Some families value brute strength, raw intelligence or classic good looks. Mine values reading at a breakneck pace.
I come from a gene pool where all of the swimmers lie on inflatable rafts with book and beverage in hand. We excel at reading, bordering on the obsessive. In my house growing up, no one followed television plot lines nearly as closely as those of their books. My sister was my hero because she could crank through several books a week. It would seem I was destined to be a voracious reader.
And I was. In second grade I was placed in the highest ranking of readers (remember when books were rated level one, two or three? I was a three, natch). I would always count down the minutes to SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) which was usually 30 minutes a day. I thought it was very odd that some students in my class would moan as if in pain when this time arrived. They would put down their books five minutes into SSR and stare at the ceiling or draw on their own arms. I thought they were crazy to stare into the abyss when they could be learning what happened next in their (clearly) level one reader.
Of course as I got older I realized the tricky line I was dancing on (falling rapidly over) between being smart and being a total nerd. Who reads for fun? Who goes to the library when it’s not mandated? Needless to say, I did.
I remember hearing one of my high school classmates, Liz Read (yes, that was her real last name), describe how she used to have girls over for sleepovers but she would suggest reading side-by-side as an activity. These girlfriends did not understand why she would want to do this. Upon hearing this, I deeply regretted not knowing Liz in elementary school, because I would have brought ten books to her house.
So I read and read my way through school. True, there was the blackout period of 2002 – 2006, also known as college. But who was reading in college?
As soon as I graduated, it occurred to me that I could get back to reading for fun. But where to start? I felt like I had missed a decade of good writing and the thought of trying to catch up was utterly exhausting. So I started with memoirs, which are a good a place to start as any.
But then I ran out.
What book to read next?
How to proceed?
And then, like a literary mirage in the desert of information, it came: Goodreads.com.
Of course this information came to me from none other than a real life librarian. You already know her from her adventures in the jungle of public schools — Ms. Amy Hofmann. If this sort of technology can rock the average reader’s life, can you imagine what it did for a librarian?
Goodreads is basically Facebook for books. You create a profile, list books you’ve read, list books you want to read, and then you become friends with other readers so you can see what they’re reading and then choose your next book based on how they rated theirs. It’s absolutely brilliant. I even got my mom to join (and why wouldn’t she, when she reads like a book a day?).
It’s so obvious that Goodreads was created by super-duper book nerds. They have things like “Reading Challenges” so that if you weren’t obsessive enough, you can now decide how many books you are going to read in 2011 and Goodreads will keep track of your progress. The other day, my Reading Challenge left me a message saying I am 9% behind. This angered me enough to leave a post that said “but my book is 1,200 pages!”
This was a one-step-forward-two-step-back scenario. In defending myself, I only proved to be a bigger dork.
The other life-altering reading development in the last year has been the addition of a Kindle to my bookshelf. At first these devices morally offended me (I NEED to turn my pages), but once I realized I could use them to travel I was totally convinced.
This was me on our last trip to Cabo. I was in this exact position for the majority of the vacation.
Being on the plane with five books that take up a sliver of space was utterly liberating. I will say that, as a frequenter of the library, paying for these digital books is painful (they’re usually $9.99) but when you consider the alternative of carrying three large books for your whole trip, it’s a quick decision.
The catch? I married a non-reader. This reduces my reading time significantly, and also serves to increase my identity as nerd-reader, if only by comparison.
However, I am finding that I am fine with this, because it means I’ll never have to encounter that hairiest of reader pet-peeves: the over-the-shoulder reader (shudder).