I was reading Christina’s post on American Gods, and she shared the wonderful passage in which a character catalogues all of the things she can believe in. I adored that passage the first time I read it, when I was still in high school, copied it out in all of my journals & even had it on a wall collage (I had tiny writing back then). At one point, I suspect I had most of it memorised. And so, in a little homage to it and my teenaged self and of course to Neil Gaiman, I thought it would be fun to re-imagine the monologue as a reader instead of believer. You know what? It was even more fun that I expected. Feel free to do it yourself: I’d love to see everyone else’s take! The following is mine, although it is by no means an exhaustive list. And certainly read it with a ‘tongue in cheek’ tone in mind at certain passages, although I refrained from typing any winking smiley faces. I thought it was about time I learned to trust my readers as my favourite authors do!
I can read fiction and nonfiction and I can read things that nobody knows if they’re fiction or not.
I can read novels and essays and short stories and factual accounts and even poetry now and again. Listen-I read plots with epic quests, plots with tragic heroes, plots that require dark family secrets to stay hidden until the final pages, predictable plots who promise me the lovers will end up together, plots revealed by clever detectives, plots so realistic they could be going on next door, fantastical plots, the magical realist kind and the traditional kind with elves or bards or made-up gods with terrible flaws and weird names, and even books with no plot at all but fascinating characters or wild theories growing with every page.
I read novels to live other lives and I read novels to learn about my own life and I read novels because they’re so damn good I don’t need a better reason. I read nonfiction because truth can be stranger than fiction, because the world is full of rich and amazing and heartbreaking things, and because someone has to bear witness.
I read popular science to learn about the wonders of the ebola virus and the origins of the universe and how to track birds flying overhead. I read history to snoop on people’s lives and I read religion to snoop on people’s beliefs and I even read neuroscience to snoop on people’s brains. I read books about books for the meta thrill of it all. I read women’s studies to discover the quiet, domestic lives history pushed to the margins and to discover powerful women who changed history but were then edited out in revenge and to discover what women are doing all over the planet today. And I read books written about men, because they’re half the world too and can get up to some interesting things.
I read Caribbean lit because it’s never let me down and Scandinavian lit because I love the cold and Indian lit because it entrances me. I read books by authors of colour because I reject the privilege that would let me ignore them and because my life is so much richer for it. I read as a political act and I read as a private pleasure and I read as a gesture of friendship and belonging; sometimes, it’s even the same book.
I read contemporary authors because they are wonderful and I read older authors because they are wonderful too. I read prose so baroque the author must have needed scaffolding, and I read sturdy prose whose charm is its simplicity, and I love it all. I read books set in the future and books set in the past and books set in the present but their present is my past, books set in my time or other people’s time or imaginary time.
I read books with pinpoint focus who delight in the tiniest detail and books who sprawlingly depict a broader canvas. I read books with so many characters they come with diagrams in the front, I read books so overflowing they need foot notes, I read books that come with maps for me to follow along with, I read books with indexes and end notes longer than the main body. I read slim books and regular books and giant books that could serve as weapons if I ever needed them to. So far I haven’t. I read books printed on paper and books encoded in data files and books read aloud by professionals in studios. I read books from the library and books I get as gifts and used books with other people’s bookmarks still inside and new books who smell fresh and whose spines are impossibly crisp.
I read books because I’ve read them before, because I love their author, because other readers love them, because they seem related to my other reading, because they’re about a favourite subject or beloved genre, because I’ve never read anything like them before, because I want to talk about them, because my library catalogue search went wrong and turned them up, because they have pretty covers or interesting titles or simply from whimsy.
I read books sitting in my giant chair and I read books lying in bed and I read books in cafes and hospital waiting rooms and airplanes and on park benches.
I read books I agree with and books I disagree with and books I think are crazy, books that give me goosebumps they touch a truth so deep within me and books that make me screech in rage. I read books with characters just like me and books with characters I wish I was like and books with characters I’d never want to be in a million years and books with characters who are clearly just mouthpieces for the authors. I read books that end just how I hoped they would and books that end just how I feared they would and books whose endings never seem to arrive.
I read books that comfort me and books that challenge me, books that entertain me and books that bore me, books that delight me and books that infuriate me, books that confound my every expectation and books that disappoint me. I read because I love to, because I need to, because reading has shaped me into a woman I am proud to be. But most of all, I read because I cannot begin to imagine a life without books. I am a reader, for good and for bad, for always.