I learned to read early. By early, I mean before I was four years old, I was able to read picture books and had started to read comic books. I am not saying this to brag, but rather as background for the rest of the story.
I attribute this precocious behavior to three things: Sesame Street, trying to imitate my older brother, and boredom. I tend to live my life inside my head, and often become very focused (sometimes on very trivial matters) and oblivious towards my surroundings. Such as when I am immersed in reading. Stephen King describes it as falling through the hole in the page, meaning that a good story can suck you in so deeply that you never want to leave until it is done, and then only with regret. That is what books were for me. I would read anywhere and everywhere.
This sometimes was a source of boasting for my parents, for whom it was a source of pride. I was once in a doctor’s office when I was six or seven and was reading a Time magazine cover article about Nixon and Watergate. I had a direct but distant connection through a relative of mine to the scandal, so it was of particular interest to me, and I was reading about how members of the administration were quitting like rats abandoning a sinking ship. An older man across from us remarked that it was charming that I was pretending to read the magazine, and my mother said that I was reading it. When he laughed at the possibility of that, she had me read out loud from the article, which I did without raising my eyes from the page, and the man was quickly put in his place. I just kept reading, unconcerned over what the man thought of my reading. I almost always had a book with me, whenever and wherever I went, and running out of reading material was always a concern of mine.
The strange thing that eventually happened was that there began to be times when it was frowned upon that I was always reading. If reading was something to be proud of, and by all accounts it was, as evidenced by getting good grades in English and being able to learn independently, then why was it also something to be chastened for when doing it at particular times, or in particular places? Not only did this make zero sense to me, it also seemed somewhat contradictory and unfair. I wanted to read, so I did, but I began to hear that I was not supposed to read at the table during meals, or in the bathtub, or until the wee hours of the morning. The most preposterous one to me was that I was not supposed to read in the car, because I might get nauseous, because other people said that they did when they read in the car.
I continued to do all these things, of course, but I would sometimes be told that I had to turn off the light or put the book down.
I got around these restrictions because I also many times take things literally. I would read with a flashlight at night, and I would put the book on my lap at the table, and surreptitiously read as we ate. I developed the ability to read upside down, and eventually there was never a question as to whether or not I was going to be reading at any time and any place. People would say “oh, he’s always got his nose buried in a book,” in a tone of mild reproof, and it made me smile, because what was the problem with that? Since I was going to do it anyway, and also because of my inability to care too much either way about the opinions of others when I think those opinions are manifestly silly, I felt little to no worry about getting caught doing it.
Reading is the way a large percentage of the world learns, entertains itself, is informed about its surroundings. It provides a way for us to grow up with expandable minds, and informed opinions. With the advent of the Internet, we read more than ever. Think about that the next time someone decries the Gen-Zers who are always looking at their phone or their iPad or computer. I would read so much that I became a master of trivia just by absorbing a large amount of it due to my particular subject interests in books. For example, I read that the first astronaut to be launched into space had to pee in his suit because of launch delays after he was placed in the capsule, because nobody thought of having to go to the bathroom during what was supposed to be a fifteen-minute flight. But when I told my son this a while back, he immediately used his phone to verify the information by looking it up on the internet, reading about it a second later.
It seems to me that reading has always been something that people should be lauded for, rather than prevented from doing. The number of times I was “caught” reading were so numerous that it stopped being something to try and discover me doing; rather it would be an exception and a surprise if I forgot to bring a book or magazine to read.
Recently, May has been declared “Get Caught Reading Month”. One is advised to celebrate by digging your nose into a book and forgetting about other peoples’ concerns about whether this means you are secluding yourself, or that you are a nerd. I have to say, I could not agree more.