AMEND CORNER: Ready to read

Posted 6/7/11

Besides, I spent most of my adult life encouraging, even coercing, teenagers into reading, so I couldn’t in good conscience turn down a challenge to read myself, and anyway, I like to read.

Anyway, I am happy to report that the Clark people …

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AMEND CORNER: Ready to read


A few months ago, I was recruited, or maybe I should say drafted, to help with a project.

The recruiting officer in this case was Clark school teacher Cathy Ringler. She and her students were launching a campaign to have members of the Clark community read 5,000 books by the end of the school year. My coverage of the school program apparently made me a candidate for the draft — uh, recruitment — and I was happy to jump in and help, especially since I learned to read in a setting somewhat like Clark school down in Hyattville, where I spent my first two years in school.

Besides, I spent most of my adult life encouraging, even coercing, teenagers into reading, so I couldn’t in good conscience turn down a challenge to read myself, and anyway, I like to read.

Anyway, I am happy to report that the Clark people answered the challenge, and at last count, had read 5,006 books, and I helped. I think those last six books were mine.

My happiness is somewhat tempered, however by my rather paltry contribution. Finishing six books in something over five months is not a particularly shining achievement. I’m a guy, after all, who read voraciously as a kid, and I am the veteran of numerous literature classes and reading groups. There have been times when I have had three or four books going at once.

Moreover, I’m a buyer of books, much to the dismay of my wife, who true to her former persona as a librarian, checks hers out of the library. In fact, I just received a couple in the mail yesterday, and heard once again my spouse’s complaint that she doesn’t know where she’s going to put them.

So why could I only manage six books in five months? (Actually, I think it might have been a few more than that, but not many, so I still don’t think I really pulled my weight in the Clark reading effort.) I can’t blame it on television, since I don’t have television, and even when I did, I still managed to read more or less regularly. Consequently, I had to find another excuse.

My first excuse is that I read a lot of long books, which naturally reduces the number of books I read. One of the books I read during the project, for example, was a long and somewhat detailed history of the founding of Australia.

My second excuse is that I was busy with other work-related things, but that doesn’t really hold water either. Years ago, I managed to read “War and Peace” despite teaching school all day and directing a play in the evenings. My life is actually much more leisurely now than it was then, so that’s not a reasonable excuse.

My third excuse is that there is so much non-book stuff out there to read. This is an excuse that has more validity, since so many magazines arrive at my house that I’m pretty sure the local mail carriers have to take extra aspirin after delivering my mail at certain times of the month. Add the three daily newspapers I take a look at and the virtually unlimited reading opportunities on the Internet, and reading non-books occupies a great deal of my time.

Unfortunately, this excuse, too, only goes so far, because I am, in fact, probably six months behind in reading the two history related magazines I subscribe to, and most months I mainly just look at the pictures in “National Geographic.”

In the end, I can only give two actual valid reasons for my lack of reading.

The first is photography. Since the advent of digital photography, the task of sorting, processing and storing photographs has become a regular part of my week. In recent days, it has become worse, because my wife has dug out all the slides I took of our kids, some of them 40 years old, and is scanning them into the computer. The second step, processing them and storing them so they don’t overwhelm the hard drive, is left to me.

The second reason is somewhat less defensible. I’ve become a bit lazy about reading. During downtime, I’m less likely to pick up a book that would involve several hours of reading, opting instead for a short essay in “Newsweek” or a how-to article in “Outdoor Photography.”

It’s that second reason that has led me to reform. I have decided to combat that laziness and reestablish a bit of intellectual discipline. To develop that discipline, I will devote a certain number of hours each week — the exact number is yet to be determined — to reading books.

The big problem, is deciding where to start. My first impulse is to pick up one of the most recent arrivals in my mailbox. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to increase my average of books completed per time spent reading, since it’s an 850-page biography of George Washington. That’s OK, though, because the object isn’t really to see how many books I can read, but to be reading one at all.

Besides, the longer it’s by my chair, the longer my wife will have to find a place to put it when I finish.