Disbelief

“Why on Earth do you read them more than once?”

The questioner’s tone of voice drips with shock and disbelief as if I had casually admitted to sniffing white-out. Moments prior I had casually mentioned to the girl sitting next to me (a beautiful freckled young lady equipped with a British accent, a passion for Jane Austen, and a wedding band) that I habitually reread some novels every year. She nods rigorously chewing tuna salad, when a question breaks into our conversation.

I drop my sandwich onto the lunch table, swallowing before I answer. The rest of the lunch table has now turned their attention towards me and David, my fellow student-turned-interrogator in this week-long summer class on digital libraries. From nine to five, we sit and listen to technical lectures about our future careers, while I daydream about summer movies and dinosaurs. If a giant scaly monster crashed through the projector and ripped me in half, I could save several excruciating hours trying in vain to remain awake.

I take a sip of room temp Pepsi.

“Yeah,” I shrug. “It’s like revisiting old friends. Some books like The Lord of the Rings, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Pride and Prejudice, I read about once every year.”

“Ugh, why?” David scoffs this time. And I am reminded why I do not like him much. Like me, David has admitted to some previous experience as a scientist – philosophy apparently. Unfortunately like many scientists, he retains a personality akin to the man in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” never bothering to develop an imagination or a sense of humor.

“I guess that I just enjoy reading,” I laugh. “I can be quite passionate about my stories sometimes.”

“But when do you find time?” he persists with such astonishment that I pause, wondering if I had misunderstood the question. When he speaks, he shakes his head with wonderment revealing a thick furry beard, the barbershop love-child between Chuck Norris and a muppet.

“Um . . . I don’t know,” I say. “On the metro, before bed, during my free time . . . uh lunch. I guess that I just make time to read.” After all, stories are important to me. Like taking showers in the morning or putting on your shoes, you learn to piece reading into your lifestyle.

Despite my explanation, David does not appear to understand, which honestly shocks me a bit. What must he do in his own free time to merit such incredulity? Although as I recall, David excels at asking awkward questions. Once during a cataloguing class, he felt inspired to reveal his revulsion of the social tagging site, del.icio.us.

“Why do all these websites have such stupid names?” he would ask. “Meaningless names that have nothing to do with what they do. Google, del.icio.us, Yahoo. They don’t make sense. They don’t mean anything. It’s stupid.”

Silence.

“Um . . .” someone remarks. “Unusual or quirky names, I guess, help people remember, right? Like cereal brands or detergent names.”

“But the websites names are asinine. Why can’t they tell us something about the site? Or what it does?”

No arguments concerning marketing and memory could convince him. Someone even mentioned that Google was now a verb in the dictionary. People after all who can easily remember site names are more often to visit them.

“It’s still makes me sick,” was his only reply.

Lunch ends, and as we leave I ask David what he enjoys reading.

“Nothing,” he says. “I don’t read. Or watch movies. I don’t have time.”

“Oh,” I blurt, surprised at his answer. I mean who does not have time for a book or movie every now and then? Oh but maybe he means fiction . . . “Well, I have a cousin who doesn’t care much for stories or fiction either, but he’s a great fan of news, biographies, and histories. Did ever read Richard Preston’s Hot Zone?”

“No, I do not read,” David reiterated, emphasizing the ‘read’ as if I had just been rendered deaf.

“Oh.” In the end that was all I could say.

Children don’t read to find their identity, to free themselves from guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion or to get rid of alienation. They have no use for psychology…. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff…. When a book is boring, they yawn openly. They don’t expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish illusions.

— Isaac Bashevis Singer

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