Why do I read?

A simple answer to this question is that I read to escape.  That’s certainly the oldest reason.  My dimmest memory of reading is one of me in bed upstairs in our house in Maryland.  I am maybe 5.  I am under the covers with a flash light trained on a classic comic version of the Count of Monte Christo.  I don’t know if there was or is a natural progression to my reading but in elementary school I read a lot of John R. Tunis and Joseph Altshelter,  Sports and Indians.  I was an eclectic reader though.  My oldest book, The Hero, by radical leftist, Millard Lampell, still sits close by on a bookshelf that represents a reader’s life time.  In high school, I found myself patterning my reading after my Dad, who loved the west and horses and was always ready with stories about his favorite, Billy the Kid.  Max Brand, Zane Grey, Luke Short, Owen Wister, Jack Schaeffer, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, A. B. Guthrie, and many others filled my spare time, my sitting in my room time, my school hidden in the open textbook time, even, yes I have to say, my when I was supposed to be doing the yard work time. 

Gradually, I found my reading moving towards the sea.  Or rather towards stories that featured heroes who lived life on the edge.  First, Crunch and Des, then John D. McDonald’s, Travis McGee, seemed to represent every thing a good life could be.  Work when you needed the money, use your skills to stay independent, and take your pleasure from a life lived alone.  And of course, I couldn’t read stories of Florida without meeting Ernest Hemingway.  Then came college, and an introduction to all those writers that had come before.  Jonathan Swift, Theodore Dreiser, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, ee cummings, George Orwell, Austen, Auden, and all the rest way too numerous to list.  Suffice it to say there was definitely a reason I chose English as my major.  It was there that I formed the habit of reading everything a writer had written all at one time.  Since I had to study during the school year, my summers were made up of lists of authors to read and the simplest method seemed to be to just check out everything they’d written at one time and finish it off.

So you might have noticed that most, no all, of the writer’s mentioned above have one thing in common.  Fiction.  Until recently, non-fiction never really appealed to me.  Textbooks were something I had to read.  But non-fiction had no story for me.  No matter how interesting the writer or the subject, non-fiction still reminded me more of a lecture than a story.   But that was then and this is now.  The memoir is king.  The story based on true occurrence, and of course, all those self-help books that clamor for your eye on the way into Borders or Barnes and Noble.  Dave Ramsey, Steve Martin, or Carl Rove, anyone?

So while my initial reason for reading might have been to escape, over time that reason has become to understand.  It is why I find myself reading science fiction.  William Gibson, Theodore Sturgeon, Clifford Simak, and of course, Kurt Vonnegut.  So I hope you’ll understand as we go through this next week together.  These are the books I read to help me understand what I now realize I can’t escape.


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