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Manifesto of a Passionate Reader (And Writer)

Tonight, it happened.

Tonight, it finally became necessary to explain to those I dearly love who I really am.

Who I am and what I’m meant to be.

It wasn’t easy, but after much (and rather delayed) soul-searching and crushing realism, I opened the floodgates to a future I know I’m really and truly bound to have: I’m a passionate reader who wants to be a writer.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Stephen King

Why does that admission feel so strange, devious, even slightly criminal? I’m not an alcoholic, a junkie, or anything worse. But actually saying aloud “I’m a passionate reader who wants to be a writer” feels somehow tenuous. The only law I’ve broken is a personal one in denying this pure, hard fact about myself for so long in the face of its insistence. I am a reader who loves to write. I am a writer who loves to read. I write about reading. I read about writing. I read about reading. I write about writing. Any way you slice it, it comes up the same: I want to read and write for the rest of my life. I don’t believe there was anything else I was put here to do. (Other than drink coffee…and really, that’s not as rewarding as one would think).

Maybe I denied this about myself because I haven’t done much writing over the years. Maybe I haven’t written much because I’m the harshest critic I know, and quite a bit self-defeatist. Maybe some years my reading wasn’t even where it “should” have been. Maybe I was lazy or had personal stuff going on that just couldn’t be avoided. Maybe I’ve come to this realization a bit late, but at least it finally happened. Maybe it’s a heady mix of strange and familiar; relief and anxiety; optimism and melancholy. Maybe it’s just something that’s too abstract for a blog post. Alas, I will try to explain.

I don’t come from reader-parents or an especially “literary” family. I learned to read with minimal instruction and developed an appetite for books from a very early age. (My gateway drug was a little book called “The Poky Little Puppy“).  My reading life matured in childhood (as reading should) and didn’t stop. I fell in love with books and reading pretty much without knowing it was happening, and long story short, it’s become so much a part of myself that I can’t tell where I end and the books begin. (For me, my writing is a natural progression of expression, a secondhand habit I picked up because of my love of books and reading. Reading and writing go hand in hand, so it’s not surprising that so many bookish people are also wrapped up in the writing life).

“Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood.”
Jane Yolen, Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood

Tonight I officially laid myself bare to my loved ones and distinguished myself as a passionate reader who wants to write, (preferably about reading).

It came pouring out of me, accompanied with unplanned tears, and it felt like I had started a 12-step program to reality. I faced the facts: I enjoy Psychology but I am passionate about literature and literacy. I enjoy learning about the brain and human behavior, but I am passionate about reading and writing. I enjoy debating treatments for mental illness and abnormal psychology but I am passionate about blogging about books and related concepts. I have decided that there is more to life than finding something you enjoy; what really matters is finding something (or several things, actually) that you are passionate about. A person can enjoy a lot of things, but there’s no guarantee that said enjoyment will lead to passion anywhere down the line. (Although I enjoy coffee, I am not passionate about coffee. Although I enjoy animals, I am not passionate about animals.) I know what I know and I know what I like, and this post is my affirmation of the following: I enjoy lots of things, but I am passionate about books, reading, and writing.

I find it necessary to explain the difference between people who read every now and then to pass the time (or impress others), and people who read in order to explore the world and live fuller, more passionate lives. I’ll detail a multifaceted, obvious obstacle between readers and non-readers: a fundamental disconnect.

Many people in this world assume that “literary” or “bookish” people don’t do much of anything when they’re reading. These non-reading people don’t seem to understand that when someone who is passionate about books and reading is reading (in any medium), that reader is doing something of utter importance on a very logical and personal level. It goes far beyond silly comments like “he’s just reading” or “she’s not busy, she’s reading.” (Dare I say those are some of the most perverse words ever uttered in my presence!) Here’s the revised reality: people who read passionately aren’t just passing the time or filling in the half hour before an appointment. They are doing what they’re doing because they have to, they are joyfully fulfilling a need, an itch of the mind, if you will, that must be scratched. Passionate reading for pleasure is an obsession that has no release other than the accompanying compulsion. I assume when people are eating, they are hungry. Why do you ask a devoted reader why they are reading? Does “hunger” qualify here? I am certain it does.

“Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a weapon.”
Bertolt Brecht

I own a lot of books, and when people (both readers and non-readers alike) view my shelves, they are amazed at the quantity. The next question is of course: “When are you ever going to read all these?” I suppose it’s a valid question, but why does it almost feel like a jab in the heart? To me, it’s like peering in someone’s pantry and fridge and asking “When are you ever going to eat all this?” The food response is probably something like: “Well, I might not eat all of it, but it’s nice to know I have what I need when I need it.” Same with books: “I might not read all of it, but it’s nice to know I have what I need when I need it.” (Is the hunger metaphor sinking in here?) For the passionate reader, books are a sustenance all their own and it’s not necessary to explain their presence.

I also check out tons of library books (which I know I’ll never read in the two-week-plus check-out period) and I frequent my public (and university) library with a mad regularity. (I have two favorite librarians that I interact with regularly and it’s a pleasure to do so). Some people might think this is crazy, to check out so many books knowing that I’ll never even crack the spine on some of them. “Why?” they might ask, “do you feel the need to check out so many books every time you enter the library?” I find myself trying to explain that books are more than just physical things to a passionate reader such as myself; I try to describe the fact that books have a soul and feel close to me like actual people. I’m not out of my head, I’m simply a passionate reader who sees books far differently than other people. I respect and cherish them in a way that others may not, and I like to surround myself with them. I’m taking home little treasures every time I leave the library and I dread having to take them back. (But I do, I promise, I do!) I take them home and fill my shelves with them, and even though I know I’m not going to read them all during the checkout periods, (even during my lifetime for most!), they don’t cease to serve as comforting friends to me.

“The book borrower…proves himself to be an inveterate collector of books not so much by the fervor with which he guards his borrowed treasures…as by his failure to read these books.”
Walter Benjamin

General escapism is another obstacle that bookish and non-bookish people deal with. Non-bookish folk tend to think passionate readers are reading in order to avoid or put off doing something else, usually more “important” things (chores, work, etc.). While this may be the case quite often, it’s quite clear that passionate readers are not the only people who tend to pursue these escapist routes. Don’t people who abuse alcohol or drugs do the same thing, just by other means? Why is bookish escapism seem as something to be avoided, made obvious by the comment “Put the book down and rejoin us here in real life!” Every human escapes in one form or another; whether it’s a harmful or nontoxic escape is dependent on the person and the motivation. Passionate readers are like everyone else in their need to get away from it all sometimes; however, our escape is so much more tame and acceptable than some people make it.

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”
Lloyd Alexander

“Reading is one form of escape. Running for your life is another.”
Lemony Snicket

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I want to make reading and writing into a career for myself. I struggle with feeling like I am pursuing a less conventional, perhaps more selfish career choice than others. However, I temper this fear with the fact that when people are good and proficient at certain things, those are the things they should most desire and pursue. So I won’t be curing cancer and helping sick people, or making an impact in a global way, but most people aren’t contributing to endeavors such as this either. Everything tends to work out in a symbiotic fashion one way or another. Patients need doctors; doctors need patients. Readers need writers; writers need readers. Seems practical when put this way. I see this less as selfishness and more as an assurance of self-esteem and self-value, as in “I have something to offer too, even though it’s different in scope and application.” Is that too much of a stretch? I hope not.

“The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.”
Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism

So…for all the aforementioned obstacles between the non-reader and passionate reader, where does that leave me and tonight’s revelation as to where I belong in life? Right where I was in the beginning, albeit more in tune with what I need to do to make this dream a reality. I’m a passionate reader who wants to write. Now what? I embrace this fact about myself with positive affirmation and I strike out boldly into the world with ideas and goals and aspirations. I think that’s what we all have to do, in order to get anywhere. I know who I am and what I need in order to be happy. That can’t be as selfish as I would believe. For me as a reader and writer, passion implies happiness, happiness implies contentment, and contentment leads right back to passion. How can any of those things not lead to something positive and meaningful in my future? I forbid myself to not continue on this path…

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
E.B. White

“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.”
Gustave Flaubert

Sincerely, between pages,


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