I am like many other addicts, I harbor a need that becomes so strong in spite of myself that I must give in to it and satisfy my cravings no matter the situation. I am a compulsive reader. In all honesty my compulsion has become diminished by a few degrees, perhaps it is the age, perhaps I have such a store of knowledge that it becomes difficult to add any more. Still, there are times when I may have half a dozen books going at the same time. Read one chapter here, read another there, it doesn’t really matter. I read for knowledge, I read for the pleasure of reading. When I was in my teens my mother, out of desperation, took me to a psychologist or psychiatrist, I can’t remember which and I wasn’t terribly concerned with the difference. Funny thing was i had just finished reading a Primer On Freud, something neither he nor my mother knew I had read. So I had to wait in the reception room and bored out of my head. You might know the feeling, maybe not. All that he had in that room were a few magazines such as Look, Life, and whatever else looked unattractive. But there was an education journal of some kind, I did not pay much attention to the title at the time. So I was engaged in reading the articles and hoping that I could get them finished before I was called into the office. In fact, I read the entire magazine and was starting on another when I was ushered into his office. I expressed my disappointment on not being able to finish the article I was reading, something on psychoanalysis. He gave me a quizzical look, sixteen year olds usually don’t read such things. so I was given what is called a Wexler test, it measures Intelligence, IQ, if you like. If you must know, I scored higher than ninety nine percent of you.
When you are a teenager it does not occur to you to carry around a book when you have an appointment or some chore that requires waiting in line. I would pick that habit up in the service. In basic training the friendly sergeant would not allow anyone to carry around a book, that was unseemly to good military discipline. Your attention is needed on the drill field so you can learn how to march to all manner of commands. Of course there are all the wonderful stuff one is suppose to learn such as the ten standing orders for anyone captured as a prisoner of war. It’s a military code of conduct where one is charged with always trying to escape and all the other stuff Hogan’s Heroes was made of on television. I always though how boring it must be if one is a prison of war. Nothing to read until you can learn something of the foreign language. Well, I was never captured by a foreign enemy although I never considered Uncle Sam to be a close friend. There’s a reason why one is called a “Dogface” and wears “Dog Tags”, I still have mine after all these years. They are a reminder of my year in hell. Still, one reads what is available. One reads labels on K-Rations cartons and its contents. Once that habit kicks in, one reads anything, anytime, and anywhere. Hell, I’ve been known to read a book while walking to work.
For me, it was non-fiction. I read for knowledge, to understand the world. Literature just didn’t give me access to that world of knowledge I wanted. I read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller when I was in southeast asia, world war two seemed a long way off. But most of what I read were histories, histories of countries, histories of various war campagnes, warfare strategies, and economics. I will say that the larger service bases had very good libraries and in the last sixties I read histories of every South American country. I read histories on various European countries. And I read american history. When I came back to the states I read widely on political histories and political theory. I read management books. I was particularly ambitious in trying to read durant, all ten volumes, now eleven. You know, one begins to see patterns in the histories one reads. One sees patterns in political theories. One sees a lot of different patterns in many different fields of human knowledge.
Then I got hit with the science bug. Physics, chemistry, biology, and geology, I devoured them all. Issac Asimov wrote some great introductions to the world of physical science. I was enchanted with these paperback editions. I took them to work with me and read on my lunch time and when I had some quiet time. I read them at home, didn’t have time for television (actually, I had no television). Make a pot of coffee and read all evening long. I was never without a book. Hell, I even took one along on dates, just in case. And I was still reading labels and instruction sheets and what not. There was no internet then, just libraries. And I felt at home in a library. Rows and rows of shelves filled with books. There was never enough time during the day to read everything. Oh how I wished I had the ability to read two thousand, five thousand, tend thousand words a minute and absorb it all, every last character. I spent my life stuffing myself with knowledge. I was careful in choosing the books I read. I had an ability to choose the best books, the ones with the fewest mistakes or errors. Too many people pick from best seller lists, a grave mistake because one is choosing on the basis of popularity.
But as I said, I have slowed down a bit. I attribute that to thinking more. You see, that is what gives books, reading for knowledge, such power. After a while one starts to think and refine that thought process. One can ponder what one knows and the assumptions on which one builds beliefs and theories and axioms and laws. Knowledge gives thought the means to question assumptions, to question authority, to ascertain for oneself the boundaries of existence. The past three or four years I have been consuming fiction like it was going out of style. I don’t mean all the popular junk. No, I go back to many of the original writers of literature and read their works. They have much to teach us without some department of creative writing looking over our shoulders. You know, I don’t know why Franck McCort was given a Pulitzer other than Oprah mandated that award. Angelia’s Ashes was boring and little more than a complaining joke. How poor were we….? Anything on her list of must reads is on my list of must avoids. Frank Mccort isn’t fit to tie Elliott Baker’s shoe laces. Yet how many of you have read Elliott Baker? Harper Lee wrote a great masterpiece with her To kill A MockingBird novel. Yet from what I have read her To Set A Watchman is a great disappointment. I don’t plan to read the work. And I don’t bother to read the new authors, either. I don’t care for the style of writing. It smacks too much or novel by committee.
I suppose the day I die will be that day when I can no longer read. Oh, I suppose I could learn to read braille, but I am getting a bit too old for such things. On the other hand, audio books are really great. When I drove truck I loved being able to listen to audio books. True, it’s not really the same, but consider that being read to is every child’s pleasure. consider that i am, in many ways, still a child.