The Need to Read for Pleasure and To Learn

The word “need” is defined as a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism. That just about sums up my need to read for the pleasure of reading fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, or whatever is in my electronic reader no matter where I am, at home, in restaurants, waiting in doctors’ or dentists’ offices, or traveling in strange places. Reading this way is so ingrained that I am compelled to do it, and if for some reason I can’t, I curse the fate that’s denying me this simple and yet complex need to read something, anything, and thereby to learn.  If books were removed from we organisms, we would be like those creatures in films or television programs about the walking dead. When I sell my books at sales nowadays, I often ask people eyeing my colorful books spread out on my vendor table, “Do you like to read?” Their answers are often “no” or “I don’t have time” or “I have to work all day.”

My mother was determined I would learn to like stories and thus be fascinated by the act of reading them for myself. Her education in Pennsylvania which we would describe  as “classical” today meant a lot to her. She would not only give books for Christmas and birthdays, but would give them for surprises. She would often walk or take a bus to a five and ten store to pick up low-priced items but also cheaply-produced books for me. One was a book of humorous poems, cheap to buy because it had been put together backwards, which we would read for fun and recite to each other. That is where I met Edward Lear. I never grew tired of his rhymes and his humor. (I still have that book in my cedar chest.) When I was very young, before I started school at age four, she would read and read to me. In the cold winters of Buffalo when children had to stay in because it was just too cold to play outside, books were indispensable. Or in the summer when schools were closed, they provided the occasion to walk by myself or with a friend to the nearest library to borrow books. I remember struggling home with ten or twelve books every week during summer vacations. Later, when I went to school, I learned to read easily. I can’t remember a time when I looked at those thrilling symbols on the printed page and didn’t know what they meant. And because children were encouraged to excel in reading in those days, I was the student who got 100% in that art (although not in math.) To say that books were my whole education about the world has been true all my life and still is.

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