I’m a bookworm. So was my father. It runs in the family. There’s a story about my grandfather who would sit down in his rocker after supper with a book, a bowl of apples, and a bottle of whiskey. He would not go to bed until all three were finished.
I inherited all of these tastes. The Webbie definition (bookworm: a reader without appreciation) can happen when appetites are not balanced. I have a Program friend who often says that after he sobered up he rediscovered his entire home library.
I’m more of a balanced reader these days. I have other diversions. When I was a child we lived in a remote area with poor TV reception; books were my only diversion. Obsessive/compulsive is my middle name. Once I learned to read, that is all that I did. Whenever I could find reading material, I read.
I read street signs and billboards, women’s magazines in hairdresser shops while waiting for my mother, the ingredients list on the ketchup bottle, my father’s woodworking manuals, and recipes on the backs of Campbell’s soup cans. I tackled the family Bible until my father locked it up: he thought all those begats were too adult for my innocence.
My first adult book, Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”, was a Christmas present from my father when I was seven. I dropped out of the carol singing or gift opening or whatever it was the rest of the family was doing around the Christmas tree. I read my book. To the very end. And then I read it again. And again.
By the time I was nine or ten my parents were worried about this behavior. That was the year when I was not allowed to read anything during summer vacation. No books. No reading. Go outside and play. See your friends.
I became more devious in my quest for something to read. We lived in a small town and my mother often sent me to the grocery store to buy one or two items. I spent hours there, reading the backs of cereal boxes until the store proprietor told me to go home. I read all the comic books in the dime store until I was told to go home. I discovered a box in the attic that contained bundles of old letters. My father was a romantic when courting my mother; she burned the letters when she caught me reading them. No matter. I know how that one turned out : me.
When I was eleven I entered Junior High. Now I had access to the library. I checked out as many books as allowed, smuggled them into my bedroom disguised as homework. I hid them between the mattress and the box spring on my bed, read them late at night under the covers with a flashlight. I had the perfect solution. Finally.
This went on for months until the Sunday morning when I went to church without making my bed. My mother, who for some reason had gone to an earlier Mass, decided to make my bed for me and found my stash. Returning from church, I was met at the door by my father, who escorted me to my bedroom. There, on the bed, was a stack of library books.
I was amazed at the sheer number of books I had hidden. My father explained that the books themselves were not bad (i.e. nothing there to corrupt me), but it just wasn’t healthy for me to read so much.
I don’t remember what happened after that. As I said earlier, I’m more of a balanced reader these days. I have other diversions: E2 and E2 and E2. Obsessive? Me? Naw.