I have an addiction to books. I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. Well, almost – I have a very early memory of leaning over the back of a couch, watching my older brother read and desperately wanting to know what was so fascinating about words with no pictures. I figured it out fairly quickly, and I haven’t stopped since.
I stopped reading for a little while in my first year of college. I kept getting headaches that got pretty awful. My sinuses and teeth were checked. Finally I went to an eye doctor and discovered that I needed glasses. During the time that I couldn’t read, when the headaches were really bad, I felt like I was in withdrawal. I was irritable and easily upset, off balance, and unhappy with everything. As soon as the headaches stopped, I was back to reading again.
Books have been a lot of things to me. For a while, they were a means of escape. I loved libraries because no one cared who I was. Librarians were invariably kind to me, especially when they found out that my passion for reading matched theirs. When I went back to public school, the library was the place I felt safest. I wasn’t out of place there.
For much of my life, though, books have been freedom. My imagination was set loose, not just in the amazement of this world, but throughout the cosmos and the full breadth of time. I loved learning odd little facts that most people didn’t know. Did you know that the male platypus is venomous? Or that a crocodile can’t stick out its tongue? I was introduced to science fiction, fantasy, and Shakespeare at about the same time, and they, in turn, shaped my world, sometimes subtly, sometimes not. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters gave me nightmares for years, to the point that, when I was younger, anyone with a hunchback made me worry. I loved Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, which I found in a library the same year it came out, when I was seven, and it fed my love of horses and gave me a strong but believable female character to emulate, at least a little bit. I tried to write sonnets, learned that, while I enjoy poetry, it was not exactly my strong suit. I learned to enjoy punning from my family and then overdosed on it through Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, when I read three of them in a day. Time travel made my head hurt. Still does, sometimes. I really love The Time Traveler’s Wife, though. I read the Modesty Blaise series, which had a heroine who was dangerous. She fascinated me. She made me want to be powerful, strong, scary. I never quite managed that, but, between Modesty Blaise and Harry Crewe, I never thought women should be meek little creatures, either, so I did get something useful out of them. Spider Robinson pushed empathy, even for the terrible and terrifying people in the world, and then his wife let me dream of beauty dancing among the stars. I’ve wanted to go to space, to float and be free, for much of my life.
I worry about kids who aren’t raised with a love of reading. I feel like they are missing out on so much. Given a choice between watching, for instance, a Hannah Montana rerun that they’ve already seen and curling up with a book, even the kids I know who love to read will generally pick the rerun. They might read during the commercials, but they won’t turn off the TV. The television tells stories, but they are dripped through an IV, not made to draw people in and make them imagine their own pieces, their own visions of the stories.
Reading is active. It makes me think, puts me inside other peoples’ heads, forces me to see the world in different ways. I know some people don’t like reading, but I wish I could give them a book that changes how they see the world, gives them even a glimpse of the amazing things I’ve seen in through simple words on a page.
This is my addiction, my welcome need, my bit of wonder whenever I want it. This is how I regroup at the end of a long day. This is how I remember joy, by reading Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Ursula LeGuin, and so many others. This is how I center myself, how I put the pieces back together when the world finds ways to shatter me.
My drug. My addiction. My books.