “Oh, blah, just some stupid book I got at the stupid library because this stupid study period is so stupidly boring and I’d rather do my stupid homework at home so I can watch TV because TV IS AWESOME. Really. Love that TV. This book is stupid. Like all books. ” Of course, if anything makes you look weirder at that age than enjoying a book, it’s enjoying a book and pretending not to. You just reek of weird, and the turkey vultures immediately start to circle. When blending didn’t work, I just started telling people to mind their own business. Again, not a good way to seem more normal.
Worse yet, I started writing my own stories in 7th grade. Other kids HATE it when you’re quietly, busily working away at something extremely engrossing, so then it was, “What are you doing? What are you writing?” When you’re 13, you don’t say, “I’m writing a story in the fantasy genre with both high fantasy and Greek mythological influences. I’m not sold on the quest structure, but if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, am I right, ladies? Yeah, I’m thinking about sending it around to some agencies in spring, seeing if anyone nibbles.” No, no. When you’re 13, you keep your hair long so you can kind of use it to hide what you’re doing, and only sit in corners or beside other nerds. They might not be friends, but they are also not going to hassle you, because they can’t throw stones while doing the awesome puzzles the math camp counselors gave them over the summer. Nerd solidarity: it partly happens because of sympathy, but mostly BECAUSE MATH PUZZLES ARE AMAZING WHO CARES WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE DOING. And if anyone does ask what you’re doing, you once again either try to blow it off as nothing, or you just tell them to screw off. Once again: NOT how to make friends.
By the time I got to high school, even though I knew several of my friends liked to read, I tried to avoid talking about books with them. Even if I saw them with a book I had read, and started to secretly think, “That book is the best book ever, and I’m going to reread it as soon as I get home,” I had trained myself not to talk about reading or writing, unless it was in a safe zone like my school’s writers’ club (all five of us) or the library (but only to librarians, because obviously they liked books or they’d be working at banks or doing experiments on lab rats or something.)
Basically, I spent my entire childhood and adolescence hiding my reading habit the way a
Then this weird thing happened: I grew up. I turned into a legal adult, I went to college, and suddenly no one cared that I liked to read. It was okay to like doing whatever I liked doing. Sometimes other people my age, and I mean normal/functional/attractive people, would say to me, “I love reading! I wish I had more time to read!” and I would just sit there in stunned silence. Now, I knew other people in the world enjoyed reading, since even the 14.000 person town where I went to college had a chain book retailer. I guess I thought normal people started to enjoy reading when they were in the “mature, career-having” phase of life, like maybe when you turned 40, you got an Over the Hill balloon and a sudden desire to hit Barnes & Noble.
So, suddenly it was okay to like reading, but it was still not normal to like it as much as I did. I never complained about not having time to read for fun: I was an English major and enjoyed my assigned reading, and I MADE time to read for fun. (By the way, want time to read during college? Put down the beer. Turn off the TV. Oh look, you have time!)
I also found a totally new reason to keep reading quiet: If you tell people you like books, you’re not getting anything else for Christmas. Ever. You will get Barnes & Noble gift cards (awesome) or you will get THAT book. You know, the one you would never read because YOU have TASTE, but the well-intentioned giver says, “I know you like to read and I just knew you’d love this! I hope you haven’t already read it!” and all you can do is smile and say thanks while inside, you’re thinking, “This person has known me for years and doesn’t know me,” or “This person let a bookseller choose the book, and the bookseller picked at random from overstock to make some room.”
Finally, I went to work at a bookstore for a year. Suddenly, I HAD to talk about books and reading. My job required it. I had to read. I had to recommend books to customers. I had to know about books I didn’t previously give a crap about because someone might ask about them. What’s more, everyone else who worked with me also loved books and constantly talked about them. We even talked to each other about books when we were off the clock or having slow days, and finally finally FINALLY, talking about books was okay. Talking about books was fun. I didn’t feel like I needed to hide my love of books, of words, of reading and writing.
I also started reading more books and reviewing them online to help build my library school portfolio. I wanted to show I could stay on top of what’s current and that I knew how to pick out key issues in books and discuss them, because in some library jobs (though not all) those abilities are important. And lo and behold, other booksellers and library school students were also reviewing books online. I became so confident that being a dedicated reader was a-okay, I started posting reviews to Facebook where my non-reader friends could see them. Take that, you guys! I’m a nerd and I love books and I’m old enough that I don’t care if you care!
On my first date with my boyfriend, he told me that he read my reviews on Facebook. I really wanted to seem cool, so my old insecurity kicked in and I said, “Oh, gosh, don’t read those. They’re just silly.” He replied, “Well, I wish I could read as fast and as well as you can.” I thought, Wait… He admires my reading skills! Reading is actually increasing my chances of seeing an attractive man naked! I have arrived!
I used to be afraid of being thought of as “the book lady,” of people thinking books are my whole life and that I’m boring and don’t have my own experiences, of being overlooked as the quiet one in the corner with the novel, dreaming her life away. Now, I realize it doesn’t matter. If my life is filled with books and I love books, that’s wonderful. I know I have a full life and ambitions, and that’s what matters. Moreover, reading has brought me many opportunities and many much-beloved friends. For better or worse, I’m a book lady (The Book Lady writes a different blog, and you should totally read it) and I’m not ashamed of it anymore.
Now the dog lady thing… I’m not ready to talk about that just yet.