My book addiction started as a hobby — not something that was a large part of my life, but a thing that I enjoyed doing when nothing else was going on. It strengthened the older I got, and by the time I was about eight or nine years old, I was hooked. My sisters and I spent a lot of time at my grandma’s house in those days, since my parents worked nights, and I would bring over an entire stack for the evening, “just in case.” Even now, I always have a charged Kindle and a physical copy or two, “just in case.” And just in case of what, I couldn’t really tell you. A dull moment? My reading speed becomes phenomenal and I finish a whole book in a free fifteen-minute period and have nothing to do for the next five minutes? I really don’t know. All I know is that I never want to be without a book, so I bring extras, in case the book I bring doesn’t work or is whipped away by a hurricane or something. I know it sounds crazy, but hey, I’m a book addict: I’m kind of crazy when it comes to books.
I’m not sure what led up to the conversation about reading, but my grandma in some way mentioned something about me reading, so I asked her what books she liked to read. Partly, I was truly interested in what she might like. But mostly, I was looking for guidance. In those days, I exclusively read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and was perilously close to finishing the shiny, yellow and blue hard-backed series. I figured that my grandma had already read Nancy Drew, since she probably finished them at my age (as I imagined was the case for all the adults in my life). So, I threw the question out there, looking to see what might come next for me.
“Oh, honey, I don’t read. I can’t see the words very well,” my grandma replied.
My mouth dropped open at the same time my heart broke. She didn’t read. The words played over in my head like some sort of horror movie tagline. My grandma didn’t read. I was no longer concerned about a post-Nancy Drew world, because this, this was a true catastrophe. How did she get through the dull moments in life? What did she do with her time? How could she not read? To not fall in love with characters and become friends with them, to not solve daring mysteries, or go on adventures with them — how? I really didn’t understand that sort of life or that sort of world, and I felt overwhelmingly sad for my grandmother. How could she live such a deprived life? I had to fix it for her. This sort of thing could not stand — I would not let my own grandmother suffer, if I could help it. “Come here, Grandma,” I said, patting the spot next to me on the couch. “I’m going to read this book to you.”
It’s funny, being an adult and looking back at your thoughts as a child. I knew, I was absolutely certain, that not being able to read was a misery for grandma. She probably cried about it at least once a week, wishing her eyes were better so she could live a better life. It never once occurred to me that maybe reading wasn’t a priority for her, that she could have found a way to enjoy stories if she really wanted it. No, she was suffering from lack of books and never mentioned it, because she didn’t want to be a bother. But I was having none of that.
Luckily, my grandma was accommodating and aimed to please her granddaughters, because she got right up from her super comfortable recliner to sit next to me on a semi-comfortable couch and listen to me read. I’m not sure exactly what our first book out of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series was, but that’s what started a years-long tradition of us going over to grandma’s house and reading to her. Usually it was me who did the reading, but my two sisters also joined and took turns. Sometimes, it would be all four of us, sitting on the couch or outside, listening to the adventures of Nancy Drew, sometimes just three while a sister played the PlayStation, and sometimes, it was just me and grandma. We went through almost the entire series of Nancy Drew, a good portion of Hardy Boys, the first 4 books of Anne of Green Gables, and the first 3 books of Harry Potter (my sisters eagerly joined in for those ones). And my grandma once again experienced the joy of stories. (As a kid, I truly believed in this sentiment, though I will say that she genuinely loved Anne of Green Gables.) I’m not sure how much of it was her indulging me, how much was her just wanting to spend time together, or how much she really even enjoyed the stories, but until she moved away to Oregon when I was fourteen, there was always some reading time built into our visits together.
Now, there are babies in the family that I can read to. They’ve quickly figured out that storytime is a guaranteed from me — I will never say no to a child who asks me to read a story to them. And at family gatherings, I’ll be curled up in the corner with a couple of the kids, a nephew, niece, or cousin, reading them whatever book they thrust into my hand. We’re often caught by one of my sisters or my parents, who rolls their eyes and smiles when they see what we’re up to. “Of course,” they mutter.
But I can’t help but notice that even though they were most likely sent to fetch us, they sit down right next to us and take the next reading shift, unable to drag themselves away from sharing a story with the family.