Wednesday, May 11, 2011

For Where Your Treasure Is . . .

'"Wicked people never have time for reading,' Dewey said. 'It's one of the reasons for their wickedness.'" --The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket.

However much we biblio-geeks might like to think so, people who do not read are not actually wicked. Yet I can't help being charmed by the above quote even though I hold it to be untrue. I think it must have something to do with the all too human tendency to divide the world into "us" vs. "them," whether it's sorcerers vs. muggles, fans vs. mundanes, or readers vs. nonreaders.

Still, people who don't care much for reading never do seem to have time for it. And those of us who do love reading seem to have no trouble squeezing it in. As I often tell my mom, when she marvels at the amount of time I spend reading or quilting, "We all make time for what we love." (Personally, I marvel at how much time she spends working in her garden and sweeping her patio.)

So here's a question for those of you who did not grow up in a family of readers:

Do you feel that your ability to enjoy reading, or just the fact that you spent so much time doing it, was prized or looked down upon by your family?

I'll go first:

When we were young, my brother and I were the only readers in our extended family. And although there was a general feeling that children ought to be outdoors doing something healthy, such as getting hit on the head with volley balls, there was still a grudging admiration for our ability to spend our free time doing something that everyone else perceived as a chore to be done only under duress. As for our immediate family, I think that our love of reading, a love that was not shared by our siblings, was prized because my non-reading parents had a high regard for education. And the fact that I could read quickly was also seen as evidence of a high intelligence, an assumption which was probably responsible for my having had such a good opinion of myself when I was young.

I think that I was also fortunate in that my parents practiced a benign neglect when it came to supervising my reading material. My mother didn't feel qualified to do so, and both parents had the perhaps naive belief that only good books would be found in our public or school libraries. (And perhaps in the '50s that was not far from true.)

So although I was aware of the negative stereotype that readers had in the culture at large, in my family at least I was more than merely tolerated. I may have been an oddity, but I was their oddity, and they were proud of me though probably glad that they themselves were "normal."

On my part, I don't think I looked down on non-readers, but I'm afraid I did feel a tiny bit superior to them -- at least in the sense of being glad I wasn't one of them. To the classmate who announced, as we stood in line for a mandetory pep rally, that there was more to life than books, I replied, "There's more to life with books!" And therein, I think, lies the source of my sneaking sympathy with the quote from Lemony Snicket.

It's so easy to slip into a sense of superiority about personal gifts that are yours through no personal merit. I read voraciously because God made me a reader. That I find time read is hardly a personal virtue, though it is cheering to reflect that when I exercise my gift and do it well, I give glory to God by simply being what he made me to be. Sort of the way that cats or microbes give glory to God just by being cats or microbes.

Yet I also can't help remembering that "much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more," and I am neither a cat nor a microbe.
As a widow making her way through the final years of middle age, it is not surprising that I should have a sharpened sense of mortality and Last Things or I find myself reflecting more often on the question of what I'm supposed to be doing with what I've been given, even the relatively modest gift of being a reader.


(Well, I seem to have strayed rather off topic, but I'm still curious about the experiences of other readers who grew up in families of nonreaders. So please comment.)


Anonymous said...

My family thought it was odd and unhealthy. But it turned out my mom was a secret reader. When the divorce with my dad happened she read for solace (romances) and after was widowed she became addicted to mysteries.


the booklady said...

My mom raised four readers and yet says she doesn't like to read ... books. She reads magazines and the daily paper and never misses her crossword puzzle. My dad is a CPA. He 'reads' numbers. Go figure. We grew up in a house with NO books ... but my mom always took us to the library. My sisters and I (my brother has died) now spend way too much money on books; we can't seem to get enough! ☺

JP said...

I grew up with books and was encouraged to read (although it would later be blamed for causing my near-sightedness...sigh) to a point.

I have spawned readers. At one point I said to my eldest daughter "You are NOT allowed to read in the morning!" as I discovered her cuddled up with a book when she should have been getting her coat on for school.

I love spiritual reading. For me, this can interfere with my prayer life. Reading seems so much easier.

And I know that would sound odd to many people!

I am very aware, too, that much will be demanded of those given much.

Reading can definitely be 'much'.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Amen, JP!

By the way, when you mentioned having "spawned" readers, I couldn't help thinking of this Wondermark cartoon:

Isn't "bibliophibian" a wonderful word?