The term “bookworm” used to have a more negative connotation—the idea that the person in question wanted to hide from life through reading. But now that everyone hides from life on their phones, “bookworms” have acquired some social cachet.
But really, it’s a word needed to distinguish someone who is literate from one who is a reader. A literate person reads all the time—the internet, e-mail, street signs, insurance forms. They’re even known to read a book now and then, mostly to pass the time on a beach or when they’re on a long flight without Wi-Fi. They choose what to read indiscriminately—from a pile that friends have given them, the front rack of the airport bookstore, or the author that was last featured on the latest morning show.
But a reader is someone different—a reader is always in the middle of at least one, often more, books. Actively reading multiple books doesn’t stop them from thinking—nearly constantly—about other books they’d like to read. Readers compulsively make lists of books they’ve read books and list of book they’d like to read. Most readers spend what to non-readers would seem an inordinate amount of time honing systems about where they’ll acquire their books—from libraries, bookstores, or Amazon.
The most agonizing decision of any reader’s life is whether to spring for the hardback or wait for the paperback. (The number of unread books on your shelves at home is normally not a determining factor.)
Readers understand what Erasmus meant when he wrote, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
My best friend’s ten-year old daughter Adrienne is a reader.
So am I.
A few weeks ago when rain cancelled her soccer game and she didn’t have any birthday parties to go to, I picked her up and we spent the afternoon in bookstores.
Her eyes widened at the rows and rows of books. She ran for titles she knew, books she’d read, and books she wanted to read. She cross-checked her list, but soon discovered other titles she wanted to read that she’d forgotten to write down, and some through pure serendipity.
“Do we have to hurry?” she asked me at one point.
“No,” I told her. Bookstores are to be savored, not rushed.
She slowed down and started methodically looking through all the books. She’d occasionally ask me to reach for a book from the top shelf. She’d study it—the back, the flyleaf, and either add it to her stack or hand it back to me to re-shelve. We talked about the books she loved and why she loved them—she shies away from love stories, prefers stories of kids bonding with animals. I pulled down some of the books I loved when I was her age—Nancy Drew, Where the Red Fern Grows. I told her about them—I wasn’t pushing them on her, it was just fun to remember and to talk books with someone who understood.
I did successfully talk her into buying Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, but otherwise I let her pick her own books.
She had a stack bigger than the money her mother had given her, so we found a corner in the back, sat on the floor and spread out all the books. I’d intended to give her enough money to buy all the books, but I changed my mind as I watched her separate them into three piles—definitely, maybe, and put back. I decided to let this process play out—part of the ritual of the bookstore is knowing you can’t have them all, and deciding which to leave for next time.
She tallied up the cost in her head, and we reshelved the ones she was going to leave for next time.
Then we got hot chocolate.
Then we headed over to the adult book section and repeated the whole process.
We both left with a stack of books we called our “summer reading program” and when I dropped her off, she held up each book to her mother like it was a trophy.
That night, two happy bookworms retreated to their beds and cracked open brand new stories.
I can’t wait to hear about what she reads next.