Fiction

How I Learned To Love Books

Our Reading Lives features stories about how books and reading have shaped who we are and how we live. It is open not only to regular Book Riot contributors, but to guest posters from the publishing industry, authors, and….you. If you are interested in telling us about a book that has been influential in your life, please contact us: community (at) bookriot (dot) com.

“I recall with utter clarity the first great shock of my life.”

And I recall with utter clarity, when as a lad of 15 or so, I read that line for the first time. It’s the opening line from Leon Uris’ novel Trinity – the first novel I remember really, really loving, that gave me that indescribable “good book butterflies” feeling in my gut. I understood this book. It’s the first book with which I had a dialogue. And it’s the first book that wouldn’t let go of me weeks, months, years after I’d finished it.

As I wrote the “How I Learned To Read” post a few weeks ago, I started thinking about things — like reading Trinity — that not only taught me how to read, but showed me just how much I loved books–watershed moments that showed me that books were an inextricable part of my life, and always would be. I’m not talking about obvious things – like an English degree, or my parents reading to me as a child, or telling friends I was sick or broke so I could stay in and read (though all those are important). I’m talking about things that you only realize later, things that seemed relatively run-of-the-mill at the time. I came up with two more.

The first happened on June 2, 2001. I had graduated from college the previous year, and was living at home with my parents, a situation I wasn’t entirely excited about. I was reading John Updike’s Rabbit Run, and really loving it. Suddenly, I realized that of all the hundreds of books I’d read since I learned to read, I only remembered a few of them in any detail (Trinity being one of them). So I started a reading journal. Every time I finish a book, I wait until the next day (you know, to let it “sink in” a bit) and then spend 30 minutes or so writing about the book. This list (that nobody has ever seen but me) is now approximately 475 single-spaced typed pages. And I’ve done this for every book I’ve ever read since then. I haven’t missed a single one. So thinking back to that summer night when I started the reading journal… I must’ve understood something about myself then – that I wanted to remember these things I loved so much – like photographs from a honeymoon, or a voicemail from a friends saved over the years.

The second happened a few summers ago. On a vacation to New York City, my girlfriend and I were sitting on a bench in Central Park, when I glanced to my left, and was stunned to spot novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein on the bench right next to ours. I had just picked up her new novel 36 Arguments For The Existence of God, but I hadn’t read it yet. I started poking my girlfriend on the shoulder and whispering, “That’s a famous writer! I just bought her book!” “Go talk to her,” she suggested. Me: “Oh, God no — I don’t want to be that guy. I’d just make an ass of myself.”

I know writers are just people like you and me, but what I realized is that I idolize writers. The reason is almost too obvious to warrant mention: It’s because novelists do something I’ve only dreamed about doing. They’re the paragons of a craft that is quite possibly the most important (non-breathing) thing in my life. And this is what made me realize how much I truly loved books. Indeed, I loved books enough that I could put a person most people have never heard of on the same pedestal others put LeBron James or George Clooney or Bruce Springsteen.

In total, what I’ve come to realize is that I love reading much more than just as a hobby — something to pass the evening hours — but as something I almost literally couldn’t be without. What I’ve learned in reflecting on these things is about the intensity of the devotion more so than the devotion itself.

Now I won’t tell you a revisionist story about how I went home after that NYC vacation, and started my own novel immediately, or that I knew on that June day in 2001 that this reading journal would be the catalyst to a life-long devotion to books. All I can tell you is that thinking about them is incredibly rejuvenating!

I now know that books are a cornerstone of the model of myself that consists of all the non-negotiable pieces of who I am. Should I ever lose my way — hey, midlife is approaching, and we all know that that is often a time of crisis — I can rest assured I’ll always have books to keep me on course.