Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hi, My Name is Debbie and I Have a Problem

Well, um...let's see. I guess it was around age 5 or 6. Amelia Bedelia. I saw the other kids reading in the library and I thought "they're doing it, so no big deal, right?". I figured a book about a misfit, simple-minded nanny with a ridiculous name couldn't possibly be too much for me. So I picked it up. I thought, "just this once. I just want to see what it's all about." But then there was Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping, Merry Christmas Amelia Bedelia and Come Back, Amelia Bedelia. Pretty soon I had read every Amelia Bedelia book there was and had even gotten one signed by the author (the kingpin). I thought, "no big deal. I can stop anytime." Little did I know that Amelia was just the beginning.

The gateway 

Pretty soon I found that I just wasn't as amused with Amelia's inane predicaments. I mean, really. How many times can a grown woman bake a date cake using a cut-up calendar? But I still needed that excitement, that thrill of a brand new story just waiting for me to turn its pages. That's when I found Felicity from the American Girl series. Felicity's colonial-era adventures were enthralling, educational and a little dangerous. I liked the way learning made me feel. I liked the person I was when I learned something. The thing about American Girl is that you can't just stop at one. After Felicity I found Samantha, Addy, Kirsten and Molly (my favorite). By this time I found that books were beginning to take over my life. I played with my Felicity and Molly dolls during the day, dressing them in different period-appropriate outfits (cotton dress and bonnet for 18th century Felicity, plaid sweaters and mary-janes for 40's Molly) and devoured their stories at night. My parents didn't know, but there were quite a few nights that I stayed up hours past my bedtime just to read a little longer, find out a little more. Every page was supposed to be my last one.
Come on Debbie, everybody's doing it

From then on I dabbled in a little Babysitter's Club here, a little Beverly Cleary there. All the while thinking that I was totally in control and that I once I got older I would just grow out of this phase. But around the time I hit my teen years my sister introduced me to the world of World War II literature. Ambrose, Brokaw, Pellegrino, I couldn't get enough. I had filled myself with such a vast amount of information that there was no turning back now. No more going back to my days of innocence. I was in it.

I spent the last part of high school in a dizzying haze of classical Russian literature and religious books. Some times I read, sometimes I didn't - the ebb and flow of addiction. College was a bastion for my obsession, though. The second I stepped foot on campus, learning surrounded me. Undergrads, grad students, law students, professors, discussing, debating, lecturing, cross referencing. I devoured it all. No matter how late I stayed up with friends, I always had to end my night with a little bit of something - I couldn't sleep unless my eyes had glanced across a page, taken in another line. It was now a part of me, something that I knew I couldn't shed even if I wanted because that would be like asking me to leave behind my arm and be happy about it.

By the time I got married, things had calmed down a bit. I guess I was distracted by my new stage in life and all the changes that accompanied it. I was holding down a job, making friends, going out at night. Okay, not really going out at night. But I could have. But after a year or so I felt like something was missing and my old friend was there to greet me - the library. Soon I was going to work bleary-eyed and droopy-tailed from a late night. My husband, now apathetic, got used to falling asleep with the light on. Quantity took place of quality. I didn't care what it was I read, as long as I read. Twilight, Leon Uris, Harry Potter, Markus Zuzak, the back of the cereal box. It didn't matter. As long as it had writing, I would read it.

Did you know there are four species of Puffins? Just something I learned from this trove of knowledge

I finally hit rock bottom after I had my son. Staying home left me a little more time to read and it was actually socially acceptable for me to take a child to the library so there was really no excuse. I tried to limit myself by placing a book on reserve, thinking the whole time that I would go to the library, pick up that one book and leave. But the second I stepped foot in that literary lair I couldn't help but be drawn to all the possibilities around me. The story of North Korean emigrants here, the tale of a young Jewish boy in the 70's over there, a Russian girl's memoir on the shelf in front of me. They called my name. I had to listen.

A little Woodstock-y, don't you think?

So that's how I got here. To the point where reading has almost lost a sense of joy because I read one book only to feel the need to rush through it in order to get to the next. I feel numb to everyday life unless it has a moral meaning or clever twist. Which, fortunately, it usually does.

I guess my biggest fear is that my son will make my same mistakes. I don't want him to wake up one day to find that that his eyes are blood shot, his fingers are marred by paper cuts and his skin is pasty white because he's been too busy reading to go outside. Plus, he really has to pee because he also forgot to go to the bathroom while he was on the last chapter of Ender's Game.

But my biggest fear of all is that I'm too late.


  1. don't you read on the toilet???

  2. OH, the reading in bed with a flashlight. I loved it.

    However, you should not be a slave to your reading addiction. Maybe watch some TV. Stare at the wall. Have you tried listening to audiobooks? When reading goes from pleasure to chore, you are in a world of hurt.

    Reading is possibly the most virtuous and enjoyable hobby. But I agree, Landon may be getting too close, it's definitely time to break out the xbox, wii and PS3.