Sunday, December 22, 2013

Appalling Statistics

Upon first reading, the statistics in this chart seem ridiculous to me. As a reader, I can't conceive of living my life without books. But as I began to write a comment to the original G+ post (h/t to +Celine Zabel and +Anthony Russo), I realized that I've been ignoring the opinions of such book-apathetic people all my life.

I thought of a perfectly ordinary woman who visited our house once, years ago when we lived in Southern California. I have forgotten her name, but at the time she was working with me in a startup tech firm near Long Beach - not an ignorant woman by any stretch of the imagination. She looked around at the full bookshelves lining the walls of our living room, and said, "How can you read so many books? Why would you want to keep them after you've read them once?"

I tried to explain that the books in the living room were mostly references that we looked at as needed: science texts, dictionaries and other lists, histories and how-to books. I showed her our master bedroom, also lined with bookshelves (with perhaps 2000+ books in the two rooms), and offered to show her the girls' room (another 400-500 in there, and the family room upstairs (the "serious" reading room).

She froze as we walked through the dining room on our way to view the patio and back yard. You guessed it, more full bookshelves.

She said, "No one needs more than one or two books." And with that, she left and never came back.

Most of our visitors were more polite than she was, but most of them had this puzzlement at the number of books we just couldn't live without.

We read at home during minor meals. Although books were not welcome at the family dinner table, our girls were encouraged to read while eating breakfast or lunch. Thinking about it, I realize that although my spouse and I read at tables in restaurants, we almost never see anyone else doing so, unless they are sitting alone at the table.

I wonder, in fact, how much of the normal disdain for reading is disarmed by our current habit of reading on a Kindle. No way, after all, to tell if we are reading books or Facebook postings. And the collection of "fun reading" novels that used to line the walls of my bedroom now resides in the Kindle itself or the Cloud.

I hope these statistics are untrue. Now that you might be reading something weighty or frothy, something light or something intense, or simply catching up on baseball stats, I hope more people will not worry about the opinions of others and dive into the joy of reading.

I need more than one or two books, more than high-school or college reading. I need my friends around me, those characters and the writers who create them, whether in paper or ebook. To live without books would be a barren life indeed.