I have been fortunate enough in my life to have had the time to enjoy one of my most favorite things: reading. I never have had to spend my days in a muddy field digging potatoes, never had to ponder the intricacies of making a bomb-dismantling robot, nor was there any need for me to do any jail time. I am of the modern leisure class, or what surely would pass for it from the perspective of Medieval times or a current-day refugee camp or any Arby's kitchen worker. I have been lucky to be able to choose so much of how I spend my precious time.

I am a consumptive, compulsive reader; I must read, and it has been this way since I could barely put together a spoken sentence. Words are mine, and I want them all. My problem is that I must finish a book or magazine in one go. This is usually very impractical. I get very irritated if I have to put a book down, irrationally angry at the interruption. But my life is now a series of choppy time blocks, like it or not. The outcome is that I am surrounded by books I am dying to get to, yet they collect dust because I want the stretch of time to one-go them. I look at one and think OH! YES! YES! and then realize the book has sat there, unopened for four years. I often think, as I hear so many others do, that the ideal vacation would be to be alone on a quiet beach, with some shade, a drink, and a pile of books. Nerd heaven. I need to find a way to get back to my books somehow, and to stop saying the former part of this sentence and actually do it. Maybe I need to schedule a Book Day, do nothing else. Leisure class people should be able to do that, huh?

It is hard to explain to people who do not love to read what that thirst is like. When I was a kid, I read every word that was available to me. That is hardly an exaggeration. My mother tells me I would spend hours as a toddler and preschooler, sitting in our big stuffed red chair, with stacks of magazines and books, quietly going through each one, silent and happy, and I remember that very clearly. At breakfast I would read the Milwaukee Journal in careful order, the cereal box, the bills sitting on the table. I would read the labels of food cans, shampoo bottles, clothing tags, medicines. I read through the 1968 World Book Encyclopedia, volume by volume, at least 3 or 4 times. The dictionary. Car manuals from the glovebox. Yearbooks from 1944. LIFE and LOOK and The Saturday Evening Post and Reader's Digest and Good Housekeeping and Ladies' Home Journal and 16 and Tiger Beat and Popular Science and National Geographic and Highlights and EVERY DAMN THING THAT HAD A WORD ON IT. I read every single book we had in the house, got more from the library, burned through them all like fire.

When they didn't know what to do with me in school, they sent me to the library. I read it. It became a challenge, a focus.

I would spend my days overloading my little optic nerves so much that at night, when the lights were off and I was in bed, I sometimes would "see" blocks of text floating in front of me that would get larger and smaller, like some kind of word ghost. It would stop me from sleep, uncontrolled, and it frightened me. Sometimes it would go away, sometimes I would call my mom into my room and cry, while she sat there on the edge of my bed and held my hand, trying to understand.

When I was eight, I finally got glasses. Big surprise, huh. Then the exterior matched the interior. I was stuck with some horrid brown tortoiseshell cat-eye glasses that I hated so much, but I was too intimidated to ask for the cool round metal John Lennon glasses I really wanted. No one really listened to what kids wanted back then anyway, it seemed. You just did what you were told, took what you were given. Here are your ugly ass glasses. Go to the library.

Later on, when I was a teenager and had moderately-cooler glasses, I fully absorbed myself into the land of rock n' roll, which, sitting in a mosquito-filled rural Wisconsin swampland, was only available to me through records, radio, and the burgeoning rock magazine world. Gimme gimme gimme. CREEM, Circus, Trouser Press, Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, ROCK. I would special order Melody Maker and NME through the bookstore in the next town, thrilled to get the call that they had arrived for me.I would read them all, cover-to-cover, some of it silly and gossipy, some of the writing incredibly good. Fuck school, I want to read Lester Bangs and Cameron Crowe and Ira Robbins, think about Max's Kansas City and how someday I was going to leave my room and my books and my stupid stupid town, and DO rather than READ ABOUT DOING.

And I did.

When I came back to books, it was for college, and for the most part what I read was dull and just served to help me jump through some easy hoops. I was in an Intro To Biology class, which I liked as I had an interest in human biology and anatomy, and the professor was getting increasingly concerned with the class's test failures. One day, in front of everyone, frustrated and seeing me there, said, "Marianne, you are getting an A in this class. Could you please share with the class what you do to study and prepare for tests?" I looked at her and raised my eyebrows.

"Are you sure you want me to say?

"Yes, perhaps it will help the class. What techniques do you use?"

I thought, well, OK, you asked.

"I don't take any notes, I don't read the textbook until the night before the test, and I only skim it for major terms. Sorry."

She looked a little stunned, and the class laughed. Then she laughed, shrugged.

She didn't know. I was a professional reader girl.

The best book that I read in college was a tiny tome called "Ways Of Seeing" by John Berger. I have thought about this book many many times over the last 15 years or so, and how its message and style have truly impacted me. This week, I bought "Selected Essays" by Mr. Berger, a thicker and more dense work that I both cannot wait to eat up and worries me. His words are so rich that they must be read over a few times to gather up his full meaning. Will I ever make the time to do this? Can I invest into a book like that now? Or is my focus, my brain, choppy and divided, like my time and my life?

I open the book now, randomly, to page 497, and my eye hits the last paragraph of an essay Berger wrote called "Mother." It reads:

"Love, my mother had the habit of saying, is the only thing that counts in this world. Real love, she would add, to avoid any factitious misunderstanding. But apart from that simple adjective, she never added anything more."

I am a reader. I will again make time to take the gifts of others' words.