Small Talk: If reading were a sport

I used to think that pure happiness would be working in a bookstore. With a few jobs under my belt, I realized I don’t want to work in a bookstore. I want to live in one.

I tried to walk past a bookstore this week, and I knew the agony of the sailors following the irresistible call of the Sirens. If I could just pop in, doing my best power-shop stride and efficiently depart, all would be well. I cannot. If I could even browse, without being desperately tempted to purchase several books I don’t have time to read, all might be acceptable. Sometimes I resist. More often I crumble.

I have my suspicions that these booksellers slip something into the air-conditioning. I walk in, take one deep breath and I am lost. I can forget that I have 10 other errands to run in an hour’s time. I can set aside that my family is at home hungry for the groceries that are thawing in the back seat of my car. I drift from display to display, mentally salivating. Few things get my undivided attention like that except a bleeding child or a pound of See’s chocolate.

I have always envied the wild passion so many folks have for sports and hobbies. I can’t get absorbed in cars or computers or woodworking. Until now, I never put my adoration of the printed word in that same category, and yet I would happily spend four hours every Sunday lost in a book, the way others spend four hours cheering on their favorite team.

Unfortunately, people presume that reading is a refined pastime and that those of us who pursue it are refined and demure. With a little work, I think it could gain a more rough-and-tumble reputation. I am the kind of book fan who would paint my face in team colors and run around the stadium shrieking. I would put on the mangy animal suit of the team mascot and dance on the sidelines. I might even overindulge in junk food and spill soda on the guy in front of me. I would attend conventions.

My inclination to rack up a penalty for unnecessary roughness was confirmed as I stood in line waiting to buy books as Christmas presents. Two women behind me were admiring the bookmarks on display. They remarked with delight over one that was elastic and would fit any size book. Then I heard, “She just bends the edges down!” followed by a gasp of dismay from Woman No. 2. “Doesn’t that just drive you crazy?” she responded.

I winced. I had just been thinking how those bookmarks were adorable but overpriced and always lost in the shuffle at my house. I had been thinking how I love it when I can dog-ear a page in a book with a clear conscience. Worse, I like to write in the margins and circle words I need to look up later.

Now, I’m not without manners. I wouldn’t reach out and intercept that fly ball that decides the game. I won’t let my teacup near a book’s pages. Likewise, I would never, ever intentionally abuse a book I did not own. Nor would I hesitate to pass it along to a friend.

When it’s time for my Super Bowl, give me a well-thumbed paperback, some seven-layer dip and I’ll cheer until I’m hoarse. Go Big Book!

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who struggles to see the point of pristine books collecting dust on shelves.

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