A student asked me the other day, “What was your favourite thing to do when you were a kid?”
Without hesitation, I can say, read.
Another, younger, student asked if I know everything. I usually tease the little ones; I tell them I know every word in English, and then they try to stump me with their grade one vocabularies.
“Of course I don’t know everything,” I told this kid. “But I’m 37 years old, and I’ve read thousands of books. I know a lot.”
I was that kid who was always reading. I stayed up too late. I brought books on long car trips and to Guide camps. I took every literature-related class in high school, then went to university to study more.
But that was when my depression started, and with it went my ability to focus. I lost my ability to read, staggered and fumbled 8 years to complete my Bachelors degree.
My first hint that something was wrong was the first semester of grade 12. I had the perfect schedule. I had finished all my math and science requirements the year before; my last year of high school was all humanities and electives. But when the first report card came in, I was failing English.
I stopped reading. I stopped doing homework. I stopped caring.
I managed to graduate by virtue of my test-taking skills.
Thankfully, some of that childhood focus has returned over the last year, by virtue of my brain medication. Now I can finally read all these books I’ve been collecting my whole life. Some of them were bought for classes I managed to pass, though I never finished the books. Now I can say I’ve read Machiavelli, a decade after writing essays citing The Prince.
As I move from a Whitman biography to a monograph of Whitman’s homosexuality to a treatise about gay men and the opera, I’m following the connections I made when I bought these books. I knew I would want to read them like this. (Walt Whitman loves the opera, by the way.)
Just as I prefer to watch a television series when it’s complete, and I have all the episodes at hand, so to I’m reading my library. There’s no waiting for someone to return the book I want. I don’t have to wait for a sequel to be published.
I’ve spent the last thirty years collecting my library so I can spend the next thirty reading my way through it.