Hello Old Friend

I can’t remember not being able to read. Although I have memories from an age where I know I couldn’t read, I don’t remember looking in books and not knowing the magic of letters making words making stories.

My first day of school is still clear in my mind. The incapacitating nausea of excitement and nerves, the green A-line dress I wore, my parents’ beaming faces trying to persuade me how great this was and being glued to their sides, not at all sure I liked this strange place. Then our teacher asked how many of us could find our seat by reading the signs on each desk with our names on it. I was one of only two children who knew how to spell my name and it was at that moment I realized that reading was special.

When I was 11 years old, in a hospital far from home and hating everything about it, I discovered that reading could be a refuge from an unbearable reality. I still have the book that got me through the first month in that place. The obsession was cemented.

My mother used to tease me about the compulsive reading. If there was writing anywhere, I’d be looking at it – books, street signs, cereal boxes, anything. When it comes to words, I’m not a gourmet, I’m a glutton. I used to read for hours every day - at meals (when I could get away with it), waiting for the bus, in the bathroom (I grew out of that in my teens, thank you very much), in bed before falling asleep, instead of going out/watching TV/watching movies/talking to other people. I couldn’t pass a bookstore without having to go check things out (and buy one… or two… or ten books) and would usually have 2 or 3 books on the go at once. In general, I have shown a complete lack of restraint when it comes to absorbing words.

I love everything about reading: losing yourself in another world, the feel of a book in your hands, the soft crinkle as you turn the pages, the scent of the ink and the paper. Every book would get a moment of reverence before I opened it – a sometimes unconscious moment of gratitude and expectation.

2 years ago, reading started to hurt. Not the usual aches that could be ignored – real, loud, lasting pain. My shoulders hurt from holding the book open, my neck from bending and in the end, I stopped reading. I substituted online material – webpages, newspapers, opinion pieces. Short reads, factual reads. It was reading, but there was no disappearing into other worlds. I read an ebook or two, but that hurt, too.

The arthritis has taken many things from me, but this one, I've resented most of all.

Six months ago, Ken (problem-solver extraordinaire) gave me a 12 book package from Audible and I got myself an iPod.

I’m reading again. Not as fast as before – having to wait for people to say the words, rather than reading them myself, is slowing things down. But I’m reading.

My old lack of restraint is back. I have a 2 books per month subscription to Audible and the bastards keep having great sales. I have a pile – if digital books can be ‘a pile’ - of about 30 books waiting for me and 90 more on my wish list. My only problem now is time (well, and money). In the past two years, I’ve filled the hours I used to spend reading with other things – clawing that time back is proving to be a challenge, as these things still want doing and there aren’t any more hours in the day. But really, who cares?

I’m reading again.