Whatʼs wrong with reading? I listed it among the vices that I enjoy, here on August 13. And I know that most of my readers (yes, including especially you, Colleen) may not understand why such a reading addict as myself would include reading as a vice. From the lessons of my personal experience, I should like to explain.
One of the least pleasant duties I had to endure as a teacher was lunch supervision. (I was also not overly successful or pleased with study hall oversight, hall monitoring, useless home-room touchy-feely time watchdog, standardized test administrator, rowdy school bus manager or dance chaperone. Can anyone see the pattern? I make a very poor unofficial cop, either inept and unintentionally overlooking what was supposed to be wrong action or too sternly stepping in unnecessarily. Standing around watching kids have “fun” in order to prevent and/or intervene against objectionable activities, of which I might personally not even genuinely disapprove, or worse, tolerate group mania that I found particularly obnoxious, struck me from the beginning of my educational career as the vilest waste of my time imaginable. Besides, in every one of those situations, the permissible/objectionable distinction on behavior was never particularly clear, and I always felt dirty when we monitors let some kid, or group of scoundrels, get away with what another got exiled for, inequality before the selfjustifying and selfimporant petty authorities being one of the most questionable aspects of education, public and private [which is often worse with the favoritism], that history and society have permitted to evolve.) Until the Nineties, all Andrew teachers had to serve periodic weeks regulating the students at lunch, and the weeks I had to serve were torturous tedium for me (and a waste of time that I could better put to reading/grading work or at least composing the next dayʼs announcements for the daily bulletin). Furthermore, the minutes I had to spend looming over the excited eaters seemed to stretch subjectively into protracted hours. At least, being unpleasant, the details of those tedious (nearly) halfhour sessions of timewaste I have mostly forgotten. However, a single incident from that extensive experience, inspired some periodic but valuable meditation.
At one time the older and younger kids must have been allowed to overlap their time in the (tiny) lunchroom, or else I was supervising early or otherwise in the lunchroom unnecessarily (me not ever eating hot lunch during my entire career, for no good reason, as the Andrew cooks were always top-notch). For whatever reason, I was present when various primary children/grades were in the lunchroom to overhear/witness a teacher reprimanding one of her pupils for a major eating-time sin: reading a book at the table! At the time, I was horrified. Getting our youthful charges to read (or by the age I encountered them, back to reading at all) was and is a horrendous challenge. To prevent one from doing what we cajoled/ordered/tricked kids into attempting seemed contrary to sense and our purpose as teachers.
I know the instructor was merely imposing an old tradition from many (if not most) families that mealtimes should be social experiences for the kinfolk. I believe my own mother wished us (an exquisitely reading group of kids and parents) to speak and practice the skills of society when eating (we are also an acutely unsociable group — if that is not an oxymoron — of intensely introverted shy people). However, being a reticently pensive, withdrawn and socially awkward person myself, I (who had my own book with me to read during the dull banality of my supervisory duties) took unexpressed offense at the rebuke, although the child dutifully and quietly put away the offending volume, and rather theatrically made an affected display of perusing my own tome (which I am sure no one noticed or considered in the least). I wanted to make ostentatious my preference for reading at any time and in any place or manner.
I am one of those people who always has a book on my person. No matter how dark the party or eyeshatteringly distracting the activity, I come prepared, by reading, to cope with the possible boredom the artifice of social situations invariably imposes. (I also come prepared to write, thus my — now infamous — notebooks and the geekish, multipocketed vests I perpetually wear. Evidently, any selfcontained activity short of video games or cell phoning is preferable to shy-boy than relentlessly commonplace conversations.) Those imaginary folks within the covers of my publication are somehow better than the real people among whom I find myself. Always. Without fail.
And thatʼs one (perhaps the most important) of the negative issues about reading. The habit withdraws farouche individuals even more than otherwise into themselves. (And I just used, thanks to the digital thesaurus, a word entirely new to me!) This quibble against reading may seem petty, but any number of other people in my life (weʼll use The Lovely One herself as a single example) have suffered embarrassment and indignation at my self-centered public behavior. And I have undoubtedly missed out on all kinds of possible human interaction (and personal growth and satisfaction therefrom) by hiding behind/within a book instead of talking to people. Thatʼs sad.
Moreover, reading is addictive, no joke. At least for me (I hope in times past only) my interest in the fictional events of a novel (or the interestingly philosophical issues of a nonfiction treatise) could cancel any awareness of the actual, exterior world around me, and I would (okay, often still do) pull out the book in preference to completing or even remembering my actual, mundane responsibilities. We reading addicts (I wonder if there even could be a twelve-step program for such isolates by nature, choice and preference) share lots of behaviors and attitudes with junkies, alcoholics and other antisocial obsessives. I have had to take myself in hand and force me to regard reality and real duties as significant, and my selfish withdrawal into fiction has made life miserable for poor Janet (hey, just Friday I neglected to call a guy about replacing our furnace because I got enthralled with finishing The Thin Man, and Nick Charles, by the way, like his creator is clearly an alcoholic).
Probably, that elementary teacher had more right on her side in preempting that child from a life of literary addiction than this poor reading fiend could admit at the time.
…Hello. My name is John, and I — …am a book junkie…