It seemed fascinating and titillating. Reading romance novels at the mature old age of ten. My mother had no issue with it. We would actually lie on her bed after a trip to the library and spread out our haul: mysteries; how-tos; self-help. She loved to be read to and was particularly fond of Danielle Steel at the time, so I became the narrator of these overwrought family sagas, affairs, and marital disputes. I presume these themes still drive Danielle Steel books. I never read the more sexually driven scenes out loud; that would’ve been mortifying.
Around this same time in elementary school, there were a few book nerds I knew of on the periphery; these were the ones always reading, and always reading unassigned material. Two girls in particular were quite determined. They would compete over how many YA, murder mysteries they could finish in a week. They would also time each other on how many minutes it took to read one page. I tried to join this click once by bringing my own book to the lunch cafeteria. I always lied, and I always lost anyhow. It sounds completely ridiculous, then I consider how chess-playing boys are more severe in their competitiveness. Soon enough, I introduced my precocious inventory of Danielle Steel.
A later summer, I went on a camping trip with one of these girls. It was her own mother wanting us to become friends, not her personal choice. I was immersed in my reading too now, so we had at least this in common. Her competitiveness spilled over slightly, and somehow, we ended up bringing six Danielle Steel books on the trip, as if we were going to read three each over three days. We were ten years old trying to burn the midnight oil. We tucked into the tent under minimal light and read quietly together in the shared space. Her mother didn’t mind our reading this trash. Reading is reading. Reading is smart. At an even earlier age, I’d happened upon the Harlequin romance novels via a grandmother’s house. I must have had some sense of things, because the covers always looked smutty and unrealistic. As an adult, I took visceral offense to Fifty Shades of Grey.
My reading taste and mission-oriented behavior has evolved. Finding no time to read is finding excuses. It’s too easy now, because there are abundant mediums: kindle; library apps; audible; and Amazon deliveries. I do acknowledge the hurdles of abundant choice and minimal time. Reading has become many things to me: information; relaxation; study; vicarious experience; growth; an investment in becoming a better writer.
When I reflect on these memories, I consider how intimate reading truly is. A chosen book now feels like one of the most private things we have left, especially if you spend cash at a used bookstore. To sit reading is often, but not always, a quiet endeavor. To have this space for ourselves can be calming and restorative, even if we’re reading on public transit. And to sit comfortably with another while you both read in a companionable silence is a most exceptional form of intimacy.
As what we choose to read becomes our most private act, writing for the public is now turning out to be one of our most brave. Sadly.