I organized my bookshelves this weekend. For me this is big time drama. There are so many decisions to make. What order to put them in? Which have earned the right to prominence on the actual shelves and which have to be consigned to hidden niches among the dust bunnies and dog fur? Which to get rid of? When to read the ones that have to go, because giving away an unread book is a sin in my world. The struggle is real, people.
And I can’t even with my children’s shelves. OMG, I can feel the twitches coming on just thinking about it. I order them; they disorder them. I order them; they disorder them. This is a pretty regular cycle in our world. Maybe I shouldn’t buy them so many books. *<.< side-eyes that idea*
But when my husband later asked what I’d done with my day and I proudly answered, “I organized the bookshelf” (Notice how now it’s the bookshelf, not my bookshelf? This is a small dishonesty I allow him to believe. It’ a form of kindness.) and he was devastatingly unimpressed, I had a revelation. He doesn’t get it. He has no idea why this lights me up and makes me happy. (Because drama and decisions be damned, I love playing with my books.)
So, what makes him different, I asked myself… what makes me different? Well, I am an unrepentant bookworm. He is not. I don’t mean he doesn’t read. He does occasionally. I think he maybe even enjoys it, on those rare occasions he dedicates himself, over months, to finishing a book. But it holds the same place of importance in his world as, say, swimming. Which he does with the kiddos a couple times a summer, or playing computer games. Which he loves in theory but almost never gets around to doing.
I however live to read. It is THE primary (non-chore) activity in my day-to-day life. I would (and often do) forgo almost every other activity in order to finish the book I started that morning. And until I began living with someone who didn’t live this way, it seemed absolutely normal. On further consideration, I realized that there are a number of things I learned about my perception of self by comparison to him, a normal non-obsessive-reader person.
I considered making this post a fictional account from the perspective of the non-reader—11 Things I Learned Living With a Bookworm—but that wouldn’t really have been me, so it’s 11 Things I Learned About Being a Bookworm by Living With a Not-a-Reader.
- Hoarding books is not the norm? Apparently, non-bookworms don’t cherish every page they own, even if they didn’t like the book. They think nothing of tossing the text when they’re finished, or even (gods forbid) if they didn’t.
- Having marked off over half the books in Emma Beare’s 501 Must-Read Books isn’t considered impressive? Aiming to read them all eventually is just a random, shrug-worthy goal. Keeping this book for years, just for the occasional joy of marking a book out of the index is weird and maybe obsessive. Planning to get a new version when your done, because new books have probably made the list since you bought your copy in 2007, garners an eye-roll from the non-reader, normal person.
- Not-a-readers don’t care what order their books are on a shelf? Apparently, a bookworm’s need to have an understandable system, even if it changes regularly, is odd. They also obviously aren’t driven bat-shit crazy by random stuff, like tangled headphones or unopened mail, that gets tossed on them as if they are any other openly available flat surface.
- Books aren’t decorations in the not-a-bookworm’s world and a bookworm’s desire to decorate with them is often unfathomable.
- The ability to sit in sloth-like stillness for hours, while entire worlds unfurl in your mind is not an admirable skill? It’s, like, lazy or something.
- A book isn’t meant to be read cover-to-cover in as short amount of time as possible, preferably one day, so that there are no interruptions in the experience? Apparently, this is something only bookworms feel is important and not-reader, normal people think is gluttonous.
- Reading 300 or so pages in a day is not a reasonable expectation, nor is 300 books in a year? Not-obsessive-reader people often find these numbers shocking.
- Coming to the table for meals and discussing something other than the characters or subplots of the book you’re reading is considered good manners? A bookworm’s need to share what they’ve just spent six hours immersed in is somewhat off-putting to the not-a reader, normal person.
- Forgoing human interactions and declining social invitations in order to finish a book is considered rude? Some bookworms are apparently seen as antisocial in the non-literary world.
- Reading a book quickly and being able to pull out and discuss themes, genre expectations and tropes are apparently, under non-bookworm conditions, considered anathema?
- I never, ever want to have to live as a normal, not-a-reader person. Being a bookworm, for me, is important and gratifying. It is a way of life that I choose.
It’s this last point that was brought home to me most saliently. I could choose to not be a bookworm, which conversely means I choose to be one. I have an uncle in his late 60s, who I would characterize as a reader, maybe even a mild bookworm. He is loosing his eyesight. He’s facing the question of bothering to learn braille or if audiobooks will be enough to sustain him. He is living my nightmare, but it seems to me he is also facing the choice of whether to remain a bookworm or to move on to other forms of self-identity.
Bookworm is a way of life. Perhaps there are better names for it, but this is the one I decided on. This is the label I choose for myself. No matter what the normal, not-a-bookworm person thinks of me (us), no matter how odd or off-putting they find some of my (our) habits, I find it something to be proud of. I don’t want to live in a world where books have no order, or can sit partially read for months on end, or where going to a movie is preferable to snuggling up with a book. I don’t want to be a not-a-reader, normal person. I live at one end of the reader extreme and I plan to stay here.
Tere is a certain freeing aspect to recognizing this. I am a bookworm and if you’ve finished this post, you probably are too. Welcome to the community.