By Ken LeBlond
Hello, dear reader. Because you’re here, you probably like to read. I love to read. I’m proud to call myself a book addict. As a young boy, I read mostly for entertainment and sometimes for education. My childhood books were usually fiction, and I added newspapers to my daily reading habits in my early teens. Now, as a 50-year-old, my love for reading continues, and my motivations have only slightly changed.
As a kid, I read fiction to escape to times and places unlike my own. Besides the age-appropriate books offered in school and at my local library, American horror writer Stephen King was a favorite. I devoured his graphic tales about rabid dogs, witches, zombies, vampires and even one about a worldwide pandemic! Of all people in the world to suggest such topics, my mother suggested his books to me. To this day, I wonder about her judgment in encouraging a young boy to read about monsters and supernatural evil. I think she just loved that I was clearly hooked on reading for fun, and not just because I had to for school. Unfortunately, turning off my bedroom light after reading one of his books unlocked plenty of fear of who (or what) might be waiting for me under my bed or in my bedroom closet.
In my early teens, reading newspapers not only satisfied my curiosity about my local world but also the greater world I hadn’t yet seen nor thought I would ever experience. Indeed, some of the news could be more fantastical or horrifying than the imagination of Stephen King.
In college, I spent my bedtimes reading fiction for fun. My days were used up with hundreds of pages of required readings that not only were often boring but needed my focus for analysis, discussion and testing. Fiction allowed me to escape from all that work at the end of the day and enter someone else’s world if only for few brief minutes before I fell asleep. After college, I still stuck to fiction because anything that was “nonfiction” just felt like a topic I was required to study in college. When I was in a bookstore or a public library looking for my next fiction book, I would see the non-fiction section and give a shudder.
It was only after college that I got interested in non-fiction, and my interests have mostly remained there. I was initially fascinated by true-crime studies. Every book included glossy photo pages of all these real people whether they were mafia, serial killers or the police and investigators who pursued them. The books were rarely over 250, small, paperback pages. By my mid-late 20s, I gained an interest in the world history that occurred during my younger years of reading only fiction. My initial point of fascination was the Cold War. I dove into biographies of spies, Soviet leaders, American presidents and other players in the espionage and nuclear brinksmanship of that period. I continue to read a wide range of histories and biographies to this day.
No matter where I travel, within my own country or internationally, a bookstore is always a required visit. In my travels to some of Pakistan’s largest cities, I’ve been shocked at the dearth of bookstores. Having visited several in each city, I’ve also been surprised at how small they are. That said, their offerings have always had incredible diversity. I saw many books by Pakistani authors that I had only heard about and even more that I wanted to buy. But, with the weight limits of my baggage, I could only bring home a few. To this book addict, there is absolutely nothing like browsing through a bookstore anywhere in Pakistan and “discovering” these new books. That said, I’m proud to have read about 50 books about Pakistan’s history, politics and culture.
As a book addict, I consider reading and finishing a book to be an unspoken contract between me and the book. Thus, there are very few books that I haven’t finished, even if they were tortuous experiences. All books can’t be winners. For example, I’ve never finished reading “A Portrait of A Lady” by Henry James, assigned in a college literature class. At the age of 19, I couldn’t relate to characters who only talked to one another all day without actually doing anything. More recently, I struggled mightily with “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Ironically, reading it felt like both a crime and its punishment. I did finish it and was quite happy to move onto my next book.
I’m old fashioned in my reading habits. To me, a book is the “dead tree” variety, paperback or hardcover. I have tried reading with tablets or E-Readers, but it’s not the same as a paper book. The feel of a book in my hands has become comforting, like a good pair of shoes. I am lucky to live in a town that was the home to several notable authors including Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. It’s a point of pride whose physical manifestation is an amazing public library just a few miles from my house.
I pick my books in a number of ways. I will hear about them through reviews or via recommendations from friends and family. I’ve had an advantage since someone in my family once owned a bookstore. Another way to find books is to look through the bibliographies of non-fiction books.
Here are a few habits that will be familiar to book addicts like me. Here are a few habits of mine that may seem familiar to you. I will read a book until I fall asleep, causing the book to crash to the floor. If I’m away from home, my book is always with me. I will camp or backpack and bring a book to read in the tent even if its weight adds to the pack’s burden. I once read a book set in the islands of the Caribbean Sea while I was camping in a sleeping bag on top of several feet of mountain snow. I love getting a peek at what other people are reading in a bus, train, plane, or in a park. I love looking on friends’ bookshelves. Some days I just want the clock to speed up through the workday, so I can get back to my book. If any of these habits sound familiar, don’t seek help. Embrace this healthy addiction.”
My current book, an anthology of Pakistan poetry, is calling me at this moment. I also have one book coming in the mail, and two more coming through the state interlibrary loan system. My goal is to read 60 books in 2021, but I think I can read even more. It’s an addiction that’s hard to break, and I’m proud of it.
Are you also a book addict? What are you currently reading?
Ken LeBlond lives in Amherst, Massachusetts USA. You can reach him at [email protected]