Books! The reading life! La legado vivo!
Before I go any further, I will tell you about my scheme—I am doing a series of interviews with people about their reading lives. Some are well-known writers, filmmakers, actors, and artists. Others aren’t as well-known, but every bit as fervent about their love of reading. I love hearing about the books others are reading, and about the books they love. And this is my way of celebrating them. Of celebrating la legado vivo!
Now, I won’t try and claim this idea as mine. There are other blogs and podcasts out there that do something similar. When I decided I was going to get more hardcore about blogging again, I thought doing an interview series would be a good way to light a fire under my ass. You know, you ask somebody else to participate in something, you sort of have to follow through on it, lest you waste their time. Plus, I love reading interviews!
However, I was reluctant to simply do the same kind of interview I’ve seen elsewhere. You know, where writers or filmmakers talk about their work, their inspirations, etc. etc. Nothing at all against those interviews. I love them. I just didn’t think I could add anything new to the discussion. And then, one day a few weeks ago, I made a Facebook post about reading, and the comments from a certain individual (who will be one of the first interviews here) gave me the idea: I should talk to people about their reading lives. As any reader will tell you, this is a vital part of their lives as a whole, and reveals things about us that we, ourselves, might not even be cognizant of.
Reading connects us. Readers are a community. But, given the solitary nature of reading, we might not always see how many of us are out there, and how much we all have in common. This interview series is an attempt to bring the reading community even closer. And I hope you enjoy reading the interviews as much as I have giving them.
But first, a little bit about me and my booklust.
I adore books. I adore reading. It’s one of the reasons I grew up wanting to be a writer. Out of all the forms of art and expression that I love, books have always felt the most intimate to me. Like standing in a gallery and looking at a sculpture or painting, reading is one of our most direct connections we have to the actual artist. When holding a book, we hold in our hands another’s thoughts, another dreams. Aside from sitting before them and listening to them tell the story orally, it’s the way we are granted entry into their mind.
And that has always fascinated me. Even as a child, I would hold a book and think, This story is for me. It is mine. I have been given a gift of this story, and while I am reading it, it belongs to no one else.
I still feel that way. I don’t say that to sound selfish, either. Stories belong to us all. Yet, paradoxically, it is through books that we also feel they belong only to us. This is out ticket to another world, to walk through the lives of other people. And since we bring our own lives, emotions, philosophies, spiritual beliefs, and experiences with us when we enter into the world of a book, we can’t help but relate to the story in our own intimate way. So while, yes, a published work belongs to the world, it belongs to each and every once of us as individuals in unique ways that even the author cannot imagine. No mind-meld between reader and author is the same. The words in the book are the same to all, but what those words say to us as individuals is wonderfully mutable and varied.
I know I have always been a reader. Although, if I really want to get right down to it, it’s more accurate to say that I have always been a consumer of stories, no matter what the delivery system or medium. Books just happen to be my favorite way of consuming stories. And I have been obsessed with them for as long as I can remember.
What follows is an overview of my reading life. I’m not doing to go in depth here, as a lot of this will no doubt pop up in later blogs, so I’d rather not annoy you by repeating myself too much. However, this should suffice in giving you an idea of what shaped me as a lifelong reader.
I do not remember what the first book was I ever read. I don’t even remember the first story I was ever told. There are so many stories in my head that the origins of my reading life are vague at best. And that’s fine. I don’t need to remember. However, I’m pretty sure, given that my parents were, and still are, very religious, that the first stories I was exposed to were Bible stories. Noah’s Ark remains the most vivid of those. I was obsessed with Noah’s Ark. Even had a playset as a kid, and I spent many a day lining up the little plastic animals to board that mythical, plastic vessel. Hell, I even put a few dinosaur toys in there, so I was waaaay ahead of those “new Earthers.” Except, you know, I was just clowin’.
This book may be what engendered my lifelong love of the absurd and surreal (although some might argue that the Bible did that—I joke, I joke, I kid, I kid. Sorta.) I was enraptured by the whole idea of living in a world where weather brought food instead of rain or snow. The part of the story that has stuck in my head all these decades was the pancake covering the school. If I’m not mistaken, I believe I had dreams about this actually happening—I was a miserable kid throughout elementary and middle school, so perhaps this was wish-fulfillment.
I’m not even sure how I old I was when this book came into my life—maybe first or second grade?—but I can tell you that the book was rarely out of my hands. I recall writing my own stories about this world, in my mind. Which, incidentally, marks one of only two times in my life I wrote fan-fic (I’ll tell you about the second some other time).
In this book, the narrator talks about all the letters after Z. Oh, man, this book was my jam. I remember drawing in notebooks all these new, weird letters, so I sneak looks at them in class when I wasn’t allowed to have the book out.
Come to think of it, this book may explain why I’m so fascinated with Esperanto…
Frankly, though, while I read books all throughout my childhood, it wasn’t until middle school that I truly became obsessed with books. This was also the time when I began thinking about being a writer, so I’m sure there’s a corollary there.
Starting in the sixth grade, I became addicted to the Choose Your Own Adventure and Twistaplot books. I loved them all—and when they started publishing G.I. Joe and Indiana Jones ones…oh man, I was in Heaven! Through all of these, there was one author in particular whose books stood out for me, and that was R. L. Stine. There was something about his that resonated with me the most, and he is probably the first author that I actively sought out when perusing bookshelves or Scholastic book order forms.
Of course, much, much later, I discovered that Stine wrote a lot more of those books than I thought, under various pseudonyms. It would surprise me if someday it was revealed that he wrote every single young adult novel between 1983 and 1988. I mean, the dude’s fuckin’ prolific.
Anyway, sometime in the seventh grade, I was flipping through one of the aforementioned Scholastic book order forms, and I saw something that blew my 12-year-old mind: R. L. Stine had written a NOVEL!! It was called Blind Date, and I had to have it! (This was also around the time I started becoming a horror movie junkie, and ate up anything that looked remotely like a slasher movie.)
Well, Blind Date was the gateway drug. Shortly after that, I sought out every horror novel I could find, YA or otherwise. This lead to Charles L. Grant, Stepen King, Anne Rice, etc. etc. (My story of becoming a horror nerd is waaay too long to get into here—that’s right, future blog alert!)
And, well, since then, I’ve never stopped reading. I’m a slow reader, so I don’t always read as many in a year as I’d like, but I try. I go through phases where once month I’ll read like seven or eight books, and then two months where I get through one. I’m a busy guy, what can I say? But I have always made time for reading in my life. I could not live without books. I will never live without them. I will buy them and hoard them until I die. As Stephen King once said:
“Speaking personally, you can have my gun, but you’ll take my book when you pry my cold, dead fingers off of the binding.”
As I stated above, I plan to someday write more about this; I wanted only to give you a glimpse into my reading life. For now, it’s not about me. It’s about the people I have interviewed and their reading lives.
I’ve lined up some great people for the wave of interviews. At first I didn’t think anybody would really be interested in participating in this series, but across the board, every person I reached out was enthusiastic about it. And for that I am grateful, and honored. I don’t want to give anything away, so you’ll just have to come back to find out who these book lovers are.
I do hope you come back. Because I think this is going to be fascinating, edifying, and, most of all, FUN.
La legado vivo!