Monday, November 15, 2010

Are Books Scary?

Years ago, I shared a flat with a non-reader. In fact, Carmen went so far as to say books scared her. She would cast my five sets of bookshelves a wary glower, then retreat from my room to her world of chrome and found objects. One day, I returned from work to find my cookbooks piled in the closet. Carmen knew in her gut that books did not belong anywhere near the kitchen.

She isn't an ignorant person. She can read; she's an artist and an incredibly creative person. But books - and reading - hold no interest for her. And the physical inactivity of reading bores her silly. (And believe me, she is silly enough.) Information and entertainment, for her, comes from televisions, movies and music. Not books.

I, on the other hand, am a reader. My five bookshelves have grown to eight. Books are my crack and my solace and my teachers. Barring an emergency, I cannot make it through a day without 45 minutes (minimum) in the morning, drinking my coffee and reading (or re-reading) a book.

I've spent the last month working on an estate sale in Georgetown, in a house that has been in the same family for 120 years. And there in the entrance hall was the most beautiful 7 x 8 foot set of mahogany and glass bookshelves. Full of the books a family collected between 1890 and 1950. Mostly novels, some books of knowledge, and of course the pre-requisite mid-century Readers Digest condensed volumes.

The vast majority of these books were charming children's novels from the early part of the last century. And tucked amongst the pages were little treasures - postcards, birthday cards, and other mementos. These books were read. Enjoyed. Treasured and saved for nearly a century in that phenomenal glass and mahogany home.

I understand these people. I am still, 10 years later, puzzled by my former flatmate. Non-readers are as foreign to me as, well, seafood on a pizza. It doesn't make sense. People who don't need to read the book because they saw the movie. People who don't read because they had to read too much in school. People who don't read because they just don't have the time. People who don't read because they are too busy writing. People who don't read because books are scary.

It's a fundamental divide. As elemental to me as religion. And though I try to have compassion on these people, I find it a trial because I have no empathy for them. Only pity. It's a puzzle. Maybe there's a book out there that will help me understand them.


  1. That's sad. I feel the same way about books as you. It reminds me of that quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite books. Scout says, "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." I don't know what I would do if I couldn't read anymore.

  2. Sometimes I wonder what non-readers value. Books are all about... everything. Thoughts, feelings, ideas, the past we hope we're not doomed to repeat, the future we hope to build... That's not to say movies or music can't be about those things. But often they're not. Now, I love movies and I love music. The best examples, though, are frequently based on books. Do non-readers realize this? Do they value movies and music for exploring the
    enduring things of books? Or is it all about flash and bang for non-readers? Hmmm...

  3. I can't imagine my life without books. These days I can't read as many as I would like but I can't imagine never doing it. Books open the door to so many worlds and new ideas. They communicate the past, the present and the future. They help us to understand each other and to realize that others may have experienced the same things that we have which makes us feel less alone.

  4. I still consider myself a reader, even though I don't read nearly as much as I used to read. Sometimes I miss it. Mostly I just watch television. In the best of all worlds I would spend the time writing . . .