I read a lot. This fact is especially relevant to me this semester as I read the terrifyingly (and arguably, obnoxiously) enormous novel “Infinite Jest” by the late David Foster Wallace. 1,079 pages of fiction really reminds you how much you have to enjoy words. I always have enjoyed them, and I have always read a lot.
I just read a lot in different ways.
That is, I struggled to read “Infinite Jest.” I would brave 10 pages at a time, then find a reason to grab my phone and check Facebook. The platitude that people have low attention spans as a result of the digital age is all too real for me and it makes me sad.
I do love Facebook. Not because of the clichéd fascination with other people’s lives, or FOMO, or any social-based obsessions like that. I spend a lot of time on Facebook because I read a lot.
I read the New York Times, and Wired Magazine, and Forbes, and Slate, and The Atlantic, and The Nerdist, and any other interesting articles shared or linked. This past week I have read: a study on how house cats are less domesticated than dogs; an analysis of midterm elections and why Democrats will “never sway middle class white workers” to their cause; an argument for why too many superheroes will kill the industry, along with another argument for why there are just the right amount of superhero movies right now; TV shows that were cancelled in a fast-changing time of DVRs and steaming; that a candidate I supported was announced the winner of a hometown state legislature election; etc.
So I read a lot. I love information, and maybe that’s what was always the pull for reading for me. It’s simply that I don’t read the same way I always have and that brings me that nostalgic sadness for a simplistic childhood that surely everyone has from time to time, and especially in a demanding environment like post-secondary education that reminds you, “You’re an adult now, things are different.” It’s all too real for me.
I sit in Lamont Library, hunched over in my carrell, and when my eyes are tired from staring at a white screen for four-plus hours at 3 a.m. on a Thursday night, sometimes I just walk through the library. And it comes back to me, the contrast of “I read a lot” now and “I read a lot then.” The “then” of my childhood, of a different meaning of “I read a lot.”
There are literally hundreds of books, books that other places in the U.S. would love to have, and they just sit there in Lamont. When I was younger, I would have loved nothing more than to just stop, pick up something interesting, and read.
In middle school I had a free period during my second hour, and so I applied to become a library assistant. It was one of my favorite school experiences. I was in my element, surrounded by fiction books, nonfiction guides, and graphic novels. When I finished returning books to shelves or printing out bookmarks, or whatever task I was assigned that morning, I would just read. This is the memory I recall when I’m thinking of the miles and miles of book beneath Widener, and how middle-school-me would run from shelf to shelf looking for books on anything and everything.
I was always talkative in elementary school, to the point where teachers noted that I could be disruptive to other students. In my first grade parent/teacher conference my teacher recommended that I come to class with books to read for when I finished work, so that I would not be a distraction for those who still needed to focus. The first book I brought to school after that was “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
My mother and father instilled that love of reading in me. I have memories of libraries I would visit. I can think of full afternoons spent in the children’s sections. I can think of hours given to summer reading programs. I can think of the little plastic bags they would put all my books in. Dav Pilkey’s “Ricky Ricotta” series, “Encyclopedia Brown” books, Bruce Coville (my favorite) and his fantasy novels, or K.A. Applegate’s “Animorphs.” And lots and lots more.
I remember reading a whole book on raising and caring for bearded dragons, and being convinced I’d get one because I knew what to do. I would read DK guides, the illustrated nonfiction glossaries on everything from the history of “Star Wars” to the history of the Civil War. I read books about filmmaking, books about knights in the Middle Ages, books about writing books. I just read so much.
My mother had me join “Battle of the Books” which was a nationwide competition wherein kids like myself would spend the year reading 12 books of various genres and then proceed to answer questions on their content. Such as “In which book does x character tell y character that z happened?” Or something like, “In which book does a minor detail occur in this particular location?” I was literally reading so many books that I participated in competitive book-reading.
Like I said, I read a lot.
I can’t help but think of that subtle difference, now. How that word “read,” that is r-e-a-d, can be read like the color or like the plant. And the difference baffles me, because “read” like the color reminds me of happy childhood memories, and simplicity, and a oft-missed sense of hope and optimism for the future. It’s contrasted with the “read” like the plant, which makes me think of the here and now, and academic books that are fascinating, but I have to write a paper on them, or how I read dozens and dozens of online articles everyday but how this little phone that, in fact, allows me to read so much keeps me from reading what I used to.
So that when I read, it’s never for long. It’s never for the hours I did as I was younger. The pull of the new information, the stuff I got from books as a kid, is now in competition with what I loved before.
So, I read a lot. It’s just in different ways.
Marco A Torres '17 is a philosophy concentrator in Pforzheimer House. If he's not in the dining hall talking about superhero movies, he's probably pondering life's clichéd "big questions" on the Quad shuttle.