Our Reading Lives

The Rules of Reading…According to My Grandmother, Anyway

There is no right or wrong way to do something, except when it comes to books.

The Rules of Reading... According to My Grandmother, Anyway

I don’t remember the first time I heard my grandmother these words. But she said them often.

Mine is a family of readers. My dad was complicit in my late-night reading. When we travelled, my mom would make sure to visit local libraries and bookshops. My sister and I trade book recommendations several times a month. But for all the reading that gets done in my family, no one’s style is as precise, as particular as my grandmother’s.

Growing up, I regarded my grandma’s bookish do’s and don’ts as commandments—not advice.

  • Treasure your books just as much as you treasure your jewelry.  
  • If you must annotate a book, do so in lightly and in pencil.
  • Keep your bookshelves neat and tidy. Alphabetical order is the only way to go.
  • A woman who reads before going to bed will always have interesting things to dream about.
  • A calculator will provide you with answers. A book will empower you to ask questions. 
  • Lending books is like lending your boyfriend. Don’t lend your boyfriend.
  • The second-best scent in the world is that of a book. The first is the scent of a library.
  • Never trust someone who doesn’t like to read.
  • Books will always allow you to be who you are.

As an adult, I must admit that I don’t follow all her rules. Not only do I annotate my books, I do so in myriad different colors. And while I appreciate a book’s sweet, musky scent, I am a firm believer that the world’s best invention was the ereader. But I will say this: most of her bookish rules are sound. (I even learned one of them the hard way.) Some are downright wise.

And because my grandmother is part witch, a few are even prophetic.

  • You will meet your best friends in a library.
  • A book might break your heart, but it will never leave you.
  • It is impossible to choose a favorite book.

And they’re eerily accurate. I can’t, for the life of me, pick a favorite book. And while I did not meet my best friends in a library, I did meet them at book club—and that’s close enough.

But of all my grandmother’s words of wisdom, this is the most precious one:

  • You will never regret a single moment you spend reading.

At ninety-two, my grandma repeats this one quite often. And these words bring me a great deal of comfort. After all, I spend so much time curled up with a book. It’s good to know that when I, too, am in my nineties I will look back at these moments as time well spent.