Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reading beats watching TV and listening to music. At least in one home

The new Rolling Stone lists "40 Reasons to Get Excited About Music." The last reason? "Because you really like music." It's a poll of Rolling Stone readers, highlighting their tastes in music. One of the questions was: Imagine you had to give up all of the following forms of entertainment for a week, except one. Which would you keep?
64.7 percent said listening to music
17.1 percent said watching TV
13.8 percent said reading
3.2 percent said playing video games
1.2 percent said going to the movies

I'm a 13.8 percenter. I'd even forfeit TV before reading, which is surprising considering our leather couch has a mold of my 6-3 frame. On Saturday I walked down to our small local library, which is usually populated by loud teens, quiet, lonely old men reading the paper and a 34-year-old guy from the neighborhood who generalizes too much. The library doesn't possess the greatest selection. Yet I still always walk out with at least three books, leading to a race against the three-week checkout period. Can I finish all of them in time? The mystery thrillers, sure, but what about that 600-page biography on Sinatra? Might have to skip the early years of Frank's life. It's not like we can't afford the dollar - or more - fine that comes with late returns. It's about pride.

Trips to the bookstore end the same way, except the offerings aren't free. Borders and Barnes & Noble have struggled in recent years, but we're doing our best to keep both in business, five paperbacks and two hardcovers at a time. We visit The Strand regularly, and a used bookstore on Broadway on the Upper West Side offers treasures every time we're there. Add it all up and it sometimes seems like we're drowning in books. Every few months we donate a box or two, yet our inventory keeps increasing. Fortunately, my parents still have a basement, which is home to eight or nine boxes of my books that never made the long trip east. When they leave that house and the books leave their longtime home and join us, there could be a reckoning. It's just not going to be feasible to have that many books sharing space with our furniture and entertainment center and tables and bed. In other words, the furniture's gotta go. The books stay.

In my defense, I'll use the four words therapists hear more than any others: I blame my mother. She's always been an avid reader. She instilled a love for books in me at an early age. My sister suffers the same affliction. She reads two or three novels in a week, shocking and sometimes horrifying her children. Growing up, we lived a block from the Janesville library, which had a similar collection to our NYC branch, but more carpeting. At elementary school, every few months we ordered from a bookmobile. I usually bought second-rate sports books, but it was still thrilling when they finally arrived.


In sixth grade, I even became a Ribbit Reader. As part of the group, each Friday I visited the first-graders and read them a book. It was fun, despite the humiliating title that came with the assignment. Even then, I tried getting the youth to turn off the TV and open a book (I'd let them discover on their own that reading while watching TV is possible, and enjoyable). The only time I regretted being an avid reader was during church, when our class would handle the festivities for a Sunday and I was inevitably drafted to be the reader. All that pressure to enunciate Colossians correctly.

But when it comes to reading books and magazines, I have to read it off of a page, not a screen. E-readers might help save publishers, but I don't yet have any desire to own one. I love the feel and look of a book. And the only thing better than that new book smell is the old book smell.

Louise went to a conference this weekend. She'll return today, likely hauling dozens of free books she picked up during the event. We'll overload our already crowded bookshelves. We'll live in an irony-free apartment, as Louise wonders why I have so many books. We'll find room. I think there's some space in a living room corner. And we can always start stacking even higher. On one bookshelf, there's still a good, oh, three feet of space before we hit the ceiling.

Yeah, I'll give up music and going to the movies for a week, but not reading. I'll even give up TV. Unless the Lakers are playing. Watching them is still more fun than reading about them.


Jerry said...

I am pretty sure you inherited reading from your parents. And grandpa always liked a good book and his newspaper. Something to be said for how we all were raised.

Shawn Fury said...

Actually, like two or three of the boxes of books I have at my parents's house were originally grandpa's. Lots of World War II books and baseball ones.